The family history of
John Brown was born at Thornes Farm, Stonnall, in 1914. The farm had been in the possession of the Brown family for many decades. Ann Brown was noted as the owner in 18381.
John Brown had a natural affinity with the Hamlet of Thornes. Besides having been born there, his extended family appears to have occupied the area for several hundred years. One of his ancestors was a 17th century resident of Thornes Hall, Grenada Brown, who in 1695 bequeathed £50 for the support of poor widows in the Stonnall area.2
In adult life, John Brown became an insurance agent, a very shrewd businessman and a landlord. With many farmers as clients, he could sense who was short of funds and would offer to buy land and other properties at bargain prices. Thus, he was able to build up a sizable portfolio, owning at one point most of the properties in Church Road in Thornes, among many others.
John Brown used his wealth several times for the benefit of St Peter's Church. It is said that he paid for the concrete steps leading up from the road and for the surfacing of pathways around the building. Also, when St Peter's Close was built, he donated one of the houses as the new vicarage.
John Brown's account
The Brown Family3
I am not sure of the relationship, if any, of my family to Joseph Brown. He was, I believe, a sheep farmer and after leaving went to farm at Packington. Mr Beetlestone, who is currently writing in your magazine [the church magazine, presumably] might know more about him, as his family once lived in a house by the entrance drive to Gainsboro Hill Farm, now occupied by the Fodens.
Browns, not Brawns
Referring to G and J Brawn, with whom we are sometimes confused, they lived at Sandhills House, now occupied and farmed by the Lane Family. The Brawn family grave is at the extreme east end of the older part of the new churchyard at St Peters. This was one of the gravestones damaged by vandals.
The Brown who was churchwarden in 1912, 1913 and 1914 was, I believe, my late father Thomas Brown, who lived at Thornes Farm, now Thornes House, occupied by Mr J W Tait. My late father was very friendly with the Hutchinson family and, in fact, the Rev Hutchinson4 was my father's best man when he married my mother at St John's church, Shenstone on 8th Sept 1910.
© Julian Ward-Davies
The Laurels is the farm in Lower Stonnall now occupied by the Achurch family. John Brown who lived there in 1900 was my father's eldest brother who moved from there to farm at Nethertown, Hamstall Ridware. He died5 there in 1925 and is buried in the old Brown family grave on the north side of the old burial ground at St Peter's. He had nine daughters6 and his widow lived for many years in the house recently demolished to extend the car park at Fairview Nurseries, whose current owner, Mr Peter Willis, was one of her grandsons.
Walter Brown, who lived at Thornes Farm until 1900, was my late father's twin brother. However if this is the one referred to, he was born in 1874 not 1840. On his first marriage he lived at Gainsboro Villa on Chester road and later on in the farm in Cartersfield Lane (until recently occupied by Geoff Williams). Later he moved to Wall and died there on 26th Sept 1951. His only son also died there and both are buried at Stonnall.
Mark Brown was not related to my family other than by marriage, viz I believe John Brown's widow, referred to above, was a distant relative of Mark Brown. He lived at Hilton and had a son, Mark, now dead. A daughter was Betty, who I believe married a Grundy, who was possibly a relative of the ones who work for Keith Parsley, Dick Burton's farm manager at Lower Farm.
Thomas Cooke Brown who lived at Thornes Farm in 1880 was born on Dec 26th 1824 and was my grandfather. He married Betsy Faulkner on 5th Dec 1855 and moved to Thornes Farm on the death of his father, also a John Brown, on 11 Aug 1871 aged 74. John Brown's wife Elizabeth died on 19 Dec 1851 aged 63.
© Julian Ward-Davies
Thomas Cooke Brown and his wife Betsy did, in fact, I understand, live at the Royal Oak in Main St, Stonnall for some time after their marriage, before moving to Thornes Farm on John Brown's death, but I am not sure if they were licensees of this inn. Their children were:-
- Elizabeth, born 16 Aug 1858, who married a Woodhouse and lived at Brownhills.
- Mary, born 7 March 1861, married Edwin Allsop, lived at Pelsall. They had 10 children all of whom emigrated to America.
- Clara, born 23 March 1865, married George Orme and was mother of Walter H Orme and Mrs Gilbert Paxton (my cousins).
- John, born 17 Sept 1866 (referred to above) He had 9 daughters, the eldest of whom was Mrs Payne, mother of Geoff Payne.
- Matilda, born 21 Aug 1868, married Fred Smith and lived at Burntwood.
- Adelaide Eley, born 11 March 1870, married William Hill who had 2 sons John and Thomas born 31 Aug 1871, died in infancy 29 Feb 1872.
- Sarah, born 16 Dec 1872 and died as a child 10 Dec 1884.
- Thomas and Walter Richard, twins born 1 Sept 1874 referred to above, Thomas Cooke Brown died 24 Sept 1903 aged 78.
- Betsy Brown, who died 16 January 1909 aged 76.
I knew my grandfather was at one time a churchwarden and that he had some involvement in St Peter's Church School. I understand he was one of the people responsible for sending out the appeal for a testimonial to the late schoolmistress of St Peter's Church School [ie the National School by the church in Church Road] on 29 Oct 1869, the wife of Isaac Watts.
My father and his twin brother both attended Stonnall School before going to Newhall College, until recently the home of the Owen family of Rubery Owen.
My parents lived at Thornes Farm from 8 Sept 1910 to 8 Sept 1924, and then moved to Streetly7, where my father died on 19 April 1954 and my mother on 15 March 1974. Both are buried in the new family vault on the new part of the churchyard, as are:-
- My brother, Thomas William Simkins Brown, born 29/11/1911 died 1/1/1912
- My sister, Janet Brown, born 1912, died 1913.
My mother was Bertha Lizzie Simkins before her marriage and was born at the Rockery, Pinfold Hill, Shenstone. Her parents then moved to Morley Farm, Highfield Rd, Burntwood and farmed there, until moving back to Shenstone Mills about 1902, where my mother lived until her marriage on 8 Sept 1910.
Her father William Simkins was born 25 Jan 1860 at Little Wyrley and lived there until he moved with his parents to Forge Farm and Forge Mills, Little Aston. The mill in Forge Lane was destroyed by fire. He was one of the first choirboys at the new Little Aston Church and before this attended St Peter's Church, Stonnall. Her mother was Sarah Ann Ashorne of Moat House Farm, Longdon, near Rugeley, whose parents and family later moved to Overton Farm, Hammerwich. She and her sister attended the old church school [ie the National School] adjoining St Peter's Church in Church Rd and since demolished. They walked there from Hammerwich in those days.
I was born at Thornes Farm on 26 Nov 1914 and lived there until 8 Sept 1924 when my family moved to Streetly where my sister was born on 6 Jan 1925. when children paid a penny a week to be taught. She lived at the Beeches later in Pouk Lane, Hilton and died there on 5 Jan 1974 and is buried in the family grave at Stonnall, as is my grandfather William Simkins who died at Streetly on 3 Nov 1942.
One of her sisters married my grandfather's cousin, another William Simkins, and they farmed for some time at Gorse Farm, Lazy Hill Rd, Stonnall, where they died and were buried at Stonnall. Another brother William Osborne also buried at Stonnall. He died 8/1/1932 aged 83.
References and notes
1. The Tithe Map Survey of the Parish of Shenstone, 1838, John Mellor, the Church of England.
2. The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Shenstone, 1792, Rev Henry Sanders.
3. This account was collected by local history activist Eric Fisher, of Stonnall, in the 1980s. It is John Brown's responses to a series of questions that were not included in the original document.
4. Rev William Hutchinson, Vicar of Stonnall 1893 - 1922.
5. John Brown of Hamstall Ridware was adjudged at Burton Coroner's Court to have committed suicide with the use of a firearm, allegedly for want of a son.
6. One girl died in infancy.
7. Thornhill Road.
Footnote: did the Browns carry a suicide gene?
John Brown lived with his sister and, by all accounts, they were very close. When she died in 2000, he was beside himself with grief and a day or two later he died, apparently from self-inflicted strangulation. As we have seen, his uncle, John Brown, also died of a self-inflicted wound. John Brown's grandfather, Thomas Cooke Brown, died in mysterious circumstances in 1903 when climbing over a hurdle in a field that would eventually become St Peter's close. Most people carrying a loaded shotgun would break it until a few seconds before discharging it. How, therefore, did he accidentally shoot himself? Were his wounds really self-inflicted?
© Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons PGC 2022
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