Tag Archives: Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society

Faden John Smith’s mystery family make their home in Ireland

On Borrow’s Gypsies family tree, published in 1910 in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, there’s a small knot of people at the bottom of one page with no details attached to them.

They are Bertram [C15 in the tree], Herbert [C16], Beatrice [C17], Norah [C18] and Ambrose Smith [C19], the children of Faden John Smith [B10] and his partner Alice, a non-Gypsy whose surname, according to the tree, is ‘Penden’. Faden John Smith himself is the brother of Ambrose Smith [B8], the ‘Jasper Petulengro’ of the novels of George Borrow.

As far as I’m aware, little or no work has ever been done to trace Faden John’s family or identify the people in it. Until now, that is. For research into Faden John, Alice and the children has revealed that they left England in the late-1860s to make their home in Ireland and that they never returned to live permanently in England again. Perhaps this is the reason why their Smith relatives based in England couldn’t provide T.W. Thompson with any useful information about them when he was compiling the family tree.

John Farthing Smith – to give him the name that he is invariably recorded by in the historic documents discovered so far – married Alice Penn (rather than ‘Penden’) in Hatcham, South London, on 24 October 1857. Alice was indeed a non-Gypsy, born in a street close to Liverpool Street Station in the City of London in 1837, the daughter of a merchant’s clerk.

By the time of the 1861 census, we find the couple camped in caravans at Mile End, Bow, London. They now have one child, recorded in the census as a daughter called Bertha, aged 10 months. But a birth certificate shows that the child was in fact a son, Bertram Farthing Smith, who was born in 1860 in Old Ford Road, Bow. With John and Alice in 1861 are two more adults: John’s sister Elizabeth Smith [B9], the widow of Elijah Buckley, and her son William Smith [C13]. William gives his age as 25 and his birthplace as Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.  Both John and William give their occupations as horse dealers.

Two more children arrive in the family before they leave London: Herbert, who was baptised at St Mary’s, Stratford Le Bow, London, in 1862; and in 1864, Beatrice Alice, born in a house at 1 North Street, Poplar, London.

And then, off go the family to Ireland, possibly as adherents of the ball-giving group of Gypsies led by John’s nephew George Smith [C12], who you can read about elsewhere on this blog. George is the other son of the Elizabeth Smith mentioned above and therefore the brother of William.

In Ireland, John and Alice add two more children to their family. Leonora Eugenie Smith was born on 3 March 1869 in Strabane, County Tyrone. Ambrose – recorded as Lewis William Ambrose Smith – was baptised in Killeshin, County Carlow, on 19 June 1876.

It appears that John and his nephew William Smith may well have gone into business together as horse dealers in the Irish city in which they all eventually settled, Dublin. Either that or the two brothers William and George started up a business, perhaps with John’s help, but with George’s involvement being rather remote: he was living in Scotland in 1891 and 1901 and in Wales in 1911.

John Farthing Smith died in Dublin on 11 June 1896, according to a reference in the Irish calendar of wills. Here he was described as a ‘gentleman’ of 29 Nelson Street, Dublin. Unfortunately, most Irish wills were destroyed by fire in the early 20th century so this index reference is tantalisingly all that survives. More than that, the Irish General Register Office have been unable to trace a death certificate for a John Smith in Dublin in 1896 among their records so we have no more details about his death.

John’s widow Alice continued to live in Dublin. We find her in the 1901 census with her children Bertram, Beatrice, Leonora and Ambros [sic] living at 41 Granby Lane, Dublin. In the 1911 census she and her daughter Leonora are living alone at 12 Emor Street, Dublin. She died in 1920 in Sandford Avenue, Dublin, and the administration of her estate was granted to her son Bertram Smith, described in the calendar of wills as a ‘merchant’.

And what became of the children? Here’s a potted biography for each of them:

Bertram Smith
He became a notable horse dealer in Ireland and is recorded in newspaper reports in the late 1800s attending horse fairs and possibly owning race horses. He travelled back to England to marry, wedding Eleanor Rimmer, daughter of a joiner from Liverpool, in Egremont, Cheshire, in 1901, By the time of the 1911 census, he was back in Dublin and had two children: Bertram, born in Dublin in 1903; and Eleanor, known as Nellie, born 1909, again in Dublin. Bertram’s wife Eleanor died in 1920 in Dublin. Bertram then married for a second time, to a Jane Jenkins, a farmer’s daughter, in 1923 at St Stephen’s, Dublin. His address then is given as Lad Lane, Lower Baggot Street. It’s not known if he and Jane had any children. Bertram’s death has not yet been traced.

Beatrice Smith
She married a Londoner called William Thompson Mackey, a designer of machinery, in 1901, in Dublin North Registration District. In the 1911 census, the couple are living in Fulham, London, with no children of their own but with a niece called Alice Elizabeth Smith, aged 5, born in Dublin. But Beatrice seems to have returned to live in Ireland at some point after that. Her death, as Beatrice Alice Mackey, is recorded in Dublin South in 1945.

Herbert Smith
No reference has been found for Herbert after his 1862 baptism at St Mary’s, Stratford Le Bow, London. Perhaps he died young.

Leonora Smith – the ‘Norah’ of the family tree
Leonora didn’t marry. She continued to live with her mother Alice until Alice’s death in 1920. Her own death is recorded on 20 June 1929 at Adelaide House, Dublin, possibly a hospital, aged 60.

Ambrose Smith
Ambrose followed the profession of horse dealer like his father and cousins. He married Bridget Behan, daughter of a steward, on 22 January 1904 at St Mary’s, Dublin. Within two years, he was dead. His death is recorded on 4 June 1906 at 41 Granby Place, Dublin. It’s not known whether he and Bridget had any children but perhaps the Alice Elizabeth Smith who is living with Beatrice in London in 1911 belongs to him: she was born in about 1906.





Leave a comment

Filed under Balls, Baptisms

Death of Sylvester Boswell, 1890

From the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, Old Series, Vol. II, p191 (1890-1891)

DEATH of a well-known English Gypsy

Sylvester Boswell (“Westaaros”), famous for his deep Romines (1), died April 8 and was buried April 24 in Flaybrick Hill Cemetery, in the same tomb with his two sons Byron and Bruce. He died in Walton Workhouse, where he had been placed by his family about four years ago, when his mind began to fail. He was seventy-nine years of age, but most of the Gypsies here believe him to be much older; his nephew, J. Gray, insisting that he was at least 100. Upon his giving up tent-life, his goods were divided among his surviving sons and relatives, and as his subsequent death did not actually occur on the camping-ground, the usual Gypsy custom of destroying the deceased’s effects was not in this case followed. He is, however, said to have himself made away with a number of small valuables before his retirement. I remember, after that event took place, the ground underneath and around his small tent was dug up to a considerable depth, in the hope of finding some of the articles, which he is believed to have somewhere secreted.

(1) Vide Bath, Smart and Crofton’s Dialect of  the English Gypsies; Groome’s In Gipsy Tents; and Morwood’s Our Gypsies in City, Van and Tent

Sylvester Boswell – often known as ‘Wester’ – was baptised on 23 August 1812 at St Mary’s, Dover, Kent, the son of Tysa Boswell and Sophia (nee Heron). His father was allegedly serving in the Army at the time and so was stationed on the Kent coast. As many Gypsy historians know, Tysa (aka Tyso/Taiso) was killed by lightning at Tetford, Lincolnshire, in 1831, as was Edward Heron. The two men were buried together in the churchyard there under a large monument. Sylvester’s mother Sophia died in Brindle, Lancashire, in 1861, reputedly aged 100, and is buried in the churchyard of St James, Brindle.

It’s believed that Sylvester had three partners. The first – according to the oral history – was Mary aka Moll Smith [B1 in the Borrow’s Gypsies tree of 1910]. There were no children and Mary then went on to become the partner of Golden Hope and had a large family with him.

The second partner was Sarah Heron by whom – so the story goes – Sylvester had one child. Perhaps it’s this one, found in the baptismal register of West Keal, Lincolnshire, dated 16 July 1832: Sempronius Boemea, son of Sylvester and Sarah Boswell, occupation potter. (He was known later in life as ‘Bui’.)

And partner No. 3 was Florence Chilcott, the maternal aunt of the Corlinda Lee – wife of George Smith [C12] – who you’ll find mentioned many times elsewhere on this site. The children of Sylvester and Florence were: Byron (born 1839), Mackenzie (born 1842), Oscar (born 1844), Bruce (born 1847), Julia (born 1850), Wallace  (born 1853), Laura (born 1859) and Trafalgar (born 1856).

In 1878 Trafalgar Boswell married Athaliah Whatnell, daughter of Adelaide Smith [C6] and James Whatnell. Their son Silvester Gordon Boswell (born in the Gypsy encampment at South Shore, Blackpool, Lancashire, in 1895) not only inherited his grandfather’s name but his literary talent too. Old Wester was well-known as a scholar Gypsy with his own extensive library and a deep knowledge of the Anglo-Romani language that he shared with George Borrow. And young Silvester Gordon – in turn – became the first British Gypsy to have his autography published by a major publisher when his Book of Boswell: Autobiography of a Gypsy appeared in 1970.

An overgrown monument at Flaybrick Cemetery commemorates Sylvester Boswell and three other people: his son Byrom [spelt thus, rather than ‘Byron’] who died or was buried 23 May 1883; his son Bruce died/buried 23 April 1886; and an infant named Burns Boswell died/buried 11 March 1873. Research in other sources shows that the latter is a grandson of Sylvester, being the child of Mackenzie Boswell and his partner Lureni Young, baptised 3 February 1873, Tranmere, Cheshire with the parents’ names recorded as ‘McKinzie’ and ‘Loraine’. Mackenzie himself is buried under his own fine monument nearby, as described in another entry on this site.

1 Comment

Filed under Baptisms, Burials, Deaths, Gravestones

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Burials, Deaths, Funeral, Gravestones, Newspapers

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).

Leave a comment

Filed under Burials, Deaths, Funeral, Gravestones, Newspapers

Borrow’s Gypsies: the family tree published in 1910 – Part 2

This is the second part of the family tree of Borrow’s Gypsies, originally published in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society in 1910. It spans the period from about the 1830s to 1910. For more information, please see the introduction to Part 1 in the previous blog.

Leave a comment

Filed under Baptisms, Births, Burials, Census, Deaths, Marriages

Borrow’s Gypsies: the family tree published in 1910 – Part 1

The inspiration for everything on this site stems from an article in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, published one hundred years ago. Researched and written by the great Gypsiologist T W Thompson, it includes the family tree shown below. This is Part 1 that spans the period from the 1770s to the 1820s. Part 2 is posted in the blog that follows.
It’s believed that all the biographical information was gathered as oral history by Thompson and fellow-Gypsiologists direct from Smith family members of their acquaintance. It has to be said that not everything in the first generation on the tree is 100% accurate. That isn’t surprising when you consider that the informants were trying to remember relatives who had lived and died many years before. But from the generation labelled ‘B’ onwards, I’ve found that most of the names, partnerships and relationships cross-check beautifully with documentary evidence in things like census returns and parish registers. If only every family historian had a starting point like this! I feel very privileged that my Smiths were recorded for me and for posterity in this special way.

The family tree of Borrow's Gypsies, published in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society in 1910

Leave a comment

Filed under Baptisms, Births, Burials, Census, Deaths, Marriages