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Anne-Marie Ford    -    2 February 2014

The Leicester Mercury of 21st July 1860 reported that a Gypsy with the elegant name of Woodfine Smith, 89 years of age, was charged with stealing 15 hazel sticks from a covert occupied by Mr. T. Cook of Hillmorton. The value of the sticks, or rather the damage done, was 7/6d. The case was proved and the defendant was ordered to pay 30/- including expenses, or go to prison for 21 days. Woodfine Smith, the son of Nehemiah Smith and Elizabeth, had been baptised at Weedon Lois, Northamptonshire on 6th March 1780, so that he was about 80, rather than 89, at the time of this sentence. Nevertheless, extremely old to be sent to prison for three weeks.

Three years before, on 10th October 1857, we have sight of him, claiming to be 84, and his wife, together with their granddaughter and her husband, this time being charged “with taking up . . . lodgings in a hovel, on the Lawford Road,” although in this case the “offenders, who are Gypsies” were discharged. Woodbine Smith was married to Sarah Boswell, and both descended from important Romany families. They had 11 known children, Edward, born about 1801; Zachariah, born about 1806; Thomas, baptised at Rothersthorpe, Northampton on 28th February 1810; Moses, baptised in Bradden, Northamptonshire on 8th March 1818; Sidney; Spiretta, who died in infancy and was buried at Kislingbury, Northamptonshire on 23rd October 1815; Frederick, baptised at Greens Norton, Northamptonshire on 21st December 1816; Sentenia, born at Weedon, Northamptonshire in approximately 1818; Trezian, born, also in Northamptonshire, around 1824; as well as a James and Louisa.

Of these children a number also married into important Gypsy families. These included: Edward, who married Elizabeth Booth; Moses, whose wife was Susanna Sherriff; Sidney, who married Mary Ann Smith, the daughter of Nehemiah and Rhoda; Frederick, who married Eleanor Boswell; Sentenia, who married Esau Smith; Trezian, who married William Clayton.

By the 1861 census Woodfine can be found, a widower, claiming to be 96 years of age, as a basket maker, in Windmill Lane, Berkswell, Warwickshire. With him is his daughter, Trezian, recorded as Ann, with her husband, William Clayton, a basket and clothes peg maker, and their children, Francis, Alvert (Alverdine), Alfred, Diana and Isaiah. Sidney is also there, recorded rather gloriously as ‘Fersidney,’ with his wife Mary Ann, and their children, Mira, Lunnah, Sidney, Mary, Alvert (Alverdine), Isaiah and Caroline (Coraline).

Woodfine was a significant family name, also used for a nephew of Woodfine’s, the son of Nehemiah the younger and his wife, Mary Fletcher. Edward, Woodfine Smith’s son, who married Elizabeth Booth, also had a grandson called Woodfine, baptised at Carsington, Derbyshire on 23rd May 1858, the son of Frederick Smith and Constance Gray. Woodfine’s son, Zachariah, who married Ann Davis, had a son, Joseph,who married Coralina Holland, and who used Woodfine for his son, born around 1875. Yet another son of Zachariah’s, Thomas, who married Beatrice Smith, had a son named Woodfine in around 1886, probably in Altrincham in Cheshire.Woodfine’s son, Moses, who married Susannah, had a son, Sylvester, whose family line also contained this unusual name, since his son, Amos, gave the name Woodfine to one of his four known sons.

By the 1911 census in Lichfield, Staffordshire, Zachariah’s son, Thomas, was recorded as a general hawker, aged 62, with his wife, Beatrice, aged 60, and son, Woodbine, aged about 24. Among the children with them is their grandson, yet another Woodbine, aged just 4 years of age, who claimed birth in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire. Trezian’sson. Alfred Clayton, was to use the name for one of his children, but hidden from view slightly, as a second name. Little Edward Woodfine Clayton was baptised at Handsworth, Stafforshire on 7th September 1890. (Alfred also had a Theresa Ann, baptised with Edward Woodfine and a Sentenia, in the same location in 1893.)

Whether rendered as Woodbine, Woodfine or Woodvine, this name continued to be preserved within the Smith family, and was a significant marker of Romany ancestry. Another important, and unusual, name was Sentenia, Woodfine’s and Sarah’s daughter, whose union with Esau Smith was a cousin marriage. Esau was the grandson of Woodfine’s brother, John, and his wife Mary. Their son, named Nehemiah after his grandfather, was to marry a Rhoda Boswell, the probable step-sister of Woodfine’s wife, Sarah. Their son, Esau, a great nephew of Woodfine’s was to marry Sentenia and together they had 11 known children.

Sentenia and Esau’s son, John, was baptised at Ryton in Warwickshire on 1st September 1839; Rosanna was baptised on 10th February 1942 at Lea Marston, in the same county; there was probably a Nehemiah and a Mezia, followed by a Cinamenta, baptised at Hampton in Arden in Warwickshire on 22nd May 1848; Eliza, born around 1849; Echo/Asher, born around 1852; Camelia, baptised at Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire on 3rd June 1855; James, baptised at Leigh with Bransford, Worcestershire on 7th October 1857; Thomas, baptised at Whitnash, Warwickshire on 6th January 1861 and Joseph, born about 1862.

In the Leicestershire Chronicle of 1st September 1877 Esau Smith made an appearance as a victim of crime. The newspaper recorded a charge of assaulting Esau Smith, a horse-dealer, against a Samuel Smith, also a horse-dealer, at Hinckley on 28th August, for which Samuel Smith was fined 20/- and costs, or in default 21 days imprisonment. Esau was 61 by this time, and an important leader within the tribe. It is hard to imagine a much younger man daring to assault Esau, even if they were quarrelling, as seems likely, over a horse. Esau had a great-uncle Samuel, who was very aged, and so also unlikely, but he also had a cousin Samuel, son of Nehemiah Smith the younger (son of John and Mary), and Rhoda Boswell, aged 52, who is a possible candidate.

Like Woodfine, Sentenia, in a variety of forms, was passed down through the generations of this family. Sentenia’s brother, Zachariah, not only used Woodfine for one of his sons, but his first known daughter was baptised as Cente in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire on 26th February 1835. Moreover, Zachariah’s son Jerusalem, who formed a union with Camelia Smith, a daughter of Esau and Sentenia, was to baptise a daughter Sentenia in Smethwick, Staffordshire in about 1883. Another sibling of Sentenia’s, Sidney, used the name for a daughter born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire about 1850 and another daughter of Sidney’s, Caroline, used the name for a daughter born at Kingswinford, Staffordshire in about 1882. There can be little doubt either that Frederick, son of Woodfine, was thinking of his sister when he baptised his first known child Santy, born at Suckley, Worcestershire in about 1856.

Sentenia herself had two granddaughters named for her; the daughter of John and his wife, Caroline Lovell, was baptised as Centenia at Bordesley, Warwickshire on 2nd September 1868. And Sentenia’s daughter Rosanna also had a Sentinnah, born in Burton, Staffordshire around 1884. And, of course, Senteniawas famously known as queen of the Black Patch Gypsies, following the death of their king, Esau. Known as Henty, she was to remain on the Black Patch in Handsworth for the remainder of her life, even though most of the residents were turned off the site in 1905. A few of the older residents, Henty among them, were allowed to live out their lives there.

If you want to know about this family the really excellent Family Tree of Woodfine Smith by Josephine Tombs is available from the Romany and Traveller Family History Society or through Genfair.

Copyright © 2014 Anne-Marie Ford