In 1905, the house that is now called “Selwood”at 22 Gloucester Road in Thornbury was occupied by the Dennis family. They were to remain there for the next 60 years.
From 1905 to 1914 Samuel and Mabel Dennis were tenants of John Hodges Williams but on 23 June 1914 the house and premises (including the extra triangle of garden) were conveyed to S W G Dennis (schoolmaster). The agreed selling price was £400. It is interesting to note that the house was being called Selwood at this time. The address of the house is given as Selwood in Gloucester Road formerly Colwell Street Lane. This is the earliest reference to the house being called by that name which has stuck ever since.
Samuel had been born in Frome on 15th April 1874, the son of Richard Dennis, a National School teacher and Caroline. Samuel married Mabel Kate Nash who was born on 12th November 1876 in Frome early in 1902. In the 1901 Census, Mabel had been a dairy maid living in Clink, Selwood, Frome, Somerset with her parents, George, a farmer & Prudence. Thus, the name ‘Selwood’ given to their house was the name of Mabel’s home town. In 1891 she had been aged 16, a pupil teacher living at Clink Gate Farm, Frome with her parents.
Mr and Mrs Dennis had moved to Thornbury when Samuel took over the position of Headmaster at the National School, (the Church of England School now called St Mary’s Primary School) on 3rd April 1905.
The booklet of 150 years of St Mary’s School History confirms that Samuel W G Dennis became the new Head teacher in 1905. It adds that he had started as a pupil teacher in the boys National School in Frome and trained at Cheltenham where he obtained a 1st class certificate. He held certificates for Art, Science, Divinity and Drill. For the previous seven years he had been engaged as senior assistant in Frome. During that period he also assisted at the P.T. Central Classes Evening Continuation and School and School of Art and Science.
Samuel must have had an immediate effect on the school as the school inspector’s report in 1905 says that the school has improved in all respects under the new head teacher. His wife, Mabel, also got involved with the school. The school history shows that in 1907 Mrs Dennis did some cover work for a teacher who was continually ill.
In spite of his willingness to employ female teachers, the records suggest that he had strong feeling about their limitations. The school history shows that in 1908 Mr Dennis strongly objected to a female deputy being appointed to St Mary’s school when the previous deputy a male had to be replaced.
In 1910 Samuel and Mabel had a son, Richard William George who was baptised in the parish church on August 7th. In 1915 Richard started at his father’s school and his success must have made his parents proud of him. In 1920, Richard Dennis was top of the 53 candidates from 13 schools examined for 14 places at the Grammar School. Richard’s academic career went on to even greater things, taking up the enthusiasm for nature studies which had been passed on from his father. He became one of the country’s leading figures in the field of fungi. There is a very lengthy biography of Richard on the website of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew if you are interested and we also have the obit published in the Daily Telegraph dated Thursday July 17th 2003.
In 1917, the National School was combined with the Council School in Gillingstool when Joseph Thomason, the headmaster of the Council School was called up for war service. Samuel ran both schools until Joseph Thomason returned. During this period it was noted in The Society of Thornbury Folk bulletin February 1967 that in the First World War, Mr Dennis organised a collection of blackberries by the Church School and Council School – they collected 81 tons, which were passed to the Ministry of Food for the benefit of the Navy and the Army. They were paid a penny for each pound, which was increased to three half pennies/pound.
In the family albums section of this website we have some photographs of the Dennis family. Click here to see them. These include three in Roman costume taken in July 1927 when Lady Jenkinson gave permission for a play called Numa Pompilius to be performed at her home in Castle Street, then called “Clouds”. It was a fund raising exercise to put electric light in St Mary’s Church. Samuel was second senator, Mrs Dennis a lady and Richard Dennis a crown bearer.
Samuel retired from his post as head master in 1936. He said “It is with mixed feelings that I relinquish a position in which I have been so happy and comfortable for so many years but anno domini is no respecter of persons”. At the school flower show, Captain Bennett presented Mr Dennis with a pair of woods, a leather bowls bag, a tobacco jar, pouch and pipe, and a fountain pen for his 31½ years of service. Mrs Dennis was also presented with a beautiful leather handbag. He carried on with his gardening classes until 1937.
During the Second World War, the Dennises seem to have had a family of evacuees lodging with them. The Council School Register for 1941 has a pupil called Arthur John Popple the son of Arthur Wilfred Popple living at Selwood. During this period Samuel was an ARP warden and Mabel was a canteen worker.
Samuel had a number of particular interests. A loyal churchman, he served as either vicar’s or peoples’ warden at Thornbury parish church for about 20 years and he was a member of the parochial church council for a still longer period. A prominent Free Mason, Samuel was a Past Master of the Royal Lodge of Faith and Friendship 270 and Past Provincial Senior Grand Deacon of the Province of Gloucestershire. He was until the time of his death treasurer of the Royal Lodge of Faith and Friendship and Chapter of Hope and Sincerity, Provincial Grand chapter of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire Lygrove Lodge of Mark Master Masons and of the Province of Gloucestershire Mark Master Mason.
Gardening was one of Samuel’s main interests. The school records make several references to initiatives made by him, teaching gardening to the children. It also refers to the fact that at one point the timetable was altered to allow for dried flowers to be pressed and mounted. Outside of school, he became treasurer of the Thornbury Horticultural Society when it restarted after the Second World War and continued in office until a year or two before his death at the age of 90. Henry Smith remembers his father making yearly collections of loads of leaf mould from St Mary’s School which he used to fertilize his garden at Selwood. They were both also keen bowlers. Mr Dennis was Secretary of the Thornbury Bowling club from 1921 to 1954. He later joined the Olveston Bowling club and was made a Life Member.
In 1962 when Mr and Mrs Dennis celebrated their Diamond Wedding, Samuel said that after 25 years of retirement there were not enough hours in the day to do all he wanted to do. His indoor hobbies had included woodwork and book binding. He was a member of the Society of Thornbury Folk and of the Conservative and Unionist Association.
He carried on as manager of St Mary’s School until his death on 10th April 1965 aged 90 years. A lectern was made by Mr A R Pitcher in memory of Mr Dennis.
The following obituary appeared in the South Gloucestershire Gazette on 24th April 1965
“The death occurred after a short illness in Thornbury Hospital on April 10th five days before his 91st birthday of Mr Samuel William Gallop Dennis of Selwood Gloucester Road Thornbury. Mr Dennis had led a full and active life in the 60 years he spent at Thornbury and it could be truly said of him that he gave of his utmost in whatever he took up.
He came to Thornbury in 1905 when he was appointed head master of Thornbury Church of England School and he remained until his retirement from the profession in July 1936. A loyal churchman he served as either vicar’s or peoples’ warden at Thornbury parish church for about 20 years and he was a member of the parochial church council for a still longer period. A prominent Free Mason, Mr Dennis was a Past Master of the royal Lodge of Faith and Friendship 270 and Past Provincial Senior Grand Deacon of the Province of Gloucestershire. He was until the time of his death treasurer of the Royal Lodge of Faith and Friendship and Chapter of Hope and Sincerity, Provincial Grand chapter of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire Lygrove Lodge of Mark Master Masons and of the Province of Gloucestershire Mark Master Mason.
Three years ago last month Mr and Mrs Dennis celebrated their Diamond Wedding and Mr Dennis said then after 25 years of retirement that there were not enough hours in the day to do all he wanted to do. He became treasurer of the Thornbury Horticultural Society when it restarted after the last War and continued in office until a year or two ago. His indoor hobbies included woodwork and book binding. He was secretary of the Thornbury Bowling club from 1921 to 1954. He later joined the Olveston Bowling club and was made a Life Member. He was a member of the Society of Thornbury Folk and of the Conservative and Unionist Association.
Only close relatives attended the private funeral at Thornbury Parish church on Wednesday of last week. The service was conducted by Cannon R G Rawstone Vicar and Rev Douglas Bell-Richards (curate). The service was followed by a cremation”.