V6.5 – Alan, Fred and Hannah Maria Dennett, and Thomas and Margaret Dennett

This grave was highlighted as part of our first Holocaust Memorial Day tour, due to Fred’s membership of the Freemasons – more information has been added to flesh out the lives of the others in this distinctive double vault, with its two identical crosses engraved with Celtic knots.

Picture a summer dawn, 1862, Dobroyd. The peace is rent by the cry of a newborn: little Fred Dennett enters the world, the 5th of 6 sons born to James, a bookkeeper, and Emma. One of the boys died in infancy, but the others all survived to adulthood. Had Emma secretly wished for a girl this time? It will have been a busy household of rambunctious boys. One thing is for certain, at the end of the day, she’d have been extraordinarily proud of the man young Fred was to become.

Fred’s childhood was unremarkable, or at least we have found no records, but by the age of 19 the census shows him working as a law clerk for Eastwoods and Sutcliffe’s, one of the first and certainly most well-known solicitors in Todmorden. He began there from the age of 12 or 13, as other records show his activity for the firm, and it was a profession he was to proudly pursue for his whole working life, even as he took up increasingly prominent positions within the community.

By this time he was already active in the Todmorden Volunteer Corps, in which he eventually rose to the rank of Quartermaster Sergeant. These organisations were the forerunners of our current territorial army, and came into being in 1859 in a surge of patriotism which led Alfred, Lord Tennyson to pen the poem “Riflemen Form!” These volunteers had to supply much of their own gear, so this would not have been an insignificant cost at the time, but Fred appears to have joined at the age of 15 or 16. This was only the beginning of his long service to his community.

In his capacity as law clerk for Eastwood and Sutcliffe’s, he attended the old Todmorden Local Board from the time of its formation up to the incorporation of the borough in 1896. He began writing the minutes of the meetings in December 1875, at the tender age of 13. Eastwoods and Sutcliffe’s handled the paperwork, the articles of incorporation, and our Fred Dennett would undoubtedly have been involved. He continued in his post as a town clerk after Todmorden became a borough.

In 1877, aged just 25, our Fred flirted with fame as…of all things… a handbell ringer. He was one of the founding members of the Todmorden Handbell Ringers, and toured Canada and America not once, but TWICE. The first was in 1889, though it seems they were somewhat let down by their organisers in this tour. But the second tour in 1892 was, by all accounts, very successful. The following is a quote from one of the American newspapers:
“Every available seat in every part of the building was crowded by a most respectable and representative gathering…they were not slow in showing their appreciation of the talent displayed by the members of the Todmorden Handbell Ringers, who are just out from England and were specially engaged for he occasion, by repeated outbursts of applause…Several calls were made at different times for encores…In the selection of Irish Airs, one of the pieces, “The Irish Washer-Woman” brought forth roars of laughter by the gay and jolly manner in which the players exerted themselves.”
We can only imagine the charisma these young men must have shown to have garnered such a response from their audiences.

The Todmorden Hand Bell Ringers. Fred Dennett is on the far left.

At the age of 31, in May of 1893, he settled down from being a touring musician, giving up the handbell groupies to marry Hannah Maria Fielden at the Parish church. They went on to have have three children: Alan Stewart, born in 1896, Eunice Stewart born in 1897, and Stewart, born in 1900. Hannah had been born in 1864 in Rochdale and was the only surviving child of her parents James and Sarah. James was originally from Todmorden and worked as a machine turner. Hannah trained and worked as a dressmaker and did so for over ten years, right up until her marriage to Fred.

In the meantime, Thomas Dennett did not miss inheriting any of the intelligence that allowed Fred to move upwards in his career. In both 1881 and 1891 his occupation was given as a book-keeper for a cotton mill, from the age of 15 onwards – not too shabby eh? But he gave it all up for love, at least, it’s romantic to consider that he might. In 1895 he made the newspapers when a cart he was driving on behalf of James Chaffer and Sons, which also included “three young ladies” (Thomas you dog), crashed and everyone was injured. Interestingly, a year later, Thomas married Margaret Chaffer, one of James Chaffer’s daughters. Was she one of the young ladies? One was apparently injured enough, to the face, that she required medical attention. You hope no one ended up with any scars, but it’s nice to think that two of them ended up in a romance.

The new century was a time of great upheaval for the family. Thomas was killed in a tragic accident on the 12th of December 1899 when a wagon he was unloading skidded and crushed him against a wall. He was taken to Halifax Infirmary, but sadly died 9 days later on the 21st. It was less than six months since he had baptised his son, James Chaffer Dennett. Then in the new year Fred and Hannah lost their precious firstborn son Alan at the tender age of 4, on the 25th March 1900. Just a few weeks later on the 17th of April, they welcomed their 3rd child, and continued the name Stewart with this, their last child.

By 1901 the family were living at Mount Pleasant. Fred was no longer ringing with a group but still loved his bells, and was known to get them out of an evening to entertain family and friends by playing some of the old tunes. In June 1913 he was appointed Deputy Town Clerk. He continued to be active with the Volunteer Corps and played a key role in the formation of the Volunteer Training Corps, where he served as treasurer, drill instructor, and eventually was granted a commission as an officer. On his retirement in January 1920, he was granted the rank of Lieutenant. He was also a keen photographer, and was vice-president of the Todmorden Photographic Society. Known to be painstaking and thorough in his work, dignified and kind to all, he also served as clerk to the Fielden and Sourhall Joint Hospital Committees, and clerk to the Todmorden Old Age Pension Committee. He retired as Deputy Town Clerk in 1926, having served Todmorden continuously for 50 years. The Council presented him with an oak gate-leg table and a Chesterfield easy chair, and the admin team presented him with a set of Dickens’ works in 18 volumes. The council passed a resolution placing on their record their “high appreciation of his faithful and able
services and their regret at his retirement.”

Fred was also a prominent Freemason. He was one of the oldest members of Prudence Lodge, where he held the office of Director of Ceremonies. He was also a member of the Temperance Lodge of Mark Masons, and a companion of the Justice Chapter of Royal Arch Masons. He was a Past Provincial Deputy Grand Registrar, a Past Provincial Grand Inspector of Works, and even an honorary member of a Freemasons Lodge in Cyprus, where he spent a long holiday shortly after his retirement. At his funeral, the Vicar conducted the Masonic funeral service, and his pallbearers were all members of Prudence Lodge. Fred had lived to the age of 73, and he died on holiday. He’d been in poor health for some months, and was having a fortnight in Blackpool, no doubt taking a bit of the sea air, when he was suddenly taken ill the night before their return home on the 17th of June.

Hannah and Margaret both outlived their husbands, Margaret by a good deal longer than Hannah. Neither remarried after their bereavement. Margaret had become a dressmaker to help support her two young children after Thomas’s death, and her widowed mother lived with them as well.

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