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  © Copyright  Romanygenes 2007--2020 Design and Web Layout  © 2007-2020 S.J.Day All Rights Reserved


Copyright RomanyGenes 2007-2020 Design and Web Layout S.J.Day All Rights Reserved

           The Grand old Dukkerin Days


From Blackpool's South Shore / Devils dyke and Ascot all the grand old Ladies who were well known for their Dukkerin skills.

And all those Gypsy Rose Lee's!!! Pictured below far right is the well known Urania Lee kindly sent in by her g g grandaughter Mary, so I thought why not do a page about the days gone by when a trip to the fair or Seaside by the gentry also meant having their Palm read by some yoki rakli here are just a few!!!  

Rainie (Urania) Boswell, nee Lee, was the famous 'Gipsy Lee' – often mistakenly called Gypsy 'Rose' Lee - the fortune-teller whose national fame for that skill was at its height in the first quarter of the 20th century.


Urania Lee was born in June 1851. Her father was Abraham Lee (born 28 May 1830;

baptized 13 June 1830, Charlton, St Luke), a traveling brazier tinker of Charlton.

Her mother was Mary Smith (alias Sarah 'Pol' Lee) of Devil's Dyke.

She and her husband Levi, sometimes referred to as the 'King of the Gypsies',

settled in Farnborough, Kent, where most of their family is buried.

In the early years in North Kent Levi owned several donkeys which he used

to hire out for rides. (Greenwich Park),


The 1891 Census records him with such an occupation:

Caravan & Tent Crofton Road Orpington Kent

Levi Boswell     Head    47     Lets Out Donkeys & Ponies For Hire  b   Wanstead Essex

Araine Boswell  Wife    44    born-   Not known

Georgina Boswell   Dau.  14   Domestic Servant   born Kensal New Town Middlesex

Nora Boswell     Dau.    12   Scholar   born  Dulwich

Levi Boswell      Son      9     Scholar  born    Chislehurst



Indeed for over 70 years Levi's family had a stand for donkeys on Blackheath, just opposite the main gates of Greenwich Park. Every morning the donkeys were driven there, and in the evening back to wherever they were staying – in later years in Farnborough, Kent.

Charles Dickens lived in North Kent, and in his 'Sketches by Boz' wrote of such a donkey ride by two Victorian misses:


"I should like a donkey so much," said Belinda.

"Oh, so should I!" echoed Charlotta Tuggs.

A fly was speedily found; and three donkeys – which the proprietor declared on his solemn asservation to be "three parts blood, and the other corn" - were engaged in service.


"Kim up!" shouted one of the two boys [Kenza Boswell, Levi's son, helped him with the donkeys from eight years of age] who followed behind to propel the donkeys, when Belinda Waters and Charlotte Tuggs had been hoisted, and pushed, and pulled into their respective saddles.

"Hi-hi-hi!" groaned the other boy behind Mr Cymon Tuggs. Away went the donkey, with the stirrups jingling against the heels of Cymon's boots nearly scraping the ground.

"Way-way! W-o-o-o!" cried Mr Cymon Tuggs as well as he could, in the midst of the jolting.

"Don't make it gallop!" screamed Mrs Captain Waters, behind.

"My donkey will go into the public house!" shrieked Miss Tuggs in the rear.

"Hi-hi-hi!" groaned both the boys together; and on went the donkeys as if nothing would ever stop them."


Levi Boswell was known at every horse fair and fete in the county (and others) and was reputed to be without equal as a horse dealer.

Urania was recorded as  'Selina' in the  1901 Census and also  appeared as Selina in the press two years before the 1891 Census.

Kentish Independent: June 29th 1889:-

"Selina Boswell (alias Dighton) her husband, Levi,  aged 40, married of no fixed home, was charged with fighting in High Street, Plumstead. PC Sargent said he was called to the prisoner … who insisted on fighting a man. He separated the parties but the prisoner followed the man and kept irritating him, and as she had stones in her hands he took her into custody. The prisoner, a masculine gipsy woman with jet black ringlets and wearing an immense Spanish hat, said the man in question was the husband of her daughter, only 19 years old with an infant, and he wished to make her run at the donkey's head when … giving children rides. She told him his conduct was unmanly and she threatened to knock his brains out. The prisoner had never been charged before and was discharged.


The Times of 8th May 1924 wrote:-

"The death has occurred at Farnborough, Kent, of Levi Boswell, the head of the Boswell tribe of Romanies, who have relatives in all parts of the world. His widow, Urania Boswell, known as the Gypsy Queen, is a descendent of the original Gypsy Lee. For 300 years the two great Romany tribes, the Boswells and Lees, have intermarried. Levi Boswell was formerly a widely known horse dealer, but for some years he had been living in retirement in a Farnborough cottage. The funeral at Farnborough this afternoon will be attended by Gypsies from all over the country."


The funeral was also reported in The District Times, on 9 May 1924:

"The passing of a Gipsy king – Death of Levi Boswell – Yesterday's funeral pageant

The passing of a great Gypsy King, Levi Boswell (whose spouse is allied to the famous Lee family, and is popularly known as 'the Gypsy Queen') occurred on Thursday of last week, at the age of 77 years. The great Boswell was known to every horse fair and fete in the country. As a horse dealer he was without an equal, and his aid was sought by many in search of a horse if not a kingdom – and they could always rely upon Boswell for a square deal. Then, what of his herds of donkeys – and such donkeys they were. The young people tested their capabilities by the thousands in every quarter of the country at fetes, shows and fairs.

Levi Boswell had acquired the property which he occupied at Willow Walk, Tugmutton Green, Farnborough, and here the family (and donkeys) thrived. Now, alas, there is a widowed Gypsy Queen, and all that remained of the famous Boswell was committed to mother earth at Farnborough churchyard yesterday (Thursday) afternoon. There was an attendance of nearly a thousand people, many of whom came from various parts of the country, and there was a large percentage of the Gypsy tribe amongst them…"



Urania Boswell died on 24 April 1933 aged 82 years at 7 Willow Walk, Farnborough. On the death certificate she was the "widow of Levi Boswell, horse dealer". The cause of death was "carcinoma of stomach and degenerative myocarditis". The informant was "Mary Ann Georgina Costin, daughter, 7 Willow Walk, Farnborough."  This was her daughter, Georgina Boswell.

A full report appeared in The Kentish Times, on 28 April 1933:

"Queen of the Gypsies dies – forecast her own passing – "Death bird" sign for Gypsy Lee


Outside the tiny bungalow at Farnborough, where for the last 40 years she had spent nearly six months in every year and where now she lies in her coffin, 'Gypsy Lee's' brother told a Kentish Times representative of his sister's passing. Even while he was talking some of her relatives arrived and entered the door to gaze for the last time upon her, as she lay, framed in white, with a bunch of flowers on her breast, with the peaceful smile of death on her old, wrinkled face. It was a queen, lying in state, for Mrs. Urania Boswell, widow of the late Mr. Levi Boswell, had been, since her husband's death, the accepted leader of the great clan of Lees and Boswells, almost the last great families of the Romany tribe.


It was like a scene from a Borrow novel, to stand within those walls, hung round with faded photographs of the late queen and her family, with the spotless, polished brass work round the fireplace, and to hear her brother, now the last remaining member of her many brothers and sisters, talking to another of her relatives in the quaint Gypsy tongue, unintelligible to all 'outsiders'. Outside was the group of cottages and bungalows that formed the encampment, an old caravan that still seemed to bear the dust of its many miles of travel, a battered old trap in which she once rode often, a few hens scratching in the dust, her favorite cat still as a statue. It was as though one had been transported back through the years.


And her brother, Mr. Job Lee, "Joby Lee", well known to all the sporting fraternity throughout the country', as he described himself,

a gnarled figure of a man, tough as oak, despite his 70 years, with knotted hands that spoke eloquently of many hard fights in his boxing booth, and mahogany face that told as no words could have done of years spent in the open air, told in simple words of days and nights spent in ceaseless watching at his sister's bedside during the last weeks of her life.

Gypsy Lee, who was 81 years of age, was the daughter of the equally famous Gypsy Lee of Brighton, and like her parent she had a nation wide reputation as a palmist and fortune teller. Among her patrons were people from all classes of society, from the poorest to the greatest in the land. Lords and dukes were not ashamed to listen to her advice, and throughout the district she was a familiar figure … She owned property in many places, and spent six months of the year at Ramsgate, where she had a home, Margate, and other resorts. The other six months were spent as a rule in her cottage at Willow Walk, Farnborough.

Her husband, Mr. Levi Boswell, the king of his clan, died in 1924 and the magnificence of his funeral at Farnborough is still remembered. The traditional cortege with black horses and outriders, and the following of hundreds of his 'subjects' will be repeated today (Friday) at Mrs. Boswell's funeral. She leaves three sons, Herbert, Kenza, and Levi Boswell, and a daughter, who are also well known, though the daughter is at present lying ill in hospital. One of the sons is a well known figure at Blackheath with his donkeys.


Like all her family, Mrs. Boswell was an expert horsewoman, and she used to drive and break horses for her husband. She met with many accidents from time to time, and some 40 years ago when the wheel of a trap in which she was driving broke she fell and was dragged for a long distance by the runaway horse. Seven years later when driving a mule she was again thrown, and her face was badly cut, but she walked nearly half a mile to Farnborough hospital, bleeding profusely. Scarcely had she recovered from this accident when a branch of a tree under which she was sheltering fell on her.

Three weeks ago she had a fall just outside her door, and when a milkman arrived to deliver there he found her lying unconscious. He roused the family, and she was got into bed, and she never got up again. For the last fortnight her brother was with her, and during the last few days of her life he sat by her side night and day, never sleeping and hardly moving away to change his clothes.


















               Urania on crutches at Levi's Funeral



Now let him tell his story of how she foretold her own passing. Try to imagine him, standing before the little thatched cottage in the encampment, in his shirt sleeves, with a bright colored waistcoat half open, his hands thrust deep in his trousers pockets; his head bare to the winds, looking far less than his years, despite the many accidents he has suffered. "On the morning before she died," he said, "a rain thrush came and sat on the tree behind the house. She said to me 'My time is getting near now. It is the first time that thrush has been here for three years. My time is getting near and we shall have rain now for a couple of days.' Then her death bird came over at night time. It is a bird we never see, and we don't know what it is. But it has a sweet noise. It sang 'sweet, sweet' and it came over three times that night. 'Now it is over' she said, 'tomorrow morning about six or seven o'clock I shall say adieu to you all.' The next morning about a quarter or half past seven, a minute before she died she said, 'Good bye to you all. I have finished,' and she died.She never lost her faculties from the time of her illness till her death, nor did she lose her courage, although she knew she was dying. There must be something stoical about the make up of this family, for her brother told our representative that his sister had 'dated him' and he would die 'three years next March'. 'She told me so, and so it will be,' he said, 'and you will remember then what I told you.' And there was not a tremor in his voice, no more emotion than when he told us of his own life, of his triumphs in the boxing ring when he traveled the country with a boxing booth and 'beat all the champions at 9st 6lbs' or of his circus experiences, his falls and broken bones, or of the time when he was injured by a roundabout and lay with broken bones underneath it for an hour.

The funeral takes place at Farnborough Churchyard this afternoon (Friday) and all this week members of the family and friends have been hastening from all parts of the country to be present. It is not every day that a queen dies, and Gypsy Lee will be given a royal funeral."  (Continued on next page click link button)


Continued:- funeral of Levi Boswell, the famous Kentish gypsy levi

          The Grand old Dukkerin Days

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