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Notes & Queries JGLS

Notes & Queries JGLS:-


AFFAIRS OF EGYPT -1909*British Isles.


(a) History. — The year 1909 was ushered in by the sequel to the Boxing Day quarrels of the Gypsies encamped on the Bohemian Estate, Eastwood, Southend. This estate is partly owned and partly rented by about twenty-five or thirty families of Gypsies, who make it their permanent home. They are divided into two distinct camps : the converted Gypsies, the Buckleys and Smiths and their connections ; and a varied mob of unregenerate pos-rats and 'mumpers ' belonging to the families Smith, Stone, Bibby, Draper, Scarett,Webb, Livermore, Harris, Laws, etc. Skirmishes naturally take place between the rival factions, whilst internal disturbances are almost as rife, even amongst the attendants at Pender- bella Buckley's mission van (a derelict L. C. C. tramcar). This sequel was the appearance at the Rochford Petty Sessions of — (1) Lewis Livermore and Elijah Stone, charged with assaulting Elizabeth Smith (wife of Bartholemew Smith, a cousin of Gypsy Rodney Smith) ; (2) Fred Smith, son of the above,charged with assaulting Lewis Livermore ; (3) Otte (really Oti) Buckley, charged with doing damage to the extent of forty shillings to Bartholemew Smith's van. Livermore presented an unusual appearance in court,'his head and eye being bandaged up, and, as an outer covering, he had what appeared to be two blankets.

In a few words he had the appearance of being a typical Gypsy,' reported the Southend Standard. He was accused of striking Mrs. Smith with a stick, and Stone of dealing her a blow on the head with an old tin kettle. Livermore objected to complainant and her husband on account of their religion ; and Stone wanted to fight, but they refused. When a policeman arrived on the scene, allegations were made that Smith ' went about thieving all day and preaching at night.' Evidence for the prosecution was given by Elizabeth Smith, Bartholemew Smith, Fred Smith, their son, Beatrice Taplin, their daughter, and Thomas Taplin, husband of the last named. Stone denied the charge, and laid the blame on Thomas Webb, who appeared on the scene with Joseph Livermore, the latter stripped to the waist and wanting to fight any one. Complainant, however, said that Thomas Webb only swore. Kate Webb, wife of the profane Thomas, and sister of Lewis Livermore,on going into the witness-box announced : ' I am going to speak the truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.' She said that her husband never struck Mrs. Smith, but was himself assaulted by Fred Smith, who threw a ginger-beer bottle at him. Jessie Stone, who said that the second prisoner was not her husband but her ' lay by,' gave similar evidence. Livermore and Stone were each fined forty shillings, and the case against Fred Smith dismissed. Otte Buckley was accused of throwing a bucket at the ornamental framework of Smith's van. His father Sam (really Sant), and his brother-in-law, James Smith, stated that they did not see defendant do the damage, but nevertheless he was convicted.


This was not the only appearance of the Eastwood Gypsies in court during the year. Towards the end of April Nathan Buckley was summoned for neglecting to provide (1) a tent in a reasonable watertight condition ; (2) sufficient privy accommodation ; (3) a sufficient water-supply ; (4) a sufficient covered ash-pit and dust-bin ; (5) a suitable dry floor to a tent. The defendant, when asked his age, turned to his brother : ' How old am I, Sam (Sant) ? ' His brother answered that he was seventy. The Bench decided that on condition that Buckley destroyed his tent the remaining four cases would be adjourned. The two brothers thanked them profusely, and left the court saluting at various intervals. A fortnight later, however, when Buckley was again summoned for breach of the bye-laws mentioned above, it was stated that the tent had not been destroyed. At the same time Charles Smith was fined for breaking bye-laws 2 and 4, whilst later in the year Thomas Laws was convicted for breaking bye-laws 2 and 5. In addition, Walter Harris (twice) and James Smith had to pay heavy fines for trespassing in search of conies, and Jack Harris fourteen shillings for swearing.


At various dates ranging from the first week in January to the last in December several members of the Hughes pos-rat family gained notoriety by breaking the law : Edward at Liskeard, James at St. Columb, Henry and Liberty at Yeovil, Abraham at Chichester, Charles (Bert) and Thomas at Eastbourne, Francis at Leamington, and John at East Kerrier.


On January 14 the indomitable Daisy Boswell of George Street, Blackpool, 'one of Gipsy Sarah's granddaughters' (according to her professional cards), reappeared in the Police Court, being charged at Fleetwood with pretending to tell fortunes. It was stated that she had obtained six shillings for the purpose of ' setting the crystal.' A fine of forty shillings and costs was imposed, but only part of this had been paid when she was summoned again, exactly a fortnight later, for a similar off'ence at Kirkham. A St. Annes servant gave evidence to the effect that she had given defendant one shilling to tell her fortune, two shillings more to consult the cards, and a further sum of six shillings to 'set the crystal,' in order that she might see all through her future life. Boswell told her to have nothing to do with a dark young man who used a whip, for if she did she would be a mother before she was a wife. She must never wear anything green, because it was unlucky. The Bench decided to leave the poor deluded servant to the tender mercies of the fraudulent world, and to send the defendant to prison for two months on the present charge, and for fourteen days for the non-payment of the Fleetwood fine. A gross injustice to both, surely !


On April 14 Regenda Townsend (80), Louisa Young, Adelaide Smith, and Clara Boswell (15) were charged at Blackpool with pretending to tell fortunes by palmistry. Two policemen in plain clothes visited the tents on the South Shore Fair Ground, and, having crossed the defendants' hands with silver, were told what they considered to be a lot of 'bosh.' Eva Franklin, a Gypsy living in Clare Street, but formerly of the South Shore, gave evidence for the defence, which attempted to prove that there had been no intent to deceive or impose. Townsend, Young, and Smith were fined ten shillings each, and Boswell bound over. Defendants asked for time to pay the fines, but the Chief Constable objected, saying that they were earning as much as £10 a day. The last prosecution of a Gypsy for fortune-telling on the South Shore was, it was stated, in 1891, when Mrs. Townsend was fined ten shillings and costs. During the whole eighty odd years that they had made a home there their fortune-telling had been connived at, until a year or two ago, when a bye-law was passed prohibiting the practice. The Gypsies were then warned that they would have to quit unless a promise was given that they would desist from it. Of course they gave the promise readily enough, and as readily forgot it as soon as the holiday season (1908) began. How else could they pay the large rents that Councillor Bean and other excellent gentlemen demanded for their pitches 1 They were not prosecuted for this breach of the infant bye-law. The Corporation instead changed their method of attack, and passed a resolution requesting the proprietors of land on the South Shore to allow no new encampments there, and to give their present Gypsy tenants notice to quit, complaints having been very numerous as to their troublesome and disgusting behaviour, and the insanitary condition of their tents. In January 1909 it was announced that the principal landowners, after nmch pressure and a little bullying, had consented to assist the Corporation, and in March that some of the Gypsies had already moved, whilst the rest were packing up their goods and chattels.




This process of packing up took an unconscionable time to accomplish apparently, for six weeks later most of the Gypsies were still there, and still dukerin' too in spite of the belated and somewhat inconsistent prosecution of April 14. An attempt was made to secure exemption from the ban for some of those who were born on the sands, notably the descendants of Sarah and Ned Boswell, whilst later in the year — in November — Mrs. Franklin addressed the following appeal to the King on behalf of all the Gypsies on the South Shore : —


' To His Majesty, — I am very sorry to have to trouble you, but it is for a cause of necessity. It concerns all the gipsies at Blackpool. We have been resident here for the past forty years, and have always been encamped on one jjlot of ground. We all pay £20 to £25 for the season, and also pay rates and taxes. Our tents were the first things on the show ground, and now they want to get rid of us by giving us only one week's notice.


It is very hard for us all. It is driving us from our homes after being here for so many years. Most of our children have been born, christened, and educated here. We appeal to His Majesty for his kind help and sympathy. We are English gipsies, and we look to our King for justice. — Your humble servant,


(Signed), Mrs. Franklin."


His Majesty (through his Secretary) replied that JNIrs. Franklin's letter had been passed on to the Local Government Board for inquiries to be made. What was the ultimate fate of the Blackpool Gypsies the Press-cuttings for 1909 do not state, but it is common knowledge that Gypsy Sarah's descendants alone succeeded in retaining their pitch on the sands. Some of the rest took houses in Blackpool, others secured places on which to stand their vans and put up their tents on the outskirts of the town, whilst Noah and Oscar Young and Bendigo Lee removed with their families to Preston. Next summer, however, most of them continued to ply their trade on the sands, although they were not allowed to camp there.


The expulsion was unjust. The Gypsies were a nuisance to visitors to just the same extent as the rest of the parasitic population of the place, whose fortunes they helped to make. As for the residents, who were for ever complaining, they probably came under the same category as the bear with the sore ear. They might have refrained from libeling though, for it was nothing short of libel to describe the tents as unsanitary, and is it not passing strange that only three members of such a disgraceful community should appear in the Police Court during the year on charges other than fortune-telling, and that their crimes should not be of such a heinous character as might have been expected from degraded ruffians ? Here are the details of the offences. On May 18 Walter (William) Boswell stole a skirt from a wardrobe dealer's, and subsequently pawned it for half-a-crown. He was sentenced to two months' imprisonment. On November 4 Noah Young (68) and his son Oscar were fined 2s. 6d. each and costs at the Fleetwood Petty Sessions for using obscene language, and assaulting the ticket collector at Poulton Station — a man with 'a nasty, slurring, spiteful manner' according to the elder defendant.


To complete the annals of the Blackpool Gypsies, it is only necessary to record that William Townshend, for over thirty years a tent-dweller on the South Shore, died on January 10 at Birkenhead, aged sixty-five, and was buried at Blackpool cemetery on January 13.


At Guildford on January 9, an aged and very deaf Gypsy was prosecuted for ill-treating a horse, by working it in an unfit condition. He gave a name that sounded something like Matthew Jennix, and, when asked how it was spelt, replied : 'They tell me it begins with a j.' Police Constable Johnson, in giving evidence, stated that, on asking Jennix if he knew that the horse was lame, he was told that 'it was foaled like it.' The Bench requested a superintendent with a stentorian voice to ask the defendant if he intended killing the horse, but the latter replied :'I have changed it for a red one with a white face. When did you chop him .

'Day 'fore yesterday.' A fine of £l was imposed, but it was some considerable time before Jennix could be made to understand the decision of the Bench. He tendered half-a-sovereign as payment, but when told that the alternative was fourteen days' imprisonment, he soon found the rest, and left the court shouting at the constable, and accusing him of 'trying to ruin an ole man.' There is no doubt that Matthew Jennix (really Junnix) has a considerable amount of Gypsy blood in his veins, but where he picked up his name is a mystery. According to his son Charlie (who keeps a little greengrocer's shop at 5 Alma Street, Angel Lane, off Stratford Broadway, in the far east of London) he obtained it from his father, a Frenchman who married a daughter of old Draki Cooper of Epping Forest fame — an obvious but interesting lie.


Another decrepit horse was the cause, a few days later, of Hookey Smith, a Gypsy of Spital Hill,Retford, suing a local hawker for thirty shillings, the amount for which the animal had been purchased. Smith, who was a very old man and a cripple, had to be carried in and out of court. Both of these horses were probably just a little more valuable than the two aged ponies, for driving which, whilst in an unfit condition, Levi Smith (17) and his father, William Smith, were prosecuted .


At Bishop's Stortford on January 15, Fred Smith, the five months old child of a Leicester van-dweller, was interred, the funeral being carried out regardless of cost ; whilst at Heavenly Bottom, near Bournemouth, on January 20, Emily Saunders, a cripple Gypsy woman, died as the result of an accident.

On the latter date, at Oxford, Ocean Buckland (nee Doe), wife of Francis Buckland, Bullingdon Green, Cowley, was summoned for assaulting Mary Buckland ; and John Buckland of the same address for assaulting and beating George Simpson ; but the summonses were eventually withdrawn.


From the very beginning of the year Surrey was up in arms against its ten thousand nomads — a 'mumply ' lot, three-fourths of whom hibernate in slums. Complaints from respectable inhabitants were showered down on the heads of the unfortunate Rural District Councils, and they in turn pestered the Lords of Manors, who alone had power to do something to abate the ' gipsy nuisance.' As a result Lord Onslow addressed a letter to the newspapers on January 30, saying that he and the other Lords of Manors were willing to delegate their powers to any authority that was willing to act in moving the Gypsies from the common lands. In doing so he must have trod upon the super-sensitive tail of the Chaplain to the Showman's Guild, for the worthy holder of that egregious office at once proceeded to waste an alarming amount of paper and ink in pointing out to the Surrey landowners and the general public that his protégés followed an ancient and honorable calling, and were not to be confused with the 'gipsy class,' who were, he admitted, 'degenerate and ill-conditioned.' In a leading article on February 5, the Liverpool Daily Courier eloquently appealed against this harassing of the Gypsies, but the appeal was quite unnecessary, for, as the Hon. Secretary pointed out in Country Life on February 1.5, the proposed measures would only affect 'mumpers' and half-breeds. The next step that was taken by the landowners was the calling of a meeting at Lord Onslow's house on February 19, when it was decided to form an association of the Lords of the Manors and the owners and occupiers of lands, shootings, and houses within the County, for preventing the encampment of nomads within the districts inhabited by members. At a further meeting, held on April 28, it was resolved to appoint patrols to turn vagrants off the lands of members of the Surrey Anti- Vagrants Association. A little later in the year the scope of the association was widened, and it adopted the straggling title of The Surrey Anti- Vagrants and Prevention of Heath Fires Association.' The suggestion that the sin of vagrancy was closely connected with the crime of heath-firing naturally led to many protests, one of especial interest being from the late Sir Charles Dilke, who,writing to the Morning Post of June 29, also took the opportunity of pointing out that he was named as a member of the Executive Council although he had never replied to the circular issued. Having given the infant association a fair start, the Press then withdrew its support, and left it to stagger on alone, the burden of its title hanging like a millstone around its neck. After the end of June nothing more was heard of it.