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Anne-Marie Ford    -    5 October 2011

On Wimbledon Common, in the spring of 1831, a Gypsy, Jeremiah Taylor, was killed in a fight, the dramatic events of which were reported in the 21st March issue of the Morning Chronicle.

“An itinerant traveller, who had pitched his tent on the Common with a number of others, had returned to it in a state of intoxication and, after quarrelling with a man of the name of Jeremiah Taylor, got him down in a scuffle and continued to press upon his body with so much violence as to cause his death on the following morning.”

The traveller, William Faulkner, was a clothes-peg maker who was “very much intoxicated” when he started the fight, refusing Taylor’s offer of shaking hands and forgetting any quarrel, but his horror at what he had done was plain for all to see at his trial. Even the widow of Jeremiah Taylor asked for leniency, and requested that Faulkner only be “punished lightly,” for his crime. He was found guilty of manslaughter.

The tragic death of Jeremiah, who claimed to come from Egham, in Surrey, left a family of nine children fatherless, and his widow, Sarah Taylor, formerly Fisher, and her familywere removed to the workhouse. Sarah, who had married Jeremiah in Bovingdon, Hertfordshire on 7th April 1806, claimed birth in Bushey in Hertfordshire, where the baptisms of a number of her children with Jeremiah can be found. Their first child, Alice, was baptised 8th March 1807; Maria on 16th April 1809; Jeremiah, on 23rd August 1816, where his father is recorded as a basket maker; Plato, baptised on leap-year day, 29th February 1824, son of a basket maker; Stephen, baptised on 30th November 1828; Henry, baptised 19th December 1830.In addition to these Hertfordshire baptisms is one of Joseph, baptised 20th January 1822, son of Jeremiah, a basket maker, and Sarah Tyler, obviously a mis-hearing of Taylor, living at Chalk Hill, Bushey; meanwhile their son, Nathaniel (who, incidentally, gave evidence at the trial of William Faulkner), was baptised on 5th January 1812 in Colchester, Essex and a daughter, Ann, on 11th June 1826 at Egham, Surrey.

The baptisms in Bushey, Hertfordshire, in particular, allow an insight into family connections, for during the years that Sarah and Jeremiah were baptising their children there, two other families, Thomas and Sabrah Fisher, and William and Hannah Fisher, residing at Chalk Hill, Bushey, basket makers, were also recorded in the baptisms. Since Sarah was a Fisher prior to her marriage it is likely that these were brothers and sisters-in-law. William and Hannah Fisher baptised Elizabeth Ann on 13th February 1817, whilst Thomas and Sabrah baptised Joseph on 10th December 1815, Isaac and William on 1st November 1821 and Jeremiah on 3rd April 1825. It is hard not to see this last baptism as a tribute to their brother-in-law, Jeremiah Taylor.

The Taylors were an important Gypsy tribe and their unions with other significant Traveller families emphasise this. Jeremiah and Sarah’s eldest daughter, Alice, married Meshach Hearn, who had been baptised in Harpenden, Hertfordshire on 22nd November 1801, the son of Thomas Hearn and Frances Smith, travellers. Meshach’s marriage, registered in the district of Watford on 5th January 1825, records his name as ‘Mishach Horn,’ and a witness at the wedding is Martha Fisher, surely a cousin of Alice’s. The article in the Morning Chronicle also says something of this Hearn family, in the evidence of John Kent:

“[Faulkner] came to Taylor’s tent about four o’clock on Thursday afternoon,” adding that about five minutes later “they stripped off their jackets to fight; at that time there were only a young man and woman present, the son and daughter of Thomas Hearn, a basket maker, who had a van on the Common; they attempted to prevent the deceased and Faulkner from fighting by clinging to them.”

The couple are most likely to have been the son and the daughter-in-law of Thomas Hearn, Meshach and his wife, Alice, Jeremiah’s daughter. It is, after all, reasonable to assume that Alice was present, and no surprise perhaps that her daughter, Matilda, was baptised on 22nd January 1832, at the same location - Wimbledon, Surrey. Their other known children are Shadrach, born in Buckinghamshire about 1823; Abednego, baptised in Bushey, Hertfordshire on 2nd April 1826; Rosanna, baptised at St Leonards, Buckinghamshire on 14th June 1829; Frances, baptised at St Luke’s, Old Charlton, London on 30th March 1834; Susannah, baptised at Saint Giles, in Camberwell, London on 16th April 1837; Kezia Ann, baptised West Molesey, Surrey on the 28th June 1840, the daughter of a basket maker;Catherine, baptised in Offham, Kent on 18thSeptember 1842; Virgin, baptised in Chiswick, London on 27th June 1845.

The Taylors, together with their extended family of Hearns and Leatherlands were to be involved in another terrible tragedy. In 1853, Jeremiah’s widow, Sarah, was drowned in the Hartlake disaster, along with several members of her family. One of the witnesses at the inquest was Jeremiah and Sarah’s grandson, Abednego Hearn, known as Benjamin, the son of Meshach Hearn and Alice. He had been riding the hind horse as the hop-pickers returned home across the bridge, and so was perfectly placed to see the disaster unfolding, “as they were going over the bridge on the other side, the hind horse tripped against one of the irons on the bridge, and before he could recover himself – being heavily loaded – the ground gave way and the waggon went over.” Benjamin was, by this time, married to Mary Ann Mancey, and the father of Meshach, baptised in Chiswick on 23rd January 1849, the son of Benjamin and Mary Ann, and Henry, also baptised in Chiswick on 14th July 1850, the son of Bendigo and Mary.

Some of the remaining family groups can be traced through early census records, and in 1861 Sarah’s sons Joseph and Jeremiah are both located in London, Joseph in a caravan in Wood Lane, Isleworth, a hawker, with his wife Hannah [actually Henrietta Martha], and children Delia [Delilah], born about 1843, Goliath [Elias], born about 1845, Elizabeth, born around 1850, Albert, born a year later, Henry, born about 1854, George, born around 1856, Emma, born two years later, and Alfred, born about 1860. Jeremiah, meanwhile, listed as a basket maker, is in a “covered cart,” in Latimer Road, Hammersmith, with his wife, Augusta, and a daughter, Athaliah, baptised on 26th June 1842 in Long Ditton, in Surrey and a second daughter, Mezalia, born on 7th December 1847, and baptised in Chiswick on 2nd April 1848. (although it was beyond the census taker’s art to translate the name or details of this little girl), along with Christopher, born about 1855, Eda [Emma?], born around 1858 and Georgina, born a year later. The eldest son, William, a grandson of Jeremiah and Sarah, had been baptised on 12 January 1840, on home ground in Bushey, Hertfordshire, but is no longer travelling with them.

By the following census the families of Joseph and Plato can be found travelling together, in caravans on Kensal Road, in Chelsea. Joseph and his wife, Henrietta Martha, formerly an Ayres, is there with sons George and Alfred, and daughter Emma, along with Plato, his wife Elizabeth (nee Webb), daughters Henrietta, Amy and Deliath [Delilah], and the son named for his father, Jeremiah. Joseph and Henrietta’s daughter Delilah,was, by this time, married to James Draper, son of Joseph and Ann.

In the 1881 census Joseph and Henrietta Martha are to be found in Putney, Surrey, and their daughter Delia [Delilah] is with them, together with their sons Elias, Christopher and Alfred; all are designated as travellers. Meanwhile, Plato’s son, Thomas, having married a Henrietta Giles in the September quarter of 1870, is to be found residing in Percy Street, in the district of West Ham, with his children, one of whom he has named Plato, after his father (this Plato, like his grandfather, also married an Elizabeth, in the December quarter of 1902, in the district of West Ham, naming his first son Joseph Plato).And Plato?In 1881 he is listed as a licensed hawker, and is in a caravan on the Wanstead Flats, in Essex, with wife Betsy, son Jeremiah and daughter Delilah. In in the caravan next to them are licensed hawkers Noah and Henrietta Parker, and a cousin, eight-year-old Daniel Taylor. Henrietta is clearly Plato and Betsy’s daughter,she and Noah Parker having married in 1877, but who is this little Daniel Taylor?

During the 1870s Athaliah, the daughter of Jeremiah and Augusta, who had been married to Joshua Cooper, a son of the famous Matty Cooper, was widowed. There are three known children from that union, two daughters, Sabrina/Selina, born about 1866, and Cinderella, registered as a Taylor when baptised on 21st June 1868 in West Molesey, Surrey, daughter of Attalial (sic) Taylor and a son, Daniel. During the 1880s Athaliah remarried, to an equally famous Gypsy, ‘Fighting’ Sam Smith and her elder daughter, Selina, married into the Hearn family, during the March quarter of 1890, in the registration district of Fulham, her husband being Christopher, the son of John Hearn and Maria Wells, and therefore, allegedly, a nephew of Meshach Hearn’s. And what about her son, Daniel, born about 1873? Surely it is her little boy, identified as a cousin, who is travelling with his extended family in the census.

Surely it is a very real possibility, too, that the William Taylor, born about 1840, a chair mender, found in the 1881 census in a caravan, in Middlesex, together with his wife, Lydia, and children Elizabeth, Martha, William, Jeremiah and Henry, is the son of Jeremiah and Augusta.In addition, a second caravan parked up with the Taylors belongs to a family of Herne’s (sic), so closely linked through intermarriage with the Taylor family. If this William is the son of Jeremiah and Augusta, who was himself the son of Jeremiah and Sarah, the naming of one of his own sons Jeremiah acts as a probable genetic marker.

Copyright © 2011 Anne-Marie Ford