Princess Victoria and the gypsies, part 2

We’re delighted that you have joined us for the second part of this post. So, following on from part 1 we have managed to tease out a whole list of names that Princess Victoria was given by the gypsies she met at Claremont, so we wanted to explore the family group in more detail to see if we could find out what became of them after their royal encounter.

Firstly, Princess Victoria confirms for us the family name – Cooper  – and that a baby was due to a member of the family very soon. She also told us when the child was born and that she hoped they would name the boy, Francis. The couple in question were Matthew and his wife Eliza (née Lee and aged around 20-years) and sure enough in the baptism register for Cobham appears the child’s entry for 1st January 1837; Francis, son of Matthew and Eliza Cooper, travelling gypsy.

Checking through the newspapers and almost a year later the story of Victoria meeting the gypsies had become somewhat distorted with the child that was born becoming a Walter rather than Francis! Contrary to the newspaper report, as far as we can tell the gypsies did not tell Victoria’s fortune!

windsor-and-eton-express-25-november-1837
Windsor and Eton Express 25 November 1837

We followed Francis’ life and he lived to a ripe old age, married Alice Ayers and had children, but remained true to his roots living in a tent/caravan for the majority of his life. Princess Victoria would have been delighted to have known that probably through her kindness he survived, despite living outdoors through many a cold winter.

Secondly, Victoria provided information and drawings for another member of the family – Sarah Cooper who had a child, George, but no husband with her. Sarah was baptized at Chalgrove in Oxfordshire on 28th July 1805, the daughter of Richard and Mary Cooper, ‘a gipsey by name‘.

Her son George was baptized on 4th April 1824 at Upton Grey in Hampshire, the son of Sarah Cooper ‘a travelling woman of Chargrove [sic] Oxfordshire‘. George was known to use White as a surname in later life, so possibly this was his father’s surname.

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Sarah Cooper. Courtesy of the Royal Collection.

Next we have Mary Cooper, who would have been born in the 1780s and was the wife of Richard/Henry Cooper (either the same man going by two different names, or possibly she successively partnered two brothers, something not unknown amongst these families) and pictured here as the matriarch.

She was mother of Sarah, Leonard, Nelson and Matty/Matthew, all of whom were camped at Claremont, and it was Matty’s wife Eliza who was due to give birth very soon. Matty would achieve renown as rat-catcher to Queen Victoria at Windsor; did the queen take a lifelong interest in this family, recognising him as the father of the baby who she had shown such an interest in?

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Mary Cooper dated Dec 31 1836. Courtesy of the Royal Collection.

We travel  back to the early 1800s to a couple born shortly after the turn of the century – Leonard Cooper and his future wife Phyllis (Philadelphia Smith). The couple lived as man and wife for some considerable time but finally tied the knot on April 20th 1851, Leonard named at his marriage as the son of Henry Cooper, a horse dealer and Philadelphia the daughter of John Smith, a rat catcher; a Caroline Smith was a witness. Leonard’s brother was Matty/Matthew Cooper, rat catcher.

Leonard and Phyllis travelled around Surrey and Berkshire selling their wares, so would have been well-known within those communities. The couple produced several children including Job, Nelson (named for Leonard’s brother), Diana and Thomas, who was a young babe in December 1836. As the children grew up they too married and began to travel around the same patch along with their families.

Job married Selina, Nelson married General Buckland; Diana married a Henry Hazard and Thomas, a Sarah Coleman in 1855 at Christchurch St Marylebone.

Gypsy families are notoriously difficult to find in census returns as they were either ignored by the officials collecting the information, or they themselves chose to remain ‘under the radar’ so either conveniently disappeared on census day or gave inaccurate information. It is quite common to find a group of people at the end of a census return who don’t know their name, age or place of birth!

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Phyllis Cooper and her son, Nelson. Courtesy of the Royal Collection.

Of the children in the picture below with Sarah we have been able to identify Nelson, Job and Dinah (Diana) as children of Leonard and Phyllis, and Britannia was the daughter of Leonard’s brother Nelson and his wife Isabella.

We’re sure that someone out there will be able to help us trace Emmeline and the possible Helen (could she possibly be Misella, another of Nelson and Isabella’s daughters?).

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Courtesy of the Royal Collection.

Misella was born c.1832, possibly in London, Britannia was baptized 13th January 1833 at Putney and in the June of 1835 the couple baptized a son, Dangerfield. The young Princess Victoria doesn’t name Isabella in her journals, but did meet her and noted that she had a baby; possibly this was the eighteen month old Dangerfield.

If you have enjoyed this, why not check out our book, A Right Royal Scandal, which shows how, but for a young Romany girl, our present day royal family might look very different indeed!

Sources:

Gypsy Genealogy

Header image: 

Visite à Claremont House, 1844 from the Government Art Collection.

 

Gipsy Camp; George Morland; The Stanleyand Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

Under the canopy of heaven: A Gypsy’s winter birth in Lincolnshire, 1820

When you picture gypsies of the past, do you picture them travelling in their gaudily painted horse-drawn caravans or vardos?  In truth, this form of transport is a relatively modern invention, and the gypsy people generally sheltered in ‘bender’ tents, using donkeys and carts to transport and carry their tents and their belongings from place to place.  A bender tent is formed from a covering of tarpaulin placed over flexible branches, usually willow or hazel, which are staked into the ground, a crude but very effective form of shelter.

gypsy

For this reason, it was common for these people to ‘overwinter’ in lodgings in towns and cities rather than camp in the very coldest months.  Sometimes though, they did find themselves living in their tents during the freezing temperatures.  On the evening of the 17th February 1820, in the Lincolnshire countryside, a boy was born in such a tent in sub-zero temperatures.

Gypsies in a Landscape by Alexander Fraser (c) Paisley Art Institute Collection, held by Paisley Museum and Art Galleries
Gypsies in a Landscape by Alexander Fraser
(c) Paisley Art Institute Collection, held by Paisley Museum and Art Galleries

The Stamford Mercury newspaper, dated the 25th February 1820, reported on the birth.

LINCOLN, FEBRUARY 24

BIRTH

At eleven o’clock on the night of the 17th inst. a poor woman of the gipsy tribe was safely delivered of a fine boy in a lane a mile distant from the village of Wellingore, in this county, under scarcely any other covering than the canopy of heaven.  The thermometer that night was ten degrees below freezing point: but notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather then and since (the ground being covered with frost and snow), the mother and child are both doing extremely well in their humble camp.

The infant was baptised at the parish church in Wellingore three days later, on the 20th February, and given the name of Nathaniel.  His parents were named as Joshua and Ann Smith, with Joshua’s trade in the baptism register listed as ‘beggar.’

Gipsy Camp; George Morland; The Stanleyand Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds
Gipsy Camp; George Morland; The Stanleyand Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

Gipsy Camp; George Morland; The Stanleyand Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

Cornelius Blewitt was a Gipsy: the end of his life in a Lincolnshire village in 1786

In January 1786, in a small rural Lincolnshire village, an elderly gypsy died. Cornelius Blewitt was no ordinary gypsy though, he was a King of the Gypsies, and he was still remembered at the dawn of the 19th century. We think it is fitting that he is remembered once again now.

Gypsies in a Landscape by George Morland, c.1790 (c) Bristol Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Gypsies in a Landscape by George Morland, c.1790
(c) Bristol Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Cornelius was possibly born in Rochdale in Lancashire, baptized shortly afterwards at Davenham in Cheshire on the 26th February 1721, the son of Eliza Bluet, ‘a travailer‘ although at a baptism of one of his children he and his wife Phillis Boswell were described as being of Woolstone near Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire. Wherever he started his days he ended them at Thurlby-by-Bourne in southern Lincolnshire, where he was buried on the 7th January 1786, the burial register stating his age as 66 years.

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St Firmin’s Church, Thurlby-by-Bourne

Another gypsy also lies in the churchyard at Thurlby-by-Bourne, a girl named Lucia, daughter of Parcenos and Mary Bluet from Kentford in Suffolk who was buried there in 1754.

On December 19th, 1799, the Oracle and Daily Advertiser newspaper published the following article.

THE COUNTRY CHURCH YARD

THE GIPSY

“Ha! ha! My Friend!” said EUGENIO, interrupting me, “the wings of thy fancy have borne thee again into the Regions of Delusion – as far from the point as Morality from a canting Face. CORNELIUS BLEWITT was a Gypsy.

“And yet, perhaps, you have rather undervalued, than exalted, his importance; for with the alteration of no single circumstance, except the change of scene, from fertile England to the Desert of Arabia, the dust we now despise might, during Life, have been entitled to its seraglio of Beauties, and its guard of Eunuchs; and have ordered the Heads of a hundred Captives to be struck off, to appease his capricious spleen, whenever a tempestuous wind prevented an excursion of Plunder, or a cruel Fair one had neglected the mandate of his love.

Take Physic, Pomp! Ambition check thy rashness. PULTOWA’S loss sunk SWEDEN’S Madman nearly to this level, though BENDER trembled at his shattered greatness; and an unfortunate day on the Banks of the Ganges might have rendered the mighty Son of PHILIP (like him whose mouldering bones we are moralizing upon) the Monarch only of a wandering Tribe of Robbers, as much despised, though I fear, not so little detested, as CORNELIUS BLEWITT.

In short, CORNELIUS, was King of the Gypsies: and was used, every year, attended by his Royal Family, and Officers of State, to visit this Village. He kept his Court at the House of that same honest, grey-headed Farmer, or Publican, where we have left our Horses; and in that very parlour where we enjoyed our tankard of excellent Home brewed, was erected his rustic Throne.

I met the Wanderers there in one of my former excursions: nor ever beheld I a set of merrier, or, apparently, more harmless Beings. And, believe me, the venerable Majesty of CORNELIUS, the despotic Ruler of the mysterious Counsellors of Fate, was regarded with no little reverence by the Country Maidens. Nay, and what will surprise you, his arrival was hailed with no small degree of pleasure by the whole Village; for CORNELIUS and his Subjects spent their money liberally, and paid with punctuality, and it is an invariable rule with these people never to rob in the neighbourhood of their settled Haunts.

But the Majestic Nod and Imperial Frown Death values not. KING CORNELIUS sleeps in the humble Grave, and the Five Bells at Thurlby is no longer a Royal Residence. The Palace and the Empire have shared one common Revolution; though the latter, it seems, has been considerably the greater loser by the change, for not only the Family, but the Nation of our Hero is reported considerably to have declined from its splendour since it has been deprived of his wise Administration.

A solemn deputation is, however, annually, sent to visit the venerated Tomb, to pay it, as is supposed, some mysterious honours, and to keep it in constant repair, a practice which would do honour to more regular Societies; and the neglect of which is a disgrace to the surviving relatives of departed Grandeur; for what can be more ridiculous or irreverent, than, after immense sums have been expended on Sepulchral Monuments to let them moulder away in neglect, and mingle with that dust they were designed to immortalize!

Header image:

Gipsy Camp; George Morland; The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

Gipsy Camp; George Morland; The Stanleyand Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

‘Her Vagrant Majesty’ of Puddletown, Dorset

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Puddletown, Dorset

Sporting Magazine, volume 21 dated 1803 reported:

A short time since, the youngest son of the late Peter Stanley, commonly known by the appellation of King of the Gypsies, started from the town-pump in Dorchester, to run to the town-pump in Weymouth for two guineas; the distance is about eight miles and a quarter, and the time allowed was an hour and two minutes, but he performed it with the greatest ease one minute and a half within the time.

The person who made the bet was a young spendthrift of the neighbourhood, who, fearing he should not be able to see fair play himself, hired a horse for his favourite Cyprian to accompany the light-footed prince, but she not having attended Astley’s Lectures on Horsemanship, and finding it impossible long to retain her seat in the usual way, immediately crossed the saddle, and in that state entered Weymouth, at full speed, by the side of her infatuated adorer, to the no small gratification of a numerous assemblage of spectators.

Having read this story we thought we would see if we could find anything more out about the family. Henry, records show, was the youngest of at least nine children born to Peter and Sarah Stanley, a  gipsy family who were renown in Puddletown (formerly known as Piddletown) in the county of Dorset and the surrounding area. Seven of the nine survived to adulthood and were named Selbea, William, Sabra, Aaron, Peter, Paul and Henry.  The family spent most of their lives travelling around  Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire and ultimately Peter (senior) became known as the King of the Gypsies, a term applied to the respected elders of the community. According to a 1792 settlement document, Peter’s occupation was a razor grinder and tinker.

Gipsy Encampment by George Morland, c.1790-1795 (c) Walker Art Gallery

As was commonplace amongst the gipsy community they occasionally found themselves on the wrong side of the law, in particular, Henry, the runner, who managed to acquire a one year spell in the old Dorchester prison for assault.

Peter died in 1802 and the parish register of Puddletown confirms that he was aged 75 and buried on the 18th November 1802.  However, his headstone tells a different story and gives him as being five years younger leaving us unsure as to which is the more accurate.

In memory of Peter Stanley, King of the Gypsies, who died 23rd November 1802, aged 70 years.’

puddletown_church

Sarah allegedly reached the grand old age of 101 years when she died, which, if you do the maths on that, would have made her some 12 years older than her husband and 58 years of age when she gave birth to her youngest child Henry in 1778 at Winterbourne Kingston, which seems highly unlikely.

Travelling Gypsies by Thomas Barker c.1787 (c) The Holburne Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Travelling Gypsies by Thomas Barker c.1787 (c) The Holburne Museum

Whilst researching the gipsy community we have noticed that it was quite a common practice for gipsies to add a few years on to their ages at death.  Perhaps this was done to make them appear to be more important?

Sarah died at Wareham in Dorset and was buried at Puddletown alongside her husband on the 22nd of February 1821 and as such an important person in the community her death was noted in the newspapers and a large number of people attended her burial; the extract below is from Jackson’s Oxford Journal.

At Piddletown, Mrs Stanley, the Dowager Queen of the Gipsies, of the counties of Berks, Wilts, Hants, and Dorset. Her vagrant Majesty was in the 101st year of her age.

Gipsy Camp; George Morland; The Stanleyand Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds
Gipsy Camp; George Morland; The Stanleyand Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

 

 

Gipsy Camp; George Morland; The Stanleyand Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

The Case of the Misjudged Gypsies

In our earlier post about the gypsies of Georgian England, we said that we would revisit the topic and today we have decided to look at one example of the prejudice this group of people suffered.

Gipsy Encampment by George Morland, c.1790-1795 (c) Walker Art Gallery
Gipsy Encampment by George Morland, c.1790-1795
(c) Walker Art Gallery

When Elizabeth Mary Kellen presented herself at the door of a gentleman’s house at Southend near Lewisham in the June of 1802, dressed in little more than rags and quite obviously starving, her tale of being stolen by the gypsies was readily believed.

She looked to be around ten or twelve years old, and it was clear that she had previously been educated and well brought up. The gentleman took her in and an investigation was put into place.

Elizabeth Mary Kellen told the benevolent gentleman that she was the daughter of Captain Kellen of the Plymouth Marines. About seven months before her father had sent her on an errand to a person living at Stoke near Plymouth and, just outside Plymouth, she met a gang of gypsies, five men and six women, who forcibly seized hold of her and carried her to their camp some distance away.  There the gypsies stripped Elizabeth of her clothes, giving her some of their rags to wear instead. Elizabeth, by her account, was not alone as a prisoner; two other girls about the same age as she were already held there and Elizabeth heard them cry every night for their mothers. A boy by the name of Tommy soon joined the three captives.

gypsy

When taken before the Bow Street magistrates and questioned by Sir Richard Ford, Elizabeth could give no further information about Tommy other than describing him as being of ‘genteel appearance’ as the gypsies had kept them apart and not allowed them to converse. The children had been forced to travel around the country with the tribe, helping them in their nefarious habits of stealing poultry and milking cows at night. The gypsies intended, claimed Elizabeth, to darken the skin of the children with walnut juice when it was walnut season to make them appear as real gypsies.

Elizabeth told the magistrate she had managed to escape when she was sent to a nearby farmhouse for a light. Instead of going there she had run, scrambling over hedges and through ditches for many miles until she reached Southend where, tired out and hungry, she stopped and asked for help.

Bow Street Magistrates' Court from Microcosm of London, 1808
Bow Street Magistrates’ Court from Microcosm of London, 1808

Whilst officials sent to Plymouth for news of Elizabeth’s father, scouting parties were sent into the countryside around London to round up any gypsy found there.  About fifty were taken, held and put to the bar two or three at a time in front of Elizabeth in the hope that she could identify her captors. Those she did not recognise were given a small sum of money to compensate them for the inconvenience of being held prisoner before being sent on their way.

The Morning Post newspaper noted that:

Never, perhaps, was there such an assemblage of this merry motley tribe in London, and who, whatever may be their mode of life, they exhibit the strongest outward marks of health and spirits. Their children are extremely fine in general, and many of the girls very beautiful.

The gypsies Elizabeth did identify, a married couple together with another woman and six children, had been apprehended at Wandsworth and were held in the House of Correction before being questioned by Sir Richard Ford and Mr. Thomas Robinson Esquire at the Public Office in Bow Street.

Bow Street Police Station (www.open.ac.uk)
Bow Street Police Station (www.open.ac.uk)

Here Elizabeth’s story slowly began to unravel.

The gypsies did not deny knowing Elizabeth, or that she had lived with them for a time, but they did deny meeting her near Plymouth six or seven months previously. Instead, they had met with the girl on Kennington Common just ten days earlier and, seeing she was on her own and in distress, they had allowed her to travel with them and had given her food and shelter. Elizabeth stubbornly refuted this and stuck to the veracity of her own story but more witnesses were called in.

Andrew Dew, a Sergeant of Marines belonging to the Plymouth Division arrived and he knew Elizabeth. He told Sir Richard that she was not the daughter of Captain Kellen, but the daughter-in-law [possibly meaning step-daughter in this case] of John Killings, not a Captain but a Sergeant in the same Division.

In the January of 1802, Andrew Dew had seen Elizabeth at Stonehouse Barracks near Plymouth selling apples and nuts for her mother.  Elizabeth disliked having to stand in the street at the Barracks during winter selling produce and she had run away, John Killings assuming she had gone to her relations in Taunton, Somerset.  A letter was then read from the Mayor of Plymouth who had been asked to make enquiries. He confirmed that the person in Stoke she claimed her father had sent her on an errand to on the fateful day she had been kidnapped did not exist, that Elizabeth’s story was false.

Stonehouse Barracks (www.devon.gov.uk)
Stonehouse Barracks (www.devon.gov.uk)

Finally, the overseers from the parish of St. Mary Rotherhithe attended the Public Office and identified Elizabeth as a girl who had been in their care since the 31st March 1802, when she had arrived with a pass dated from Plymouth and a settlement examination attached to it in which she claimed that her name was Elizabeth Mary Hibbins and that she belonged to the parish of Rotherhithe; she also said her father was dead. She was taken into the workhouse there and, although no record could be found relating to her dead father by which means her settlement could be confirmed, she behaved so well that the overseers did not like to turn her out and allowed her to remain in the workhouse, giving her leave to work in the surrounding fields for her own benefit. On the 4th of May, she had left the workhouse to work in the fields but had never returned.

The gypsies were brought from their confinement in the House of Correction and instead of being charged with the abduction of the girl they were instead thanked for their humanity and kindness in trying to help her. In gratitude for this, and in compensation for their wrongful arrest and confinement, they were given some money and several gentlemen who were present added silver from their own pockets to the total.  The authorities accepted that Tommy and the other two girls supposedly held captive were merely figments of Elizabeth’s imagination and the gypsies were then set free and sent on their way.

Elizabeth wept a little but then refused to answer any more questions. She was sent to the House of Correction so lately vacated by the gypsies whilst the authorities tried to establish exactly who she was and where she should be sent. Although it was noted that she was ‘very little, and plain in person, and cannot be above eleven or twelve years of age,’ Elizabeth now claimed that she was, in fact, seventeen years old.

Misjudged - Kennington

Elizabeth Mary Kellen’s story illustrates the attitudes and prejudice of people against the gypsies at the time. They did commit many petty crimes but the oft repeated tales of them kidnapping children which are found so frequently in contemporary reports of the day invariably turned out to be nothing more than ‘urban myth’ with no basis in fact.  That Elizabeth was so readily believed when she pointed to gypsies as her kidnappers was a sad fact of this perception when they had actually behaved extremely well and charitably towards her.  The story was reported in newspapers the length and breadth of the country, even appearing in the American newspapers when the story reached those shores, and much more tabloid space was giving up to the initial telling of the kidnap than was given to the final conclusion of the affair.

As for Elizabeth, she faded into obscurity after this, whether as a seventeen-year-old taking advantage of her small stature to prey on peoples sympathies by posing as a helpless young child or as a runaway youngster dependent upon parish relief.

Sources used:

Morning Post, 11th June 1802

Staffordshire Advertiser, 12th June 1802

Oxford Journal, 12th June 1802

Sussex Advertiser, 14th June 1802

Oxford Journal, 19th June 1802

Header image: Gipsy Camp; George Morland; The Stanleyand Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds