John Dinnis is about as far back as I have got while researching my father’s side of the family. He is my great great grandfather, and what draws me to him is the fact that he lived in Brighton with his family during the 1840s to the 1860s. It has been possible to find such an amount of information about him that I feel I am actually getting to know him and his family life quite well.
He was born in 1816 in Baldock, Hertfordshire, the next piece of information about him is the England Census of 1841. By this time he was married to Charlotte and they had a little girl aged 4, Catherine. They lived at number 9 Middle Street, Brighton which is very close to the seafront and is in the town centre. It’s still there today and is somewhere I walk past quite often, I have never known my ancestors lived there before and it seems odd to think that they were also wandering around the same streets over 150 years ago.
John has listed his occupation as a Cook, and although I don’t know where he worked it might well have been one of the local hostelries.
My interest was sparked by this information and I began reading books about old Brighton. (The New Encyclopaedia of Brighton, Rose Collins, and the website http://www.brighton-hove-rpml.org.uk/ROYALPAVILION/ABOUTTHEPALACE/Pages/History.aspx.
At this time Brighton’s population was growing, in 1841 the London to Brighton Rail line first opened, bringing more people to the coast. At the same time as the Dinnis family lived in Middle Street, Charles Dickens was often visiting the town. He first visited in 1836 while he was writing ‘Oliver Twist’, and four years later in 1840 he returned, writing chapters of ‘Barnaby Rudge’. Later in 1847 Dickens and his wife Catherine stayed at The Bedford Hotel on Brighton seafront while she was recuperating from an illness. Charles Dickens continued writing ‘Dombey and Son’ which is partly set in Brighton. I wonder if my great great grandfather ever came across him, he was just around the corner. In 1837 the new Queen Victoria visited Brighton for the first time, this must have been a big event that the Dinnis family might have been a part of.
The next information is from the 1851 England Census, which I will write about later.
From the Census information and the various Brighton Directories available on www.mhms.org.uk it is possible to see the various neighbours of John and Charlotte Dinnis. This gives a flavour of life in these times, and builds a picture of Middle Street. They include:
A gas fitter; pork butcher; beer retailer; solicitor; grocer; Brighthelmstone Dispensary; tailor; Union School; registrar of births and deaths for the palace district; bookseller; shell fishmonger; basket maker; straw hat maker; coal merchants and cow keepers.