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Tinkers of Chedworth.

Anne-Marie Ford    -    6 July 2014

Chedworth is a Gloucestershire village nestled in the Cotswolds, just seven miles from Cirencester, and was considered home territory by the Traveller family descended from Robert and Eleanor Stephens/Stevens from at least the late eighteenth century. In 1787 the Gloucestershire Overseer’s records list Robert Stephens, claiming to come from Cirencester, his wife, Eleanor, who said she was from Burbage in Wiltshire, and their three children, Elizabeth, Robert and Mary, all said to be of Chedworth.

It is possible that a marriage between a Robert Stephens and Eleanor Collier, which took place on 15th January 1783 in the registration district of Cirencester, applies to this couple. Although there is little further information given in the Overseer’s remarks of 1787, three years later Robert and Eleanor appear in the records again, and this time Robert’s occupation is given – that of tinker. Robert and Eleanor continue to baptise most of their children in Chedworth, as did many of their descendants, claiming settlement there. In addition to Mary, Elizabeth and Robert, they are known to have baptised Joshua in Chedworth on 12th February 1788, Ambrose, on 23rd January 1790, son of Robert and Eleanor, “tinker,” and Hercules, also recorded as the son of tinkers Robert and Eleanor, on 3rd November 1793.Between these last two brothers an Immanuel/Emmanuel, son of Robert and Eleanor Stevens, was baptised on 16th October 1791 at Newton Toney, Wiltshire. A daughter, Elianor Landon, was baptised on 28th December 1801 at Fairford, Gloucestershire, and their last known child, Joyce, was baptised on 6th March 1803 at Woodborough in Wiltshire.

Wiltshire was clearly part of Robert and Eleanor’s patch, not only because of geographical proximity, but perhaps because of a familial link through Eleanor. As a result, it is hardly surprising to find a removal order dated 19th March 1831, in which Emmanuel Stephens and his family are removed from Somerford Parva, Wiltshire to Chedworth, Gloucestershire. With Emmanuel, the son of Robert and Eleanor, are his wife, Elizabeth, and children Maria, aged 13, baptised at Berkley, Gloucestershire on 24th August 1817; Moses, aged 11; nine-year-old Amos; Mark, aged five; Ann, three; two-year-old Ezra, baptised as Hazor, son of Emmanuel and Elizabeth at Little Somerford, Wiltshire on 8th June 1828; Eli, just six months.

Surely this Hazor is the Heziah Stevens of Chedworth, a hawker, who is arrested in Iron Acton, together with three Davis women, all hawkers, on 27th February 1851 for “stealing 2lbs of bacon and 2lbs of potatoes.” Rebecca Davis, 47, a widow with five children, claims to be a native of Berkshire. Perhaps Harriet Davis, 21, and Emily Davis, 17, were her daughters. At the Quarter Sessions Heziah, who claimed to be 18, but was actually 22, together with Harriet, received a sentence of six calendar months’ imprisonment, with hard labour; Emily was found not guilty, but Rebecca received the harshest penalty and was sentenced to transportation.

Robert and Eleanor’s eldest son, Robert, and his wife Jane baptised three of their known children in Chedworth: Charity, baptised 14th July 1811; John, baptised 29th May 1815; Eleanor, named for Robert’s mother, on 14th December 1817, while Joshua and his wife, Mary Scott, whom he married on 6th January 1808 at Chedworth, recorded eight children there; Eleanor, again after his mother, was baptised on 26th June 1808, (and probably the burial of Eleanor Stevens on 10th October 1811 was this child); Elizabeth on 11th June 1810; James on 2nd August 1812; Joshua on 18th September 1814; Moses on 28th February 1817; Aaron on 25th June 1820; Edward on 16th June 1822; another Eleanor baptised on 18th July 1824, the daughter of Joshua and Mary, “tinker.”

Joshua and Mary appear to be settled at Chedworth, and one of their sons, another Joshua, was to marry a Jane Scott in Chedworth (this is possibly a cousin marriage, since his mother was a Scott), and this couple, too, had a Joshua Stevens, baptised in 1839. Other children also married in the village: Elizabeth married Thomas Rogers on 7th February 1829 and on 14th December 1839 her younger brother, Moses, married Ann Rogers. Thomas and Ann were the children of Richard Rogers and Ann (formerly Peachey), Thomas being baptised in the village on 7th August 1802 and Ann on 31st October 1819. Like cousin marriages, unions between two sets of siblings was also fairly common, particularly amongst the Traveller population. In addition, Joshua and Mary’s son, Aaron, was to marry Keziah Trotman in Chedworth on 8th December 1856,a family with whom the Stevens had united in previous generations.

Because of this much more settled existence for many of the Stevens family, the 1841 census in Chedworth records their presence: matriarch Eleanor, widow of Robert, can be found living with 65 year-old Joyce Trotman, where Eleanor’s age is recorded as 83. Her daughter-in-law, Mary, widow of Joshua, can also be traced here, living with her son James, his wife Edith, formerly Moss, whom he had married in Chedworth on 25th May 1836, and their children Edwin, 5, and Moses, 2. The village church of St Andrew’s, which had been the site of many family baptisms, was also where Robert had been buried the year before the census, on 14th February 1840, aged about 76, but claiming to be 80. Eleanor, too, was to be buried there on 29th May 1847, claiming to be 97 years of age.

Since family names, particularly of siblings, were in frequent use and Chedworth continued to be thought of as home territory, and names were passed down the generations, the case at the Gloucestershire Summer Assizes of 25th May 1837 against an Emmanuel Stephens, a razor grinder of Chedworth, could prove confusing. It might at first be supposed that this must be the same Emmanuel who was the son of Robert and Eleanor. In fact, he is Emmanuel’s nephew, the son of, perhaps more confusingly, another Robert, Robert and Eleanor’s eldest son, and his wife, Jane, and therefore Robert and Eleanor’s grandson.

This second Emmanuel, charged with stealing a kettle from an outhouse, was married to Eve Lock, the daughter of Merrick Lock, and was only 30 years of age at the time of his conviction, whereas the elder Emmanuel had begun to have children in 1817, when he was 26, having been baptised in 1791. Found guilty, Emmanuel, husband of Eve, was sentenced to six months imprisonment, the final month to be in solitude. (If you want to know more about this branch of the family please see the earlier story on Merrick Lock in our archives.)

A dear friend, and a distant cousin, complained to me that too much emphasis is placed on prison records when writing about the Romany and Traveller families of the past. This is partly because they represent one of what are sometimes only a few records of members of a Travelling population. These, together, with settlement hearings, removal orders, baptisms and burials, tell us something of the lives of our ancestors. Wills were rarely made amongst the Travelling community, marriages were often Romany-style, and so left no legal record and early censuses frequently failed to include Travellers in their records. The court cases and prison records were also a mark of social anxiety about outsiders, as well as a wider concern regarding the poor in general, for the impoverished also found themselves in court for stealing basic foodstuffs or poaching, and, like the Romany and Traveller population, were often dealt with harshly.

The Stephens family’s decision to settle in Chedworth is typical of social change, as their occupations as hawkers, grinders and braziers were taken over by business models. However, their seasonal role in the life of the countryside, as farm labourers, brick-makers and hop-pickers, continued for some time. Therefore, more than a century after Robert and Eleanor first made their appearance in the Gloucestershire Overseer’s records, many of their descendants could still be found in Chedworth, working as agricultural labourers. In the 1891 census Moses, son of Joshua and Mary, is recorded in the village, with his wife, Ann, and granddaughter, Florence, aged 17. Edith, too, the widow of James Stephens, also a son of Joshua and Mary, is found living in Chedworth, together with a daughter, Elizabeth, and Keziah Stephens, her sister-in-law, the widow of Aaron. Clearly, for Robert and Eleanor Stephens, and many of their descendants, Chedworth was to truly become their place of settlement.

Copyright © 2014 Anne-Marie Ford