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Chimney Down

Anne-Marie Ford    -    31 January 2015

Our American readers may be interested to know that a study of the writings of a nineteenth-century New England woman writer, A New England Cassandra: the literary range of Elizabeth Stoddard, by Anne-Marie Ford, is now available on Amazon, priced at £15.89. This, as I need to constantly remind myself, is my day job, but the Romanies and Travellers are frequently claiming my attention! On that front, the Chiltern Conservation Trust is publishing a pdf. freelyavailable online from the end of January 2015 in which I have written a chapter, On Common Ground, about the Gypsies on the common land of the Chilterns in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

In the September of 1902 the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, along with several other newspapers in which the story was syndicated, reported the tragic suicide of a Gypsy, Richard Stanley, as well as the evidence offered at the inquest, held at the South Staple Inn, Hockworthy, Devon.

Alice Stanley, wife of the deceased, said her husband was 33 years of age. On Sunday they were encamped at Chimney Down, in the parish of Hockworthy. In the evening a man came along and asked the price of one of the horses belonging to the deceased. The latter replied that it was the wrong day to deal in horses. The man asked the witness to unfasten the horse, which was tied to the caravan. She went to do this, when the deceased went to the caravan and cut his throat with a knife used in making wicker chairs. Witness nearly fainted when she saw it and asked her husband why he did it. He replied, “I was bound to do it . . .” Deceased had never threatened to take his own life. They got on well together and he was very fond of their children.

Further evidence was taken from a farmer of Hockworthy, Herbert Howe, who told the hearing that:

He was called by the deceased’s wife, who said her husband had cut his throat. He went at once and, on his arrival, he found him lying on the ground. He had shot himself, as well as having cut his throat, the gun being across his legs.

This farmer was not, in fact, the first person Alice had run to for aid, after the stranger who had sought to buy the horse from Richard had fled in horror at the scene. At the first farm she came to she was told by that farmer that he was too busy, having his milking to do before he went to church. It is difficult to imagine, in these ordered lines of the inquest report, the terrible tragic events of that evening. Even more difficult to comprehend anyone being able to turn away a woman in so much distress. Certainly, the hearing condemned him for such an act, the coroner exclaiming that if the poor man who had cut his throat was beyond help, he could still have helped the woman. The jury went so far as to be horrified that such a person “bore the name of an Englishman.”

The final witness was a doctor, N.B. Grigg, of Holcombe Regis who had been visited by the deceased and his wife that Sunday afternoon. He stated that:

The deceased appeared to be greatly depressed and he could get no information out of him. Mrs Stanley told the witness that he had been suffering very badly in his head for a week.

The jury returned a verdict of suicide, while temporarily insane, and the case of poor Richard Stanley was closed. But what happened to Alice and the four children?

She had been born Alice Joles, and baptised in the registration district of Chard, in Somerset, in 1869, and her union with Richard had probably occurred about a decade before the terrible events on Chimney Down. About eighteen months prior the family can be found in the 1901 census at Churchdown Green, with their four daughters, Gentie, aged about 7, Betty, about 6 years old, Annie, aged 4, and Saucy (?Sophie), one year old. They are encamped with Richard’s extended family: his parents, James Stanley and Unity, formerly Wells, with their grandson, Thomas Westlake; Richard’s brother, William, his wife Betsy, formerly James, and children Saucy (Sophie), aged about 15, James, aged 13, Faby (Phoebe), aged 12, Gentie, 10 years old, Jelity (Unity), 8, Thomas, 6, and 4 year old William. (This couple had baptised several of their children together at Collaton, Devon on 11th December 1892: James; Phoebe; Jenty/Gentie; Sophie; William.)

Richard’s sister, Sophia, married to Robert James, is also with the Stanleys in 1901, together with their young son, William,as well as a family of Roberts, Henry and his wife Caroline, formerly an Orchard, the daughter of James and Britannia. Henry and Caroline have four sons at this point, James, 7, Frederick, 5, Thomas, 3, and William, just 10 months of age.

In 1909, in the registration district of Totnes, Devon, the death of a Betsy Stanley, aged 45, was recorded, and she was buried at Collaton St. Mary on 6th February, where her previous abode is noted as Yalberton. Surely this is Betsy, the wife of William, Richard’s brother? The 1911 census explains, then, exactly what had happened to Alice, since she and her little family had clearly remained within the Stanley tribe; she is recorded as the wife of William, in what is a second union for both of them. They are camping at Yalberton Tor, Paignton, with an extended family of Bucklands and William’s brother, Henry, his wife, Eliza (formerly Small), and children Unity, aged 15, William, aged 12, Eliza, 9 years old, Moses, aged, 7, and Daisy, aged 5.

Described as a horse dealer, William and Alice Stanley have with them children James, Sophia, Unity, Tom, William, John and Fanny (?Annie), but there was also to be another addition to the family. On 3rd September 1911, William Stanley, horse dealer, and his wife, Alice, residing at Yalberton Tor, baptised their son, Valley (?Valentine), born on 23rd August that year.

The name Valley is significant, since a Valley Joles had married another child of James and Unity Stanley, Lilly/Misella. They can in found in a field at Yalberton in the 1901 census, Valley is described as a basket maker, Lilly as a hawker, and they have with them two sons, presumably named for Lilly’s brothers, Henry, aged 6 and William, 4. A court case regarding a dispute about a horse involved Valley with these same brothers-in-law, and was reported in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of 19th August 1908:

Valley Joles of Paignton, a Gypsy, sued his brothers-in-law, William and Henry Stanley, Gypsies, for £1.10/- and £2.10/- respectively. . . As the judge could make little sense of the case, and Valley Joles was particularly confusing in his recounting of events, the judge eventually ordered Henry and William to pay £1 each and told the parties not to quarrel again, amidst much laughter.

Since William and Alice named their son Valley, it seems to indicate that there was no lasting resentment; and it strongly suggests that Valley Joles, also claiming to have been born in Somerset, was Alice’s brother. Unions of siblings with siblings of other families was common amongst the Gypsies, and this is probably no exception.

Alice herself was to live a very long life; her death is recorded in the registration district of Devon Central in June 1967, “aged 96” – in fact, she was 98, and despite experiencing the tragic events of her husband Richard’s appalling suicide, survived to mother two families and, hopefully, enjoy a more peaceful second union.

Copyright © 2015 Anne-Marie Ford