My great great great great grandfather was called Joseph Dent and he was born in about 1786. His wife, Rebecca was born in about 1791. Joseph worked as an agricultural labourer and by the time of the 1841 census he and Rebecca were living in Bentley Heath, Solihull.

There they had at least two children, Ephraim Dent my great, great, great grandfather (born in 1806) and Thomas (1820), although there are very likely to have been others born between these years. Both known sons became gardeners by profession.

Ephraim married my great great great grandmother, Mary Sambrook in Wolverhampton on 10 November 1837.

 

copy of marriage certificate for Ephraim Dent and Mary Sambrook, 10 November 1837

 

Although no record exists for Ephraim and Mary in the 1841 census, by 1851 Ephraim and Mary were living in Dales Lodge, Frances Road, Edgbaston with their three sons, John (born 1836), Joseph (1839) and Ephraim (1844).

The family later moved to 66A Augustus Road, Edgbaston, where Ephraim senior died on 9 February 1857 at the age of fifty The 1861 census records Mary Dent and the boys still at the Augustus Road address. By now both John and Joseph had followed in their father's footsteps and were working as gardeners.

John Dent later moved to 76 Charles Henry Street in Deritend, Birmingham, with his Dublin-born wife, Mary, and then moved again to 162, Cheapside, Aston. He continued to work as a gardener throughout his life. There is no record of him and Mary having any children.

The census records for 1861 record that the younger brother Ephraim, just seventeen years old at the time, was working as a "servant man". He later married Charlotte Hooman, daughter of a paper merchant's manager, and they settled in Kings Norton, living at 28 Belgrave Street . Ephraim later worked as a labourer in the chemical industry. He and Charlotte had at least three children - Albert, who became a toolmaker and settled in Tennant Street Birmingham with his wife Mary Ann and daughter Elsie Louisa, Ada, who worked as a tailoress, and Ephraim, who in the 1891 census survey is recorded as working as a "warehouse youth". Ephraim junior went on to become a "Buyer of fancy goods" and moved to Harbury Road, Balsall Heath with his wife Mary and two sons Leslie Ephraim Wilson Dent and Gordon Hodman Dent.

Joseph Dent, my great great grandfather, married Emma Nicholls in Sparkhill, Yardley in the summer of 1863. They had five children - Ephraim, Ellen Jane, Thomas, Harry and Margaret.

Their eldest child, Ephraim was born in 1866 and initially worked as a "gentleman's servant" before becoming a "buyer of fancy goods". He married  in late 1889, and by the time of the 1911 census he and his wife Mary had  had two sons, Leslie and Gordon, and were living in Harbury Lane, Balsall Heath, Birmingham.

Joseph and Emma's second child, Ellen Jane Dent, died in 1972 at the age of two.

Their fourth third child, Harry is listed in the 1901 census as "groom domestic". He settled initially in Windermere Road, Moseley, with his wife Alice and children Lily and Herbert (known as "Bertie") before moving to Hall Green, Birmingham

Their youngest child, Margaret, was born in 1882 in Olton, Warwickshire. Thomas Dent, my great grandfather, was Joseph and Emma's third child. He was born in Sparkhill, Yardley, on 29 August 1872. Like his father and grandfather before him, Thomas was to become a gardener, although in the late 1880s and early 1890s he spent some years as a sapper in the Royal Engineers, based at the Ordnance Office in Newtown, Southampton. It unlikely that he saw any action during this time, despite the fact that the Royal Engineers motto is Ubique ("Everywhere"), as Thomas served during a relatively peaceful period of British military history between the two Boer wars. After leaving the army, Thomas returned to Warwickshire where he married Ellen Moseley in Lapworth on 3 March 1894.

 

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The marriage certificate of Thomas Dent and Ellen Moseley

 

On its route through Lapworth and on to Birmingham, the Stratford canal enters the Birmingham district of Yardley at Warstock. Despite the growing influence of the railways, during the nineteenth century Warstock's canal wharves were a source of fuel and material, most notable coal, lime and wire, for Birmingham's back-yard workshops.

Between the canal and Chinn Brook was an area of meadowland called 'Happy Valley', which included a fair-ground and a boatyard. Many years later, my father, Thomas' grandson Anthony Dent, would earn money hiring out boats on the boating lake at Happy Valley.

 

"Happy Valley" c 1910

Thomas and Ellen settled here in Warstock, where Thomas was employed as gardener by the water board which owned the reservoir in Highters Heath Lane. Thomas and Ellen had three sons, Charles Geoffrey Thomas Dent (always known by his middle name, Geoffrey), Leslie Joseph Dent, born on 4th July 1896 and Lawrence George Dent (known as Lol).

 

Lol and Geoffrey Dent c1905, outside their parents' house in Prince of Wales Lane, Warstock. Note the sign on the wall!

At the time of the 1901 census, Thomas, Ellen and the three boys were living at 20 Warstock cottages, Yardley Wood, a few doors away from the Warstock public house, a favourite haunt of Thomas. The cottage was a two up two down dwelling and, in addition to the three children, Thomas and Ellen had a lodger, Francis Palmer, a sixty year old stockman on a farm. The cottage must have been very cramped. Francis Palmer had originally hailed from Worcester. Ten years earlier the census return records him living at 25 Henwick Road, St John's Worcester with his wife Sarah, a nurse, and his son Henry, recorded in the census as "traveller". It is quite probable that by the time he came to live with Thomas and Ellen, Francis Palmer was a widower.

Thomas' parents, my great great grandparents, Joseph and Emma Dent, were by now living not far away at 41 The Hamlet, Yardley (which subsequently became part of Fox Hollies Road) with their youngest daughter, Margaret, who was by this time nineteen years old. The 1901 census records Joseph as "gardener - own account", i.e. self employed. I believe that Joseph died the following year, in 1902, at the age of 63.

Thomas and Ellen later moved, firstly to Church Road in Yardley Wood and then later  to a house in Prince of Wales Lane, where the above photograph of Geoffrey and Lol Dent was taken. After Ellen's death, Thomas moved in with my grandparents Lesley and Gladys Dent and lived there until his death on 14 June 1948 at the age of 75. Gladys was at his bedside when he died.

At the time of the 1911 census my grandfather Leslie Dent, aged 14, had left school and was working as a labourer. His elder brother Geoffrey was working as a "chocolate moulder", most probably at the Cadburys factory in Bourneville, some four miles from the family home. Their father Thomas Dent  is recorded as "labourer" in the 1911 whilst their mother Emma is registered as "laundress"  although in addition, as the photograph above shows, a sign erected on the front of the house advertised "Teas provided by Mrs Dent".

Geoffrey Dent joined the army not long after the outbreak of the First World War, although conscription did not become compulsory until 1916, and first saw action with the 1st battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment in France on 11 August 1915. The regiment formed part of the 8th Brigade, 6th Division, and as part of this Division, Geoffrey would have fought in the Battles of Flers-Courcelette and Morval, both key phases of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Geoffrey Dent c1914, whilst he was a private with the West Yorkshire Regiment

 

Geoffrey Dent reached the rank of Lance Corporal with the West Yorkshire Regiment before he was selected to undergo four and a half months of officer training in Ireland at Moore Park in County Cork. Although it might seem unusual for a young working class man to be selected in this way by such a class-ridden entity as the British Army, the fact was that the army was desperately short of officers by this time and had begun to realise that it had to promote from the ranks. After finishing his officer training, Geoffrey was commissioned on 26 June 1917 and joined the Worcester Regiment as a Lieutenant. With this regiment in late September 1917 he would have been involved in heavy fighting in the Ypres Salient, during the early stages of the battle for the Passchendale Ridge. The following spring he would have fought in the Battles of the Lys which claimed the life of my great, great uncle Sammy Cronin, who was serving with the Royal Irish Rifles.

Geoffrey Dent was decorated twice - receiving a medal in recognition of his service in France in 1915 and later receiving a victory medal for "service on the establishment of a unit in an operational theatre".

Geoffrey married Nora Wilkes in 1924 following which they relocated to Paignton in Devon. They did not have any children.

 

Geoffrey Dent's World War One Medal card

My grandfather Leslie Dent tried to enlist with the army but was turned down on medical grounds. My father told me that he believed this was because the medical examination detected a heart murmur.

 

Like his eldest brother, Laurence "Lol" Dent enlisted with the army in the first world war

 

 

photograph of Lol Dent in army uniform taken during the First World War. Lol is pictured

with Tom Hart, a friend from Yardley who worked as an Assistant Foreman in a the

cycle trade

 

  

Lol Dent married Marion Green in 1927, and they had one son, Peter, born in 1929, who became a painter and decorator. Peter married Una Evans in 1954.

 

 Ellen and Thomas Dent, my great grandparents, are the couple on the left in the above photograph. The others I have not been able to identify with certainty, but it is possible that the older couple are Ephraim, Thomas' eldest brother, and his wife Mary, and that the woman to the right is Margaret, Thomas and Ephraim's younger sister.

My father Tony remembered Ellen as "a small, slight woman". He  also recalled visits to his grandparents, not entirely with fondness. "Whenever we visited them my grandmother would give us home made ginger beer and serve us up slices of her caraway cake. It was terrible."

It was while Thomas and Ellen and their three sons were living at Warstock Cottages, in Yardley Wood Road that Gladys Smith came to live at the cottage next door, at the home of Clara and Charles Coton. And that is how my grandparents Leslie Dent and Gladys Smith met - as next door neighbours!.

They were married at Yardley Wood parish church on 20 September 1925. The witnesses were Charles Coton (whom I believe was Gladys' real father) and Margaret Coton, the wife of Charles' cousin George Henry Coton. Gladys' mother, Clara, had died in February of the same year, at the age of 48.

Leslie and Gladys Dent on their wedding day. Gladys is wearing the white hat, Leslie has a hat on his lap. Leslie's parents, Ellen and Thomas Dent are immediately behind Gladys. To the right of Thomas' is Leslie's elder brother Geoffrey and next to him is his younger brother Lol. Lol's future wife Marion Green is sitting next to Gladys.

Leslie initially worked as a labourer for Cadbury's chocolate in Bourneville but later became a self-employed toolmaker. He had to sell up the business when his partner developed tuberculosis. He then worked as a cable jointer for the Midlands Electricity Board, connecting houses to the electricity supply. Each day for many years he would cycle the ten miles to and from the MEB in Solihull. The family never owned a motor car.

Leslie and Gladys had two children, Sheila, born on 16 October 1928, and my father Anthony Dent, who was born on 21 January 1932. The family lived at first in Prince of Wales Lane, Yardley Wood. Beyond the garden at the back of the house was a bowling green, which belonged to the Warstock public house on the corner of the road. Leslie became an accomplished bowls player and won a bowls competition on this green in 1929. Leslie was also a good footballer. My father Tony can remember his father hobbling round using two upturned brooms as crutches a result of one footballing injury (this was in the pre-National Health Service days when medical treatment had to be paid for). Opposite the house in Prince of Wales Lane were allotments. Leslie maintained a double allotment plot here for many years.

 

Leslie, Gladys, Sheila and Anthony Dent. This photograph would have been taken in the late 1930s just before the outbreak of war.

The Second World War began in 1939. After the fall of France early on, the German Luftwaffe began targeting strategic military and industrial parts of Britain. Birmingham was a clear target, being home to factories in Castle Bromwich and Longbridge which manufactured military aircraft including Spitfires, Lancasters, Hurricanes and Stirlings. Other industries in the city manufactured goods such as rifles, shell casings and aero carburettors, which were vital to the British war effort. During the war, Leslie Dent continued his work as a cable jointer but also worked shifts as a fire warden.

Birmingham was first attacked by the Luftwaffe on 15 October 1940, and many more bombs fell on the city during a sustained campaign over the following four months. The final raid on the city came as late as 23 April 1943.

Many children were evacuated from the city to places as far afield as Burton-on-Trent. Those who remained were expected to take their gas masks into school with them, and those who forgot them would be made to stand on a stool or some other form of punishment. Being outside the main target zone, Yardley Wood was not as badly hit by the German bombing raids as central Birmingham and became one of the areas where evacuees from the inner city relocated. My father remembered this resulting in a number of "rough kids" suddenly arriving at his schools, Highters Heath Primary and, later, Yardley Wood School.

As well as relying heavily on the food grown on their allotments, my father recalled that the family also shared a pig with several neighbours in Prince of Wales Lane during the war. When the time came for the pig to be slaughtered, not a single part of the pig was wasted. My father vividly remembered how it was his unpleasant job to stir the intestines, which were left to soak in a tub of water over a period of days.

After the war, the family moved from Prince of Wales Lane to nearby Warstock Lane. Around this time, Gladys took a job as a silver service waitress at the Imperial Hotel in the centre of Birmingham. The hours were unfriendly and she would not leave work until after midnight. My father Tony recalled regularly having to walk a mile to the bus stop on Stratford Road to wait for her bus and then walk her back home. On these occasions Gladys would often want to talk, and my father would find himself eventually going to bed in the small hours only to have to get up again a few hours later to go to work himself.

Leslie and Gladys later moved to 7 Hindhead Road after the death of Leslie's mother Ellen Dent, in order to care for Leslie's father Thomas. Their daughter and son in law Sheila and Dennis Preston later moved in with Leslie and Gladys at Hindhead Road and their son Malcolm Preston was born here in 1949.

Leslie worked for the Midlands Electricity Board for over 25 years. He died at home in November 1962 a few months after retiring. He was sixty six years old. After his death, Gladys moved with the Prestons to 43 Antrobus Road in Handsworth. They all moved in 1966 to Oldswinford, Stourbridge, where Malcolm still lives, Dennis having passed away in 2007 and Sheila in 2008.

Gladys died in 1988 at the age of 86. Leslie and Gladys Dent are buried together at Christ Church, Yardley Wood.

Anthony Dent began full time work at the age of sixteen. He was first employed by Wards Electrical Engineers, based in Sparkhill and then at Wheelers Electrical Engineers, who were based near St Martins Church in the city centre.

 

My father Anthony Dent in 1950 during National Service

 

He left Wheelers to undertake National Service with the army. During National Service he managed to get a transfer to his regiment's Fire Brigade. They would regularly compete in officially organised competitions with other regimental fire brigades, the winners being the team who could complete the drill quickest. Being attached to the Fire Brigade also gave Tony more time off for sport. He was a good sportsman, and a particularly keen cricketer and footballer. After his period of National Service he played for Yardley Wood United and Warstock Celtic as goalkeeper. His own father, Leslie, would often come to watch him play, always standing behind the goal and usually criticising him!

 

Family photograph taken at a guest house in Minehead in 1951. The young boy on the right at the front is my cousin Malcolm Preston. Behind him, with arms folded, is my grandfather Leslie Dent. Behind Leslie, to the left is Dennis Preston and to the right Sheila Preston. My father is at the back of the picture, third in from the right and my grandmother Gladys is to the right of him. My father was still in the army when this photograph was taken, and had joined the rest of the family on weekend leave.

On leaving the army, Tony resumed work briefly with Wheelers Electrical Engineers, but leaving under something of a cloud. For a while thereafter he worked as a door-to-door TV rental salesman. He described this as a "rather shameful period" of his working life. His modus operandi was to get himself invited into people's homes in order to demonstrate to them the wonders of television. He would set up the TV, with the aerial perched on top of the TV set, hopefully timing it so that an interesting programme was on. He would then leave the TV set on for a long enough for the unwary family to settle down and become absorbed in the programme. Then he would suddenly announce that he needed to go and make his next call and would start to dismantle the aerial ready to take the TV set away again. More often than not the family would agree to sign up on the spot rather than lose their newly beloved TV set or miss the rest of the programme they had started to watch.

Tony Dent met my mother Teresa Elizabeth Donaldson whilst they were both working for the firm of Horrell and Bowman, Builders Merchants, who were based in Moseley Road. My mother was working as a receptionist, my father as an engineer for Bendix washing machines. Teresa recalls that "only posh and well-off people ever owned washing machines at that time and these were the best machines of those that were available. I recall typing invoices for supply or repairs for addresses in Solihull, Sutton Coldfield, and some districts even more remote at that time. Nothing in Aston!"

My parents on their wedding day. From L to R: Sheila Preston, Lesley Dent, Gladys Dent, Terence (best man), Anthony Dent, Teresa Dent (nee Donaldson), John Donaldson, Lily Donaldson, Bernadette Donaldson.

They were married in February 1956 and at first lived in rented accommodation in Haseley Road, Handsworth.

Tony and Teresa had five children - Stephen (born 1958), Ann (1960), Shirley (1961), Michael (1963) and Anthony (1966).

In the early years of the marriage Tony worked at Lucas Industries Birmingham. To make ends meet this would often involve 12 hour shifts seven days a week, a regime that nowadays would fall foul of the European Working Time Directive. During this period the family lived in Roma Road, Tyseley and we moved to Riley Road, Yardley Wood before eventually moving to Boldmere Road, Sutton Coldfield in 1966.

Shortly thereafter, Tony left Lucas Industries to set up in business with two partners, forming Hydralec Maintenance Services, a company which specialised in the maintenance of mechanical, hydraulic and electrical industrial machinery. After a row with his partners, Tony left the company in the early 1980s.

Tony and Teresa had by now separated and divorced. Teresa went to teacher training college and became a qualified teacher and married Tony Napier in 1982. They still live in Boldmere Road. Tony Dent married Delphie Short in Coventry in December 1984 and they moved to Fosdyke, near Boston, in Lincolnshire. In his last few years my father became increasingly infirm, being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. He died on October 21 2007.

I still remember aspects of each of those family houses of my childhood clearly - the busy railway sidings at the end of the garden at the Roma Road house, the topiary peacock hedge in the garden of Riley Road and the large red fibreglass body of an abandoned toy car that we children discovered on arrival in the garden of our new home in Boldmere Road and which gave us many hours of play. I also remember, just a few months after the move to Boldmere Road, running out into the street, my heart bursting with boyish happiness, having watched England win the 1966 world cup final against West Germany. At that moment in time it seemed that anything, anything at all, was achievable.

If the story of this family tree has taught me anything, it has been to show me how fortunate I, and others of my generation, have been. We have had opportunities delivered to us that were denied to our ancestors, opportunities provided through education, through the erosion of class barriers and through living in a time of relative peace. And since discovering the themes of poverty, hardship, endurance, determination, heroism and love and that run through my ancestry I can see what a privilege it is to have been that young boy running into the street unfettered, able to believe in the all the boundless possibilities of the future.