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Tea, Candles and Straw

Anne-Marie Ford    -    4 December 2011

Because Gypsies and Travellers tended to travel in family groups, and often intermarried within a small number of families, when they came to the notice of public officials, for example at the Petty Sessions, they were often found to be related to those with whom they were apprehended. In the Court Rolls of the nineteenth century in Northamptonshire several Smiths and Loveridges can be found, all members of an extended family, as they traversed the county they had come to regard as ‘home.’

On the 2nd December 1862, in the village of Potterspury, Northamptonshire, two women visited a local general store to make some purchases. The proprietor’s wife, Elizabeth Holman, greeted them, the more enthusiastically, perhaps, since they claimed to know a friend of the Holmans, who recommended the shop to them.The women were Gypsies and they appear to have attempted to obtain, but not pay for, a quantity of grocery goods. These basic provisions included “two pounds weight of sugar, half a pound weight of tea and two pounds of candles,” according to the court papers. This adventure resulted in both being accused of obtaining a quantity of goods by false pretences, since “they did falsely pretend to one Elizabeth Holman that [they] were recommended by Mr Mason to come to her shop for groceries.”

The two women were hawkers, Jane Smith, who claimed to be 35 years of age, and Cinderella Beldam, who said she was 30. They were found guilty on 7th January 1863, and were sentenced to six weeks’ imprisonmentwith hard labour, in the House of Correction at Northampton. Cinderella was the daughter of Thomas Beldam and Mariah Smith, baptised in 1833, so Jane Smith was likely to have been a relative, through Cinderella’s mother’s line, probably a cousin, or perhaps an aunt.But if Jane Smith is difficult to identify, several other Gypsy Smiths are easier to recognise, if only because of rather more exotic forenames. Amongthese wasSenfy [Sinfy] Smith, aged 40, who was sentenced to 14 days’ hard labour on 7th January 1846 for larceny. The Northampton Mercury of 10th January records that she was “convicted of stealing a quantity of coals, the property of Thomas Whitney of Kingsthorpe.”

Sinfy is, in all probability,the wife of Benjamin Smith, and the daughter of Samuel and Sophia Smith, who was baptised in Kilsby, Northamptonshire on 22nd February 1801. She and Benjamin were married at Olney, in Buckinghamshire, on 19th July 1822, where their

witnesses were Diverus Smith and Rose Smith. Diverus/Divers was Sinfy’s brother and

Rose, formerly a Loveridge, was married to Joseph Smith, possibly Benjamin’s brother. Benjamin was also a Loveridge, through his mother’s line, as his father, James Smith had married Winifred Loveridge at Lutterworth, Leicestershire on 20th November 1785. In the 1851 census Benjamin’s familycan be found at Kingsthorpe, and include his mother, “Winne,” aged 70, with Sinfy’s namerendered as “Sinfaye,” born 1801.

In the same village of Kingsthorpe, Elisha Loveridge (24) was charged with “stealing a bolting of straw, the property of William Seaby, . . . [who] had some straw in a close, missed some on 17th November, and tracked it to the prisoner’s house.” The local newspaper reflects on the guilty verdict and the sentence of one month’s hard labour, in its edition of 4th January 1845. Elisha was probably the son of James Loveridge (brother of Rose), and Hester Smith(sister of Sinfy and Diverus), whomarried at Burton Latimer, Northamptonshire on 4th July 1816, baptising their son Elisha at Moulton, in the same county, on 8th August 1818.

Mr Seaby also accused Divers Smith of stealing two boltings of his hay, and he was clearly something of an amateur sleuth, for the Northampton Mercury explained that the farmer had, once again “tracked the straw to the prisoner’s home, and there found a quantity in his pig-sty.” [The] line of defence was that there was no reason to believe that the straw had been placed in his sty by the prisoner, [since] it was open and accessible to everyone. In addition, three character witnesses were called, “Robert Butcher, innkeeper, James West and Robert Walker, shoemakers of this town.” They all “spoke of the prisoner in the highest terms.” As a result, Divers Smith was acquitted; however, three years’ later he was not so fortunate, being sent, on 5th April 1848, to the House of Correction for 12 months for larceny.

Divers Smith claimed to have been born in the first decade of the century, and was, almost certainly, the Divers Lazarus Smith, son of Samuel and Sophia, baptised 22nd May 1803 at Clifton upon Dunsmore, Warwickshire, who married Suzify/SusanLoveridge on 8th August 1823 at Irchester, Northampton, and who had witnessed his sisterSinfy’s wedding the year before his own. In the 1851 census he is still to be found at Kingsthorpe, on the Harborough Road, with his wife, Susan, daughter Elderia, son Elias, and married daughter, Drusilla Chapman, wife of James Chapman, with her baby son, (Albert) James. He is described as a general dealer.

In 1848,the same year that Divers Smith’s luck ran out, Enoch Loveridge was found guilty of larceny on 29th February, claiming to be just 17, and received a 12 month sentence, as well as a whipping. The son of JobLoveridge and Jane Coburn, Enoch was actually 19, having been baptised in Paulerspury, Northamptonshire on 20th January 1827. He married Trinity Fletcher, the daughter of Thomas Fletcher, and his brother, EliLoveridge, married her sister, Esther Fletcher. Enoch died early, and was buried at Towcester on 9th July 1853.

In 1855 Plato Loveridge, a 30-year-old basket maker, was also imprisoned in the House of Correction at Northampton. He was accused, and found guilty, of stealing 35lbs of beef, valued at 15/-, at Litchborough on the 26th November, and sentenced to six weeks’ imprisonment, with hard labour. The son of William Loveridge(brother of Rose, James and Suzify), and Dorcas Smith (sister of Benjamin and possibly Joseph), Plato was baptised at Winwick, in Huntingdonshire on 8th April 1814. He married his father’s cousin, Hannah Skerry, the daughter of Thomas Skerry and Margaret Loveridge, at Towcester on 7th October 1838 and all their known children were baptised in either Buckinghamshire or Northamptonshire.

Although the Northamptonshire Mercury of 4th January 1834 makes a brief reference to a Nehemiah Smith, 71, given 6 months’ imprisonment for “assaulting John Garratt, Constable of Duston, and his assistants, whilst in the execution of his duty.” The Court Rolls offer more detail,recording that “Nehemiah Smith, late of Hardingstone, labourer, and Caney Smith, of the same parish, otherwise called Caney Fletcher, on 17th December 1833 assaulted PCs John Garratt, William Marriott, John Daniel and Thomas Seal.” Caney’s presence identifies Nehemiah as his father, who married Mary Fletcher (hence Caney’s alias).Mary Fletcher was an aunt of Thomas Fletcher, father of Esther and Trinity. Although Nehemiah was not 71, he was not far off, having been baptised about 1765, so the 28-year-old Caney, who had, as Caney Fletcher Smith, married the previous year, on 23 April 1833, at Ravensthorpe, Northamptonshire to a Jane Jones, must have been something of a fighter to be so troublesome to four police constables!

Another Nehemiah Smith was arrested (almost certainly the nephew of the elder Nehemiah), together with an Asher Smith, and charged with theft in 1841. The local newspaper, dated 27th February, mentioned that “Nehemiah Smith (52) and Asher Smith (25) [were] charged with stealing a quantity of hay, the property of Samuel Bell, from a hay-stack at Newton.” The two were sentenced on 1st March to one month each. Nehemiah was the son of John and Mary Smith, and was baptised in Brinklow, Warwickshire on 18th May 1794. Asher, more properly Esau, was his son, baptised at Brookhall, Northamptonshire on 17th March 1816, the son of Jeremiah (sic) and Rhoda, who married Sentenia Smith, the daughter of Woodfine Smith and Sarah Boswell.

A further member of the Smith tribe, Aza Smith, who was committed to the House of Correction for 14 days for “lighting a fire in a highway,” in 1858was, the following year, arrested for the same crime in Buckinghamshire. This second conviction offers us far more detail about him than the first. In 1859 he was charged at Aylesbury as Azahaih Smith, 23 years, an itinerant tinman “who sleeps in a tilted cart” and claimed to earn about 9/- a week. He also claimed, however, that he had to support a widowed mother and her 13 children, and that he was the eldest. The truth is that Aza, the son of Mary and Humphrey Smith, (Humphrey’s father was Thomas Smith, the brother of Sophia, who had married Samuel Smith and was the mother of Hester, Sinfy and Diverus), was one of 11 known children of Mary and Humphrey, although born rather nearer the end than the beginning! Despite his plea,he received the usual sentence of 14 days.

Prison notes also mention that the “prisoner seems to know well the country lying between Kettering, Market Harborough and Rockingham [and] he has made Rothwell his home,” adding that “he has lately been hopping in Kent,” and also, disapprovingly, that he was found to be “in utterly heathen ignorance.” Aza can be found in Northamptonshire in later census records, as a grinder and cutler, with his wife, Naomi, using the name of Sherriff, perhaps because his mother had been a Sherriff; whatever the reason, he continued to use this name untilhis death in Northamptonshire in 1923, as Iza Sherriff.

Copyright © 2011 Anne-Marie Ford