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Anne-Marie Ford    -    27 May 2015

At the close of the nineteenth century, in August 1898, a couple from a Gypsy fraternity were married, an event which the Gloucester Citizen reported in some detail:

A striking scene in St Nicholas Church, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, on the occasion of a Gypsy wedding. The bride, Sylvester Thorpe, and the bridegroom, John Harris, and a married couple named Prince, who acted as best man and bridesmaid, all arrived in the same cab. The bride wore a gorgeous dress of maroon plush, surmounted by an immense hat, covered with waving ostrich feathers. Her bridesmaid was attired in a costume of golden plush. The bridegroom and his friend were suited in velvet with vermilion neckties. On leaving the church a piano-organ was hired to play dance music and the party enjoyed a lively waltz in the street . . . It was recorded that the bride received a gift of a pint pot full of sovereigns.

Sylvester Thorpe was the daughter of James and Eliza Thorpe, named for James’ grandmother, Sylvester Grey, and a member of the Gypsy and Traveller tribe that particularly favoured the east coast, often forming alliances with members of the Grey and the Harris families. James was himself the son of a James Thorpe and Eliza Buttress, and he can be found in the 1861 census, in caravans parked at Buckden, St Neots, Huntingdonshire. The elder James is a licensed hawker of brushes and mats, and he and his wife, Elizabeth, have with them their children Edmund, 23; Ambrose, 20; Edingale, 16; Oliver, 14; Eliza, 13; Joseph, 12; Holland, 11; James, 6; Mace, 3; also a niece, Rhoda Herne (sic), aged 2.

By the 1871 census the family are wintering out at the ‘Crown Inn,’ St Andrew the Great, Cambridge. As well as the younger James are some of his siblings, Providence, 17; Emmanuel, 15; also his cousin, ‘Roads of May’ – actually Rhoda, daughter of Eliza’s sister, Rebecca, and Alfred Heron. There are two additions to the family recorded here, Eliza, James and Eliza’s married daughter, is with her husband, Mark Wilson, a horse dealer whom she had married in 1867, and their two children, Ada and Ota/Oatey, and there is also Ambrose, aged 6, listed as the son of James and Eliza, sibling of the younger James.

In fact, Ambrose is almost certainly the elder James’ grandson, the son of the Ambrose who appears in the 1861 census, aged 20, and his first wife, Mary Gaskin. This child was baptised in Peterborough in the October of 1865, and two years afterward the elder Ambrose married again, to an Elizabeth Draper. Was the young Ambrose brought up as a son of the elder James? It certainly wasn’t unusual, but, surprisingly, at his marriage at St Andrew the Less in Cambridge, on 19th April 1888, to Mary Ann Harrison, he is recorded as a hawker, the son of James.

The 1871 census also tracks down another child of the elder James, a sibling of James, Sylvester’s father. Edingale, born about 1844had married Henry Coxall at Haslingfield, Cambridgeshire on 4th May 1866 as “Edengill Thorp.” She appears as “Headinggil Coxall,” wife of Henry Coxall, a general dealer and they are residing at Haslingfield. The 1881 census finds them in the same location; this time Henry is a travelling hawker and tinker, but there were to be no children of this marriage and in the second quarter of 1881 the death of Harry Coxall, aged 42, was recorded. In the same census Edingale’s brother, James, Silvester’s father, is found very much off the beaten track; he is now married to Eliza Sly and is at Tommy Field, Oldham, Lancashire with their five children, James, 6; Eliza, 4; Silvester, 3; Mark, 2; Edmund, an infant.

The 1891 census is revealing. Edingale, now a widow, has formed a union with William Harlock, born in 1860, just six years before her first marriage. Perhaps it is because her husband is about 16 years younger that she claims to be only about 40 years of age. This time, however, her union has been fruitful, and the couple have a son, Bertie, whose birth is recorded the June quarter of 1882 in the registration district of Newmarket; he is listed as a nine-year-old in 1891, when the family are found at ‘The Robin Hood,’ St Ives, Huntingdonshire. With them are some Thorpes, clearly relatives of Edingale’s. Manney, who is surely Emmanuel, son of Edmund, and Ann Thorpe, and therefore Edingale’s nephew, is there, together with his wife, Fanny (Angelina Mackenzie, whom he married in the Cambridge Record Office in 1890). Another nephew appears to be present, Amos (?Ambrose) and his wife, Mary. Surely this is the mysterious Ambrose, who had been brought up as the son of the elder James? Whatever the case, he appears to be the Ambrose Thorpe whose death, aged 27, is recorded in the December quarter of 1891 in the registration district of Cambridgeshire.

Perhaps surprisingly, the elder James and Eliza are still alive, and in the same census are wintering out in a caravan in the yard of the ‘Green Dragon,’ at Market Street, Newmarket, where James is recorded as a travelling hawker.

In the 1901 census Sylvester and her little family can be found in a caravan in ‘New Crown’ yard, Hemingford Grey, St Ives, Huntingdon; John Harris is recorded as a licensed hawker and dealer, and with the couple are sons Mark, aged 1, and baby John. They are not wintering out alone, however, with them are several members of the extended family. James Thorpe and his wife, wrongly recorded as Sarah, but actually Eliza, are there, together with several of their other children: Mark, 21; Harriet/Sinfy, 17; Lementina, 16; Cinderella, 12; John, 6. In addition, there is a Edingale, with her husband, William Harlock, and their son, Bertie, 19.

Bertie was to marry in 1902 to a Tottie Grey, so the 1911 census finds Edingale and her husband alone.Tottie is probably the “Toddie” Grey recorded with her family at Abthorpe Street, Fulbourn, Chesterton, Cambridgeshire in the 1901 census, where she claims birth in Suffolk in about 1863. She is with her mother, Sarah, and her mother’s husband, Robert, a licensed hawker. He is surely not Tottie’s natural father, as his birth date is about 1876, and he is roughly a dozen years younger than his wife. The other children present may well, therefore, be Tottie’s half-siblings, Violet, aged 6; Rose, aged 5; Mary, aged 3; and the baby, George.

Robert claims birth in Wicken, Cambridgeshire in about 1876, and the previous census of 1891 records what is very probably his family. He is listed as born about 1874, in Wicken, Cambridgeshire, living with his widowed mother, Mary Ann, a travelling hawker, brother William, sister Morella, and niece Morella, aged about 10. They are camped out at the ‘Crown Inn’ in a caravan, at Burwell, Newmarket. When Tottie marries, she claims her father was William Gray, deceased; obviously, in view of the disparity in age between Sarah and Robert, this makes much more sense. But it is tempting to see Robert as marrying his widowed sister-in-law, which was common amongst Romany and Traveller families. And who is the little Morella in the 1891 census – could this be Tottie? It is also tempting to regard this family as the one into which Bertie married, given that in 1901 the Greys are found wintering out with members of the Gaskin and Harris tribes, both families into which the Thorpes had married.

In the 1911 census Bertie Harlock, who had married Tottie Grey nine years earlier, can be found with a Relly as his wife, still born about 1882 and still claiming Suffolk as her place of birth – is Tottie’s real name Morellie, a family name in the Grays? Might she, indeed, be the Morellie Grey whose birth was registered in Suffolk in the first quarter of 1882? The children with this couple again point to Tottie as the daughter of Sarah Grey, given the family names she has chosen for her first two daughters, Mary, 8; Rose, 5; in addition there is Frank, 4; Matilda, 3, all staying in a caravan in Ship Lane, Ely, Cambridgeshire.

By this time Edingale and William are at Hall Street, Soham, Cambridgeshire, where he is a farmer and horse dealer. Edingale has aged so much since the last census she now claims to be 18 years older than William! She is also listed as “Eden Gill Coxall,” which suggests that she and William were never legally married. This is perhaps confirmed by her death, in which she is recorded as Edengill Coxall, aged 70, in the December quarter of 1912, in the registration district of Newmarket.

The 1911 census also traces John and Silvester, here recorded as Sylvia, but their son, Mark, is no longer with them. He is probably the little boy, Mark Harris, aged two, whose death was recorded in the registration district of Wisbech during the December quarter of 1901. They have, however, added to their family, and as well as John, 11, there is Clarence, 10; Andrew, 8; Sylvia, 6; Reuben, 4; Synfie, 2.

One last interesting name appears in the Cambridgeshire records that may add to the story of this family; in the first quarter of 1923 the birth of a daughter born with the name of Edengill Harlock is recorded; is this a late child of Bertie and Tottie/Relly? It’s tempting to think it might be, or perhaps a granddaughter . . .

Copyright © 2015 Anne-Marie Ford