Starting out

Forward to First principals –  Back to Where do I come from?
Back to Writing

I set out to take a few weeks and create a simple Denton family history. Little did I know what was ahead! My expectation was to get back only to the early 19thcentury and with luck perhaps get a glimpse into the 18th, but probably no further than that. Something like this:

My pedigree chart

My wife’s pedigree chart

To sustain my focus on Denton women, I cannot miss the one most important to me and her chart:

Twentieth century

My family journey starts of course when I was born on 7 May 1948 at Bristol Maternity Hospital, then located at the top of St Michael’s Hill in the centre of Bristol. Intriguingly The National Archives show that the hospital property from 1865-1903 was a ‘Temporary Home for Young Girls Who Have Gone Astray’. These grim old buildings managed to survive the WWII hammering that the city sustained. I later attended a college in similarly austere premises that were originally the Muller’s Orphanage (1847-1947), presumably to contain the output of those stray young girls? We still owed a lot to the Victorians in 1948, though I learn that the notion of this orphanage was in fact the brainchild of a Prussian evangelist named George Müller.

Robert Soulsby Denton (the third)

My birth predated the National Health Service by sixty days (It started 5 July 1948.). But some 208 days after me in the very same hospital my wife Jane Alison Allen arrived on 11 December 1948.

Jane Alison Allen

This is perhaps the moment for me to apologise to Jane that my research into her family progresses but has been less fruitful to-date, in part because Perrys and O’Sullivans in her lineage came from Ireland.

The Allen grandparents with just some of their children

This proved problematic as during the Irish Civil War following Irish independence, on 30 June 1922 the Dublin Four Courts and specifically the Irish Public Records Office ‘caught’ fire and swathes of the Irish Chancery Rolls (1304-1922) were lost. Despite their rebuilding their records, I found little of value in my search.

Dublin’s Four Courts fire of 1922

I have attempted to make up for this with the pieces on William Charles Allen and Dennis Roy Allen, and perhaps need to apologise again for the piece on Rebecca Culliford (her GGM1) but I think the data is more indicative of her time than a rebuke for Rebecca.

From my pedigree above we can see that we three Robert Soulsby Dentons were born in Bishop Auckland Durham, Chorlton-cum-Hardy Lancashire and Bristol. The first two had their lives placed on hold by world wars and married late for their times, Grandad marrying in 1919 (post WWI) at the age of 37 to Nan at 31 years old and Dad at 26 years old marrying Mum at 23 in 1947 (post WWII).

Betsy Walton

Sadly there is no-one alive who can advise just why Betsy, born in Willenhall in the Black Country, was living seventy-five miles away from there and just three doors away from Grandad on Rusholme Road in Chorlton, Lancashire. He is described on their wedding certificate as an engineer and she as a spinster.

Aunt Peg, Grandparents and Dad

The picture above shows the only image I have of my Grandad. From left to right there is Auntie Peg, Grandad, Nan and my Dad. They are in the garden of our first family home (14 Ludlow Road, Bristol). The house looming behind them became our second home (145 Wordsworth Road) – we literally moved through the hedge. The picture appears to be dated either immediately pre-war or just after it, but then who is the child at the front? She resembles my cousin Beryl, but can’t be as she was only two when Grandad died?

Next steps

I guess the earliest moment I became interested in my name was when as a young child I enjoyed playing a game called ‘Letters in your name’. The competitors lined up in the street along one kerb, while the person who was ‘it’ stood at the far kerbside facing away. He or she would randomly call out a letter and if it appeared in your name you could step forward a pace for each occurrence. The goal was to be the first to tap the ‘it’ on the back. It was here that I first gained an appreciation of my name. As Robert Soulsby Denton I was pretty well-placed with 42% of the alphabet covered, and some useful multiples – three Os and two each of B, E, N, R, S and T. Of course the notion of kids unsupervised in the street, standing in the gutter near drains and using the road as a playground is something of an alien concept today.

Street play

I can’t resist mentioning that our house had one of the best features a child of my age could desire – an internal alleyway between us and our neighbours. It was an inbuilt all-weather sporting arena!

An alleyway

However, Soulsby was such a strange middle name that for most of my school years it was not something I was keen to reveal, although I later worked with a management team – Robert Nelson Holmes, Peter Friend Prowse and Jack Kith Reynolds – where none of us could cast the first stone!

As we saw, my father and grandfather both had precisely the same name. This was not a problem for those two in their less bureaucratic times but for my father and me it became an issue. We filled in each other’s tax forms and opened each other’s mail. To keep my letters from my wife-to-be private she had to write envelopes to me with the suffix ‘Jr’, a somewhat jarring Americanism, though not quite as bad as Robert Soulsby Denton III.

I was led to understand that Soulsby was perhaps my great grandmother’s maiden name – but I soon established that it wasn’t! Its use in our three names (and as middle names for my son and grandson) in fact had a much more significant history. I did not learn this until I was sixty-eight years old!

Of course the name Denton was also something fellow schoolchildren would immediately choose to unimaginatively relate to teeth – catcalls of Dentist, Denty…


Let’s start as my research did, by trying to establish where that slightly embarrassing middle name came from. My findings ensure I will never again be embarrassed by it!

This tale has to start with my GGF2 Peter (1809-1871) and his move away from his extended family which was until then mostly based around Prescot in Lancashire (today Merseyside). Peter moved first to Hunslet in West Yorkshire and then to several locations in Durham. Presumably this was to find or follow the work, but as a potter why did he not go south to the Potteries? More about Peter later but suffice to say this was what led to our encounter with the Soulsbys.

In 1831 Hannah Soulsby (b. 1813 in Hebburn, Durham) married Andrew Cruddas or Crudis (born 1807 in Heworth, Durham) and they had a daughter Margaret Cruddas (b. 1851). In 1874 Margaret married Peter’s son, Joseph Denton (1852-1935), at Coundon, Durham. They were my paternal great-grandparents (GGP1s). In the 1881 Census they lived at 12 Gib Terrace, Pollards Lands, Bishop Auckland in Durham. Their three young children lived with them (Elizabeth, Peter and Mary). In 1881 the population there was just 614 and would double over the next ten years.

Map showing Bishop Auckland, Coundon, Durham, Kelloe, Stockton – and Trimdon… ©Google Maps

The area’s name is interesting. It derives from the Pollard ‘brawn’. A brawn is a boar and in the Middle Ages there was a large and ferocious one terrorising the Wear Valley. The Bishop of Durham offered a reward for someone to kill it. A rather poor (financially) young knight Richard Pollard stepped up to the plate, stalked and killed it. After his lengthy battle with the boar he cut out its tongue as a souvenir and promptly fell asleep. While asleep some unscrupulous passer-by stole the carcass and went off to claim the bishop’s well-publicised prize. When Pollard arrived he learned the cash prize had already been taken, yet he was able to prove his claim to be the real slayer by presenting the tongue. The bishop decided that Pollard should be awarded all the land he could ride around in the time it took the bishop to finish his meal. He surprised the bishop when he arrived back quite promptly; this was because he had ridden around Auckland palace, the bishop’s seat. The bishop was not prepared to give up his home but was impressed enough by the knight’s quick-wittedness and awarded him a fertile area of Auckland – Pollards Lands.

Bishop of Durham’s seat, Auckland Palace

An interesting aside (for quizzers!) is that just a few miles SW of Pollards Lands is West Auckland. In 1910 West Auckland’s miners’ football team travelled to Italy to represent England in the first ever ‘world cup’. They played against German and Swiss teams and met Italy’s Juventus in the final and won two goals to nil – so impress your friends by stating that England has won the World Cup twice – 1910 and 1966.

I will allow myself just one further diversion because two miles NW of Pollards Lands is Escomb Saxon church, said perhaps to be the oldest church in England. It was built using stones taken from the nearby Roman fort Vinovia or Binchester. One stone still bears the marking ‘LEG VI’ denoting the sixth legion, though it has been set upside down. An architectural authority, Sir Nicholas Pevsner, described Escomb as one of the most important and moving survivals of the architecture of the time of Bede. Escomb is one of only three Complete Anglo-Saxon churches still extant in England.

Escomb Saxon church originally built around 675 CE

GGF1 – Joseph Denton (1852-1935)

Joseph Denton (1852-1935) proved to be something of an exception in our family, the menfolk for some previous generations were farm labourers or worked in the earthenware pottery business; the latter included his father Peter. Joseph however was a tailor. Sadly there is no means for me to establish just how and why that came about.

It appears he worked away from his town as the 1911 census usefully adds that he worked at ‘Cooperative House’. The history of the nearby Bishops Auckland Cooperative Society mentions that it diversified into tailoring in March 1874, commenting that while it was early days the section was proving very promising. By March 1876 it was reporting a complement of ‘one cutter, fifteen tailors, and one machinist’. The following year they opened a ready-made section. Joseph certainly looks well turned-out in this the only picture I have found.

Joseph Denton, 1st great grandfather GGF1

It was my great-grandparents, Joseph and his wife Margaret (1851-1923), who introduced the name Soulsby into our lineage when they named their fourth child (second son) Robert Soulsby Denton. Our family folklore was wrong as Margaret’s maiden name was Cruddas. As mentioned above it was her mother, my GGM2 Hannah, who was the Soulsby. My first assumption was that some sort of closeness between them led to Hannah’s maiden name being used as a middle name?

But the baby was in fact named after Hannah’s brother Robert Soulsby (1822-1882), a miner in Durham for most of his life. Hannah died in 1860 and Margaret, at the age of ten, moved in with her uncle Robert Soulsby and his family in Trimdon Grange. However, it wasn’t this fact that led to his name being given to my grandfather.

Trimdon Grange, Durham
Chart indicating the connections that linked the Robert Soulsbys

At 14:30 on 16 February 1882 there was a gas explosion on the Harvey seam at the Trimdon Grange Colliery. It resulted in the deaths of seventy-four men and boys; many were killed by the ‘after-damp’ gases produced following the explosion. The enquiry established that the mine was not more than ordinarily gassy, but was a dusty mine and watering should have been carried out daily but it was done not in all places, but where it was absolutely necessary. It concluded that the much heralded Davy safety lamp being used by these miners affords no security whatever against the occurrence of grave disasters of a similar kind.

Trimdon Grange Colliery – nothing of it is left today

The youngest fatality was only twelve years old, the oldest sixty – and this was Robert Soulsby. He left his wife Anne and four children –  has a video of a folk song commemorating the disaster – posted 18 July 2007. Do watch until the end when it mentions Robert. National press accounts of the disaster are at

Trimdon Pitwheel memorial

In 1982 for the centenary of the disaster Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Miners, unveiled a pitwheel memorial. In 1989 the young Sedgefield MP Tony Blair launched a campaign to restore it – seen here listening to a folk group beside that memorial.

A smaller pit wheel memorial from Trimdon Grange shopping area- ©Bob Denton 2016
Nearby memorial in Trimdon that is the resting place of forty-four of those lost – ©Bob Denton 2016
One of the stones set around the Trimdon memorial – – ©Bob Denton 2016
Soulsby headstone close to Trimdon memorial – ©Bob Denton 2016

In 2016 a local retailer told me that every year the locals assemble at the memorial (pictured above) and march through the town before being bussed off to attend the Durham Miners’ Gala which is held on the second Saturday in July. The gala has been celebrated annually since 1871, predating ‘our’ disaster’ although it was not held during either of the world wars or in 1921, 1922, 1926 and 1984 during miners’ strikes. In 2015 all four contenders in the Labour Party leadership election attended, although only Jeremy Corbyn was permitted to speak as he had the endorsement of the Durham Miners’ Association. No deep mines remain in the Durham coalfield; there were over a hundred at the time coalfield’s production peak.

So when Margaret and Joseph had their new baby 28 March 1882, just one month after the disaster, of course they named my grandfather Robert Soulsby Denton in memory of his great uncle.

Forward to First principals –  Back to Where do I come from?
Back to Writing