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Taken from "GIPSIES OF THE NEW FOREST & OTHER TALES"
First Published In 1909.BY HENRY.E.J.GIBBINS
There are Gipsies and Gipsies, but those of the New Forest , the Tent-Dwellers,are many of them descendants of the old Tribes (Orientals) who have made the Forest their home for centuries past. These Camping -or Tent-Dwelling-Gipsies compare very favourably with their more unruly nomadic brethren, the Romany of the towns,the Van-Dwellers. They are amenable to kindness
and are civil and polite,most inoffensive,and nevr known to commit crimes of robbery or violence; in fact, an old local magistrate
told me that he had never known a case against any of these Forest Gipsies more serious than the stealing of such small trifles as a fowl or a rabbit,or some park railings for firewood,during the fifty years he had sat on the bench.
It is to be borne in mind that the following anecdotes relating to the Gipsies of the New Forest refer only to the Tent-Dwelling tribe,who make the Forest their home,and do not leave it. A few families go in summer for a short time to the hop gardens,but return again to the Forest as soon as the season is over.
The Van-Dwellers are not residents of the Forest,and only pass through it periodically.These are as a rule well-to-do; some of them pay as much as £70 to £120,or even more,for their vans,which are beautifully fitted up inside.They think nothing of giving
£30 or £35 each for their horses.They are mostly "cheap jacks", or hawkers of various wares,at which they drive a thriving trade.
many of them are scrupulously clean and tidy with their houses on wheels, and pride themselves on keeping their horses fat and well groomed, and their children well cared for; but I cannot say this much for all of them.
I remember a vicar outside the Forest telling me that not long ago one of these hawkers pitched his van on the village green one morning when a jumble sale was to be held at the schoolroom in the afternoon,so seizing the opportunity the vicar asked him if
he could give a little help towards the sale. "Certainly,sir,I shall be pleased to do so ,and if you will send someone with a cart or a truck I will send a few things round." this being procured, the good-natured man sent round two loads of his wares as a present,which at the sale realised over ten pounds. Upon the vicar thanking him much for his liberal help, the man replied," Iam very glad indeed to have helped you,sir, and when this way next year,if all's well, I shall be only too pleased to do so again.
This liberality,I need not say , is an exception to the general rule amongst these van-dwellers.
By the easy -going process which once divided the world into Jews and Gentiles,Greeks and Barbarians,the Gipsy has ever divided the human race into two great families,his own the Romani,and the rest of the world the Gorgios,or Gentiles; thus everyone not a gipsy must be a Gentile,and as such the object of their hatred and scorn, and always to be a victim of their nefarious pratices, pilfering, cheating, trickery,and lying, but never of late years anything serious, such as housebreaking,horse-stealing, or criminal offences.
There numbers have greatly decreased during bthe last decade, and probably before another ten years have passed the few remaining members of the Tent -Dwellers will have gone altogether. It is not the home to them it used to be. What with the venison,game, and rabbits,which abounded in the Forest ,and at all times kept the stock-pot well supplied,and a little good liquor,"smuggled spirits,"truly it was a paradise to them. No rent, no rates, or taxes, good food and firing gratis, and health unbought; it might well swarm with nomads, or, as they always called themselves,"Travellers."
Travellers they are, as the Forest laws only allow them to remain for two days (48 hours) in one place, lest they should claim a squatter right, as was done so much in the past, that had not some means been taken to put a stop to these depredations, the whole of the Forest would ere now have become the freehold of the squatter . As it is , about one half of the original Forest has been acquired in this and other ways.
The Gipsy Queen's Funeral
Mrs, Lakey, the so-called Queen of the New Forest Gipsies, who died at the ripe age of eighty-five,in October,1903,spent the first four score yesrs of her life in a tent, in robust health and apparent happiness, but during the year 1898 she was very ill, and after frequent visits to her in her camp, upon her subsequent recovery she was induced by me to go into a small cottage at Beaulieu Rails, a little hamlet of thatched cottages in the Forest, about a mile to the west of Beaulieu Village, where she lived (without fear of Anarchists or Revolutionaires) in peace and quietness for the last five years of her life. The rent of her cottage (three shillings a week),a supply of grocery,tea, and an ounce of tobacco every week ,was provided for her by the New Forest Good Samaritan Charity, from Beaulieu Village grocer, and for which she always expressed much gratitude.One of her grandsons lived with her to the end. Her funeral at East Boldre Churchyard attracted a large number of the different families of the tribe from all parts of the Forest to pay their last token of respect, and strange to say , they all managed to appear in mourning costume,and, with the exception of a dreadful wailing, somewhat after the eastern fashion at similar ceremonials, they behaved themselves quite decorously.
The old Queen was a remarkable woman in her way, and always spoke of the other "Travellers" (Gipsies) as her her children, but with all the money she received in her former days-and it was no small amount-she died in abject poverty. For many years, one exceptionally good-hearted clergyman in the Forest was most Liberal to the old lady ,giving her half-a-crown every week when she made her regular call, and it is said she was never sent away with-out it. many others of the well-to-do class went often to see her at her camp, and with bountiful hands. She had a hard, masculine face,which, from exposure to the air,and always sitting in the smoke of her wood fire (as they all do for choice), had become like the leather of an old saddle, seemingly as hard and brown, and as much wrinkled. She was the last of the "Gipsy Queens" in the Forest, no one to this present date having laid claim to the Throne, from which no possible honour or benefit can accrue, and no golden crown adorns. It is a waning and a woe-begone title.
HANNAH LAKEY (NEE MASON) abt 1821-1903
Until recently another old Gipsy woman that is mentioned in the book is Priscilla Sherred feeble and very shaky with St.Vitus'dance,from which affliction she went by the name of "Trembling Polly." She was nearly ninety years of age , but hobbled about in a wonderful way for many miles daily, smoking her very short pipe(which dissapeared entirely into her horny hand on the approach of Gentiles), and wearing a large coal- skuttle bonnet
with a big curtain falling over her shoulders. in a high- pitched ,shaky voice she would tell a pitiful yarn to any who would stop to hear it. Some years
ago I persuaded her to go into a cottage,and for the purpose took a small thatched house with a decent garden attached, a quiet, out-of-the-way spot
at Bull Hill,near Lymington. I paid a month's rent in advance,and placed the old lady and her grandson therein . they seemed very comfortable, and the
village grocer near by supplied them with a weekly allowance of tea and sugar. going over one day, as i had done several times before,to see how they were getting on, I found the cottage deserted, and a man who was repairing the thatched roof told me he belieced the woman had gone to Shilkey Holmes, a well- known Gipsy camping- ground not far away in the Forest. Thither I at once betook myself , and walking up to the first tent I came too , and looking in at the opening at the top, I saw the old Lady quietly smoking her short pipe--"her pipe of piece." After a moment's contemplation of this poor old soul's "paradise", I spoke, but at that instant the pipe fell to the ground and the old woman fairly near collapsed.
I was sorry to have frightened her so much ." Well ,Mrs Sherred,what brings you here?"
"Oh, prey, sir , how you did startle me . I coulden't abide that 'ere roof over my' ed. I coulden't bide it no hows. If I'd a stopt there another day I should have died." " Well I am very sorry to hear it ; but what have you done with the key ?: " Please, sir, I give it to the man as was a thatchin' the 'ouse."
Up to the very last this sadly enfeebled old lady tramped the Forest as of old, and seemed to enjoy the wretched tent life at her advanced age- but since writing these lines she has been obliged to give in, and is now spending her last days in the Workhouse, commonly called by such , " The Wuckuss."
I found Priscilla in the 1901 census at shirley Holmes "under canvas" along with other "Traveller's her age was given as 74.
1901*under Canvas Mount Pleasant Sway all entered as "Traveller's".
Pricilla Sherred 74 hd b Stockbridge, Hampshire
Arthur Sherred 21 son b Minstead, Hampshire
Walter Sherred 25 son bSholing, Hampshire
Edward Sherred 35 b Andover, Hampshire
Eva Sherred 40 b Farnham, Hampshire
Charlie Sherred 7 b Lyndhurst, Hampshire
Elizabeth Sherred 15 b Lyndhurst, Hampshire
Hannah Sherred 9 b Lyndhurst, Hampshire
Pricilla Sherred 4 bBrockenhurst, Hampshire
Thomas Sherred 2 b Brockenhurst, Hampshire
William Sherred 13 b Brockenhurst, Hampshire
Richards Hughes 50 b Alton, Hampshire
Matilda Hughes 50 b Poole, Dorset
Selina Hughes 5 dau b Dorset
William Hughes 9 son b Dorset
I could not find a Priscilla Sherred in 1881 or 1891 but in 1881 i think she is entered as "Priscilla Sheerwood" in Church Knowle, Dorset with two other families of travellers under canvas -Tents.
"Extract: 1881 British Census
Census Place: Church Knowle, Dorset, England
Source: FHL Film 1341506 PRO Ref RG11 Piece 2099 Folio 61 Page 25
Priscilla SHEERWOOD W 49 b Stockbridge, Hampshire Rel: Head Occ: Pedlar Peg And Net Maker
Edward SHEERWOOD U 24 Male Andover, Hampshire Rel: Son Occ: Chimney Sweep (Master
Selina SHEERWOOD U 15 Female Lymington, Hampshire Rel: Daur Occ: Tents Keeper
Robert SHEERWOOD 13 Male Stratton, Hampshire Rel: Son
Walter SHEERWOOD 9 Male Stratton, Hampshire Rel: Son
Arthur SHEERWOOD 4 Male Mynstead, Hampshire Rel: Son."
Thomas Stanley 32 clothes peg/maker b Lytchet Minster Dorset
Harriet Wife 36 b Holwell Dorset
Eli 18 son b Wilts Salisbury
Benjamin 15 son b Cornwall (Weybridge)
Mary Ann 4 dau b Wilts Broadchalk
Britannia 2 dau b Fordingbridge
James Hawkings 38 hd b Newport I o Wight/master ch/sweep
Rosana wife 24 b Longham Dorset
Hester dau 4 b Piddletown Dorset
Betsy dau 1 b Woodyates Dorset