Category Archives: Newspapers

Walter Smith: a different ‘king’ and leader for the ball-giving Gypsies?

George Smith, the self-styled ‘King of the Gypsies’, seems to have a usurper.

Walter Smith, seated, with his son-in-law Stephen Hewitt. Stephen is the husband of Walter's daughter Pamela Smith.

Walter Smith, seated, with his son-in-law Stephen Hewitt. Stephen is the husband of Walter’s daughter Pamela Smith.

As you can read elsewhere on this blog, George Smith [C12 in the Borrow’s Gypsies family tree of 1910] always claimed that he was the one who came up with the ingenious money-making idea of leading his Smith, Young, Chilcott and Lee relatives on a grand tour of Great Britain and Ireland from the 1860s onwards. In major towns and cities along the way, George invited the public to visit their encampment to see how real Romany Gypsies lived and to have their fortunes told by his wife Kurlinda/Corlinda Lee and his daughters or other female members of the community. In the evenings, they held dances – advertising them as ‘The Royal Epping Forest Gypsy Balls’ – held either within the encampment or in public halls nearby. Here George brought in local caterers to serve refreshments and professional musicians to provide music. Kurlinda/Corlinda and George were usually in attendance, under the guise of  ‘The King and Queen of the Gypsies’.

But this newspaper report of 1871 seems to suggest that another member of George’s family had claimed the crown. This is Walter Smith [C3 in the 1910 tree, born 1841, died 1921], first cousin to George. His ‘queen’ is his wife Matilda, nee Gaskin. And it is interesting to see the mention of the Mullinger and Whatnell families. As far as we know, this is the first known contemporary reference to them as adherents of the ball-giving group.

North Wales Chronicle, Saturday 11 November 1871

“A GIPSY BALL.– Whether or not many people go a gipsying in the present day, it is pretty certain that no inconsiderable number go to gipsy balls. This was evident at the Masonic-hall, Scotland-road, Liverpool, on Monday night, when the “King and Queen” of the Gipsies gave a ball. The Zingari tribe of gipsies – they maintain that they are the only genuine tribe – are at present in camp in the neighbourhood of Everton, and they embrace the families of the Mullingers, Smiths and Whatnells. Their home is Epping Forest, but they have been in these parts some time.

The king rejoices in the common name of Smith – Walter Smith, that of his Queen being Matilda Smith. They speak the gipsy language, marry only amongst their own tribe, but consummate their matrimonial alliances in Protestant places of worship. They would appear to depend a good deal on the support of “externs”, making money wherever they are, and getting a living in quite a different style to the old, pastoral style of their ancestors. The ball was one means of replenishing their exchequer, and judging from the members who attended, it was pretty successful. The prices of admission, moreover, were low, and the opportunity of seeing and dancing with their majesties was thus within reach of all.

The King, Queen, and other members of the tribe, together with their children, graced the occasion with their presence, and entered thoroughly into the spirit of the dance. Her Majesty the Queen (Mrs. Smith) was dressed in blue silk, with a rather pretty head-dress which has no Parisian or other name. The rest of the female members of the tribe were for the most part attired in white, with glaring red trimmings, and red Garibaldi jackets. The costume of his Majesty (Mr. Smith) is perhaps best described as being a compound between the dress of a gamekeeper and a groom.

Perhaps the most innocent feature of the affair was the children of the gipsies, with their jet-black hair and piercing eyes, merrily capering amongst the throng of adult dancers. So far as we could observe the ball was well conducted, and will result in a goodly sum being netted by the Zingari tribe.”


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The death of Honor Smith: unexpected place, unexpected year

For such an elderly matriarch, Honor Smith [B2 in the Borrow’s Gypsies tree of 1910] has been pretty agile in eluding researchers.

A number of folki have been looking for her death for a good many years. What led us all astray was that in her last sighting, in the 1891 census, she was living in a tent on the sands at Blackpool’s South Shore as a member of the long-established Gypsy community there. The oral history had it that she had died on the road, probably somewhere in Lancashire, at the age of 102. Relatives in Blackpool also believed that she had been buried with other members of her family in the town’s Layton Cemetery.

Honor was baptised 8 December 1816 at Belton on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, the daughter of Ambrose and Mary Smith, itinerant tinker. So, if the story about her age at death was true, then the year was likely to be 1916-1918 or so. The problem was that the English death indexes just weren’t showing an Honor Smith in that year range, nor in the county that she had made her home and where she had many relatives. There was also the possibility that she might have been registered  under an alias. She was recorded as ‘Hannah’ on at least one occasion during her life and on the birth certificate of her son Saunders, rather oddly, as ‘Thomas’. It seemed like a brickwall.

That is, until a chance search for Honor’s name a few days ago in the newspaper collection at the British Newspaper Archive finally tracked her down, in an unexpected place and in an unexpected year:

Royal Cornwall Gazette, 3 March 1898

A CENTENARIAN. – The death is announced at Gloucester of Honor Smith in her 101st year. Mrs. Smith was a native of Norfolk, but had lived the greater part of her life in Liverpool and Blackpool. Deceased, who retained nearly all her faculties until a few weeks ago, was a total abstainer, and her eyesight and hearing were remarkably keen, whilst her memory was almost unimpaired. She was the mother of nine children, only two of whom survive her.

Bristol Mercury, 1 March 1898


Mrs Honor Smith, of Worcester-street, has just died at the remarkable age of a few months over a hundred years old. Deceased, who was a native of Norfolk, had lived the greater portion of her married life at Liverpool and Blackpool. She had been a life-long abstainer, and had never known a day’s illness until she had an apoplectic fit about 17 years ago. Her eyesight and hearing were keen to the last, and her face is said to have been without a wrinkle. A few weeks before her death she protested against taking stimulants by the doctor’s orders. Mrs Smith would have been 101 next August.

Morning Post, 26 February 1898

DEATH OF A CENTENARIAN. – The death is announced of Mrs. Honor Smith at the residence of her daughter in Gloucester. Mrs. Smith attained the age of one hundred years last August.

The information on Honor’s death certificate corroborates the newspaper reports. It states that she died on 24 February 1898 at 53 Worcester Street, Gloucester, aged 100, the widow of Francis Smith, a horse dealer. The cause was senile decay. The informant was her daughter Sarah Franklin, in attendance, of the same address. (Sarah is C5 in the Borrow’s Gypsies tree, the wife of John Franklin.)

So for all Romany family historians the moral seems to be firstly, when someone gets close to being a centenarian, don’t be surprised if their age is hugely exaggerated in family stories and official records. And secondly, be open to the possibility that their place of death may be a long, long way from their familiar haunts.

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Deliah Smith and Pooley Mace star in US newspaper photos

Deliah Mace (nee Smith), the wife of Pooley Mace

Pooley Mace

Violet and Berthelma Middleton, the twin granddaughters of Pooley and Deliah, wrongly ascribed by the newspaper as ‘Mace’. Their parents are Madonna Mace, Pooley and Deliah’s daughter, and Gus Middleton

American newspapers were just as fascinated about  Gypsy life and culture as British ones were in times past – as this article from the Newark Daily Advocate goes to prove. The big bonus here is the inclusion of photos of the English Romany family the reporter met and interviewed in New York City in 1907.

They are members of the Borrow’s Gypsies group. Deliah Smith is the daughter of Ambrose Smith: the ‘Jasper Petulengro’ of George Borrow’s novels, numbered as C8 in the Smith family tree that you can see elsewhere on this site. She was baptised aged 6 at Westhall, Suffolk, on 3 January 1847. Her birthday is believed to be 22 May 1840.

There is – as far as I know – only one other photo of Deliah, taken in 1878 in Scotland. So it’s great to have this second portrait of her from such an unexpected source. And while you will find many photos of her husband Pooley Mace as a younger man on boxing history websites, this one of him in his old age must be pretty rare. (And boxing historians will note that the newspaper has made a mistake in calling him the brother of Jem Mace. Pooley was in fact Jem’s first cousin.)

Pooley was born 29 January 1839 and baptised at Beeston, Norfolk, on 2 February 1839 as ‘Lippolius’. That would make him 68 at the time of this photo. He died on 21 October 1912 and was buried at Cross Creek Cemetery 2, Fayetteville, North Carolina, USA. Deliah joined him in the same cemetery following her death on 4 June 1914.

Here’s the report that accompanied the photos:

The Newark Daily Advocate, 21 February 1907 (published in Ohio, USA)

“Gypsies do not fear winter

 New York, Feb 21. – Blissfully indifferent to zero weather and snowstorms, a band of gypsies is spending a delightfully comfortable winter in New York City. Their tents, some of which are supplied with electric light and other modern conveniences, are clustered near the subway station at 174th street, in the Bronx.

 Most of them are descendants of the ancient Lovell and Smith tribes, but one among them, although forgotten for almost half a cenury [sic], was at one time a conspicuous person throughout civilization and one of the best known gypsies in the world. He is Pooley Mace, brother of “Jem” Mace, who was for many years the champion pugilist of the world, and no doubt the most widely known and most popular scientific fighter of the century.

During the great champion’s triumphs in Europe and this country, Pooley Mace travelled with him as his sparring partner, and now, when one has gained the old man’s confidence, he sits in his cosey [sic] tent, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, and with a memory of remarkable accuracy, tells of the scenes and the men forty or fifty years ago, when he and his brother were the lions of the sporting classes wherever they went.”  


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Morella Smith, widow of Ferdinand Smith, 1854 inquest

From The Ipswich Journal, 3 June 1854:


INQUISITION. By Mr. Woods Coroner. – On Thursday last, at Grundisburgh, on the body of Amaryllis Smith, widow, aged 70 years. It appears that the tribe of gipsies frequenting this and the neighbouring counties, to which she had for many years been attached, arrived at Grundisburgh on Monday last, and pitched their tents in an orchard at the back of the Half Moon Inn. One of  their women being ill Mr. Acton attended her, and on that occasion saw Mrs. Smith in good health. On Wednesday afternoon, she was heard in her tent making a rattling noise in her throat; it was shortly repeated, when her daughter rushed into the tent just in time to catch her when falling. She was unable to speak and insensible. Mr. Acton was sent for and was speedily on the spot, but she died a few minutes after his arrival. His examination being to the effect that she died of serous apoplexy, the Jury were quite satisfied that her death was from natural causes; verdict accordingly.

Morella Smith – recorded here and on her death certificate as ‘Amaryllis’ – was the wife of Ferdinand (aka Faden John) Smith [reference A2 in the Borrow’s Gypsies family tree elsewhere on this site]. The couple were married in 1803 in Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk. She was the mother of Ambrose Smith, George Borrow’s ‘Jasper Petulengro’ (c1804-1878) [B8] and must have been known to Borrow, if his description of his first encounter with Jasper and his parents at Norman Cross near Peterborough is fact rather than fiction. The daughter mentioned in the newspaper report is Elizabeth Smith or Buckley who gave evidence at her mother’s inquest, where her surname is recorded in her statement as ‘Buckland’.

By a strange coincidence, the death of Ferdinand Smith was also subject to an inquest. He was tried for burglary at the Suffolk Assizes in March 1822, in the company of his son Ambrose Smith and Lewis Boswell. Ambrose was acquitted but Ferdinand and Lewis were both sentenced to transportation for life. Lewis was sent to New South Wales in October 1822, arriving in Australia in March 1823. But Ferdinand – perhaps because he was an older man – spent the next four years imprisoned in the convict hulk Captivity at Portsmouth, Hampshire. He ended his days as a result of the disease erysipelas, an acute skin infection, on 11 March 1826 in the Racoon hospital ship in Portsmouth Harbour where the convicts received medical treatment.


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The Chilcot/t and Lee grave at Kesgrave, Suffolk

This fine coffin-shaped monument commemorates members of the Chilcot/t and Lee families. It stands in the churchyard of the parish church of Kesgrave, Suffolk, about 8 miles outside Ipswich. It marks the burial spot of four people, three of whom are named in the inscriptions.

The first of these is John Chilcot/t, commemorated on the side of the tomb facing the camera. His inscription reads: “In memory of John Chilcot (horse dealer) eldest son of John and Ruth Chilcot, who died in the parish of Woodbridge, 1st April 1851 aged 25 years”. The carving of the horse and two men is – according to information from Penfold relatives of the Chilcotts provided at the end of the 19th century or early in the 20th – meant to show John Chilcott on the right with whip in hand, while his brother Charles stands on the left holding the horse by its halter.

This John was baptised as John Riley Chilcott at St Andrew’s, Barton Bendish, Norfolk, on 2 November 1823, his father’s occupation being given as Gipsey. His brother Charles was baptised on Christmas Day 1825 at St Michael at Thorn, Norwich, Norfolk, where his father’s occupation is given as Brazier and his mother Ruth’s surname as Boss. (This surname conflicts with the oral history which suggests that Ruth was a Lovell.)

On the other side of the monument is an inscription for Rosabella Chilcot, sister of this John. This reads: “Rosabella daughter of John and Ruth Chilcott who departed this life April 16, 1857 aged 26 years.” Rosabella – recorded as “Erosabella Killthorpe” – was baptised on 2 October 1831 at South Wooton, Norfolk, where her parents are described as Itinerant and Gypsies. Corlinda Lee, daughter of Charles Lee and Union Chilcott, was baptised on the same day in the same church. (You can read more about Corlinda elsewhere on this site.)

On the third face of the monument – the flat upper surface – is an inscription for Repriona Lee. This reads: “In memory of Repronia Lee niece of John Chilcot who died March 2, 1862, aged 25 years.” Repriona is another daughter of Charles Lee and Union Chilcott, being baptised on 27 September 1846 at Westhall, Suffolk, at the age of 10 years and 7 months.

According to the burial register, there is also a fourth occupant in the Kesgrave grave. This is Noah Slende (properly Slender) who was buried on 11 April 1851 aged 4 years: that is, only a week after the burial of John Chilcot/t. A note in the register beside the entries of these two states: “Buried in the same grave. Died in Wales.” However, according to the GRO death indexes, the deaths of both John Chilcot/t and Noah Slender were registered at Woodbridge, Suffolk. The reason for the “Died in Wales” comment is therefore a mystery.

The deaths of all three of the adults attracted press attention. The death of John Chilcot/t is believed to have been reported by the Suffolk Chronicle on 12 April 1851. The paper mentions the funeral of a wealthy Gypsy at Kesgrave, unfortunately unnamed,  that drew great public interest and a good deal of abusive behaviour from the non-Gypsies who came to the church.  The Suffolk Chronicle of 21 April 1857 mentions the funeral of Rosabella Chilcott, calling her “Isabella” and describing her as the “Queen of the Gipsies”. And the death and funeral of Repriona Lee was extensively reported in The Times on 2 March 1862.

You can read more about this grave in an article by Ivor Evans in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society (Third Series, Vols 33-34, 1953-54) and in a local history published sometime before 1953 called Kesgrave – Short Guide to Church and Parish.

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Cassello Chilcott: died in a stable and buried at Coggeshall, Essex, 1842

Visit the churchyard of Coggeshall, Essex, and one of the first gravestones to greet you as you climb the path to the church is that of Cassello Chilcott, daughter of John and Ruth Chilcott, who died in the parish on 29 September 1842. The burial register records her as Celia Chilcott, abode Coggeshall, aged 28, who was buried on 2 October 1842. Against the entry, a different hand has written: “One of a company of Gypsies who died at the White Hart Inn.”

The event of her death attracted a lot of press coverage. It was reported not only in The Chelmsford Chronicle but also in the national press, appearing in The Times on 18 October 1842, where Cassello’s name has evolved into ‘Cecilia’. The Chelmsford Chronicle of 7 October 1842 states:

“SINGULAR GYPSY FUNERAL AT LITTLE COGGESHALL. – For some time a numerous tribe of gypsies have pitched their tents in Cut Hedge Road, Little Coggeshall, and depredations having been committed in that neighbourhood during their sojourn, a suspicion has been entertained that they are the guilty parties. Information was consequently given to the police, who, on Wednesday, the 28th ult, visited their tents and instituted a strict search. Nothing tending to incriminate them was, however, found in their abodes, which, it seems, were furnished most comfortably – their bedding being of the best description, and their apartments carpeted throughout. Their removal was insisted upon, and three carts were filled with their household ‘sticks’, which were conveyed to the White Hart Inn, where, according to our informant, they were accommodated in the stables.

Amongst the parties was a young woman who had been ill for two years, and who was at the time of her removal rapidly sinking. She, instead of her accustomed bed, it is stated, lay upon straw only in the stable, and expired on the following (Thursday) morning. Medical aid was offered, but the head of the gang declined it, saying it was their practice to attend to their own sick, and all had been done for her that could be. As soon as life was extinct, much ceremony was observed: – The body was dressed in a Scotch plaid gown, silk stockings, and satin shoes; wax tapers were burnt, and the remains laid in state. Instructions for the funeral were given to Mr. Clements, the undertaker, and no expense was spared to render it most respectable in all its appointments. The coffin was of fine oak, studded with gilt nails, and bore a brass plate upon which was engraved ‘Cecila Chilcott – Died Sept. 29 1842, aged 28 years.’  On Sunday last the funeral took place, and her remains were interred in the parish churchyard, by the Rev. W. Wigson, curate, in the presence of a concourse of between four and five thousand persons. The pall was supported by four respectably dressed females, deeply veiled, and about thirty of the tribe followed all dressed in black, the men wearing black cloth cloaks. The greatest decorum was observed by the whole of the party, and a more respectable funeral, we understand, has not been seen in the town for many years. We are credibly informed that in the coffin were placed by the side of the body the deceased’s watch and a purse of money, for the protection of which a person is appointed to watch the grave for some weeks. The father of the deceased, attributing the death of his daughter to the removal by the police threatens to take legal proceedings against the parties.”

You can read more about Cassello and the Chilcott family in an article by Angus Fraser called Gypsy Burials at Coggeshall, published in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, (Third Series, Vol 47, 1968).

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The manslaughter of Elijah Buckley, 1832

The Essex Standard, and Colchester and County Advertiser

22 September 1832

An inquest was held on the 17th instant held at Waltham Abbey , on the body of Elijah Buckley. The deceased was one of a party of gipsies who had been at Harlow Bush fair, where a quarrel ensued between him and the wife of one of the parties named Stevens, who snatched up a pole, with which he struck him across the head. A regular skirmish followed, in which the deceased was once or twice knocked down. Buckley took to his bed in consequence, and never spoke again. He died on Saturday morning, and as it appeared, from extravasation of blood on the brain. Verdict – Manslaughter against John Stevens.

Elijah Buckley was the partner of Elizabeth Smith [B9] (the sister of Ambrose Smith, c1804-1878) and the father of George Smith [C12] (born 1832) and Leviathan Smith [C14] (born 1828) and – according to the oral history recorded in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society – also of Oti aka William Smith [C13]. (The latter’s baptism has not yet been traced.) Elijah was buried on 19 September 1832 at the Abbey Church of Waltham Holy Cross, Waltham Cross, Essex,  where he described as being 34 years old and a brazier from High Beech: a location within Epping Forest.

But there are two mysteries here. Firstly, on the two occasions where Oti/William Smith has been found in census returns, he gives ages that equate to a birth year somewhere between 1836 and 1840. If he is being accurate, then he obviously cannot be the son of Elijah.

Secondly, when George Smith writes about his father in his 1886 autobiography Incidents in a Gipsy’s Life (re-published by the Romany and Traveller Family History Society in 2001), he says: “House-dwellers often have remarked as to the life we lead; many have suggested it to be unhealthy. Now, to prove to the contrary, my dear old mother died at the age of 75, and my father at the age of 81.” So we have to consider: is this artistic licence to prove a point? Or did Elijah’s widow Elizabeth take up with an unknown partner after 1832 who raised George from a baby as his own son and also fathered Oti/William? I look forward to finding that missing baptism one day.

You can read more about George Smith and his wife Corlinda Lee elsewhere on this site.

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