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Tinkers and Trampers

Anne-Marie Ford    -    5 July 2015

In ‘Tinkers of Chedworth,’ published on this website in July 2014, I argued that the Ezra Stephens, son of Emmanuel and Elizabeth, baptised on 8th June 1828 at Little Somerford, Wiltshire as Hazor Stephens, was surely the Heziah Stephens of Chedworth, a hawker, arrested in Iron Acton, together with three Davis women, all hawkers, on 27th February 1851for “stealing 2 lbs of bacon and 2lbs of potatoes.” Indeed, the Gloucestershire Gaol records list the convicted hawkers as Rebecca Davis, Harriet Davis and Heziah Stephens. Surely? Surely not . . .

The removal order of 19th March 1831, in which Emmanuel and Elizabeth Stephens and their family were transferred from Somerford Parva, Wiltshire to Chedworth, Gloucestershire mentions the young Ezra, about two or three years of age, together with his siblings Maria, 13, Moses, 11, Amos, 9, Mark, 5, Ann, 3, and baby, Eli, 6 months old. This family were soon to be on the move again.

It seems that the parish of Chedworth had an interesting way of dealing with a few of their less desirable inhabitants, and I am grateful to some of Ezra Stephen’s descendants, especially Kate Moore, for a copy of this entry in the Chedworth vestry book:

4th April 1831: Agreed with Emanuel Stevens (sic) and family as follows – the parish to pay their expenses clear until they are on board a vessel at Bristol. To pay the passage over to Quebec. To give them £15 in hand for providing for themselves and £20 by letter of credit paid on their arrival at Quebec.

Since Ezra/Hazor and his family left these shores 20 years prior to the court case involving the Davis women, was it was another member of the Chedworth clan with a similar name who was arrested for stealing bacon and potatoes? The answer is both yes – and no – I returned to the gaol records, and began to question their accuracy, which is, perhaps, where I should have started! Since the group were imprisoned during the 1851 census, I checked those records for the list of prisoners in Gloucestershire gaol, to compare with the gaol records. I did indeed find a Rebecca Davis, a Harriet Davis – buta Keziah Stephens.

Keziah claimed birth in Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire, and said that she was 18 years of age at the time of the arrest. Since an Ambrose and Susannah Stephens baptised a daughter Keziah in Chedworth on 3rd February 1833, it seems very likely that this is her baptismal record.(This couple also seem to have baptised Keziah again in Cold Ashton, Gloucestershire on 22nd January 1834.) Chedworth was the same parish where an Ambrose had been baptised on 23rd January 1790, the son of Robert and Eleanor Stephens, but since Ambrose and Susannah continued baptising children until 1851, it seems likely that this is an Ambrose from the subsequent generation.

Gloucester gaol records an Ambrose Stephens, a Gypsy tinker of Chedworth, aged 31 in 1840. A birth in 1809 would suggest that this is probably a nephew of the previous Ambrose, and therefore a grandson of Robert and Eleanor, and it is this younger Ambrose who is more likely to be Keziah’s father. The gaol records also list an Emmanuel Stephens, a razor grinder of Chedworth, who claimed to be 30 years of age in 1837 and about 35 years old in the spring of 1841. Many inhabitants of Chedworth appear to have been incarcerated in the county gaol, often for petty crimes, these included Joshua and Roberts Stephens, razor grinders of Chedworth, in 1830, when Robert claimed to be 50 years old and Joshua five years younger. Clearly all are members of the same extended Stephens family, and this Robert and Joshua are brothers, the sons of Robert and Eleanor.

Ambrose and Susannah are known to have had an Esther, daughter of Ambrose and Susan, travellers, baptised on 19th August 1827, in Froyle, Hampshire, where they were probably sojourning for the hopping. If Ambrose was born in 1809 he would have been about 18 years of age at the birth of this first child, but since he and Susannah continued to baptise offspring until 1851 it does suggest that they started a family whilst very young. Another daughter, Mary, was baptised on 5th December 1837 at Little Dean, Gloucestershire; Susanna on 21st February 1841 at Northleach, Gloucestershire; John at Froyle, Hampshire, on 11th September 1842, son of Ambrose and Susanna, trampers; Tabitha, on 6th December 1846 at Rodborough in the same county; Ellen Leonora at Horsley, in Gloucestershire on 4th February 1851.

Two years after Ambrose and Susannah had baptised John at Froyle, Emmanuel and Eve Stephens baptised a daughter, Georgina, on 8th September 1844, “trampers of Chedworth, Gloucestershire,” (probably the Georgiana Stevens (sic), aged 12 years, a tinker’s daughter, from Nailsworth, who appears in the gaol records in 1857). They had also baptised a son, Leonard, on 3rd September 1826 inFroyle, son of Emmanuel and Eve Stephens, knife grinder, and a Robert, son of Emmanuel and Eve Stephens, travelling brazier, in the same location on 23rd September 1838.

It does seem, given the location and time of year when the baptisms took place, that the Stephens, like so many other Gypsy and Traveller families, travelled to Froyle for the hopping. The Emmanuel Stephens who was married to Eve Lockwas a grandson of the couple who were the parents of both the Emmanuel who went to the United States and the elder Ambrose. Since the second Ambrose and the younger Emmanuel baptise children at the same time, over the same time period, and are both born in the first decade of the nineteenth century, they, too, may very well be brothers. The passion the family had for using family names again and again make it problematic to trace them, and often confusing.

When the women were arrested for stealing bacon and potatoes, Harriet Davis claimed birth in Somerset and to be about 21 years of age; it is likely that both she, and the other young woman arrested, but discharged, Emily Davis, were the daughters of the older woman, Rebecca Davis. A baptism for a Harriet Davis, daughter of Rebecca and William Davis, in Somerset in 1830 may perhaps be hers, especially since the same couple appear to have baptised a daughter, Emma Davis, in Wiltshire in 1835. The Emily Davis arrested with Rebecca Davis, Harriet Davis and Keziah Stephens, claimed to be 17 years of age – it is possible that she was the Emma baptised in 1835, sixteen years earlier, and a sister of Harriet’s.

There is also another possible child for Ambrose and Susannah Stephens, baptised on 28th June 1840, in Gloucestershire, at the church of St. Philip and St Jacob, in Bristol; he is recorded as William Davis Stevens (sic), son of Susannah Stevens. Is this a child of Ambrose and Susannah’s, a sibling of Keziah’s, who also carries his mother’s maiden name at his baptism, which was a common enough practice? If so, Keziah’s parentage would explain why she was with the Davis family, as they, too, would be family. Perhaps – perhaps not . . .

Copyright © 2015 Anne-Marie Ford