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Widows' Weeds

Anne-Marie Ford    -    2 January 2016

In December 1900 the Leicester Chronicle newspaper, amongst many others, published an article recording the death of a Gypsy, Jane Black of Inkpen Common, Berkshire:

There has just died in the Gypsy colony at Inkpen Common, an isolated locality on the borders of Berkshire and North Hampshire, at the foot of the grand range of downs which divides the two counties, a remarkable member of the Gypsy community named Mary Jane Black, better known in that part of the country as Granny Black. She was born at Southampton and had attained the age of 90 years. Her maiden name was White and, singular to say, she married in early life a fine-grown member of her own fraternity, named Amos Black, who obtained a livelihood as a dealer in horseflesh and goods of various kinds, as is the wont of Gypsies, being actively assisted by his wife, who, up to quite recently, was to be seen about the neighbourhood of Newbury and Hungerford. She had a family of 14 children, 10 of whom are living – strong and healthy men and women. Her sons and grandsons are mostly engaged in the horse dealing business, and in attending country fairs with swings, cocoanut stalls, and the like. Her grandchildren number something like 200. [Her] husband pre-deceased her more than a quarter of a century since, his age being 74 years. The old lady’s funeral, which has taken place at Inkpen, drew together a large and sorrowing assemblage of her progeny.

In census records over her lifetime Jane Black had named Beaulieu, in Hampshire, as her place of birth, and it is surely Jane who was baptised Mary Jane White on 8th January 1815 at Beaulieu, daughter of Thomas and Mary, travellers. Her husband’s antecedents are a little unclear; certainly he is the son of Clementina Black/Blackman/Blackney, who herself was the daughter of Reuben Ayres and Jane/Jenny Stanley, but his father is less certain. Amos was baptised on 23rd February 1806 at Boxford, in Berkshire, the son of William Black and Clementina Ayres, “of the people called Gypsies.” However, William was to claim that only one of Clementina’s children, Thomas, born around 1801, was his.

This comes from an examination of William Black, made on oath in the house of correction, Reading, on 4th November 1820, regarding his place of settlement: Saith he was about 40 years of age, and is the son of Thomas Blackman who, at the time of his death, was a parishioner settled in the parish of Chieveley, where this examinant was born. . . That about 20 years ago he was married by banns at the parish church of Thatcham to Clementina Ayres, his now wife, from whom he hath absconded and left for upwards of seventeen years . . . and with whom he hath never once since co-habited and by whom he hath only one child born in lawful wedlock, namely Thomas, aged about 18 or 19 years . . . And that since this examinant left and ceased to reside and co-habit with his wife, she hath had two children who are believed now living with her.

It is certainly true that Amos had an elder brother, Thomas, born in 1802, and it is equally the case that there is a baptism of his sister, Arabella, on 20th May1810, at Hungerford, Berkshire, the daughter of Thomas Blackwell and [C]lementina, late Ayres. Perhaps equally telling is the fact that, although Amos and Jane had 14 children, and used their own names, Jane’s parents’ names and the name of Amos’ sister, Arabella, the name of Amos’ putative father, William, was not one they chose.

Jane and Amos were married on 18th May 1840 at Linkenholt, Hampshire, and their witnesses were Amos’ brother, Thomas, and his wife, Caroline. In the 1841 census at West Shefford, Berkshire, Jane and Amos are found with five children, listed as “seven persons under the hedge, to be passed over, not to be enumerated.” Their first child, Lemontania, was christened on 21 November 1831 in Boxford, Berkshire; Mary Ann was baptised on 4th August at St Swithun’s Church, Combe, Hampshire, 4th August 1833; Jemima was christened two years later, on 20th July, at Hurstbourne Tarrant, Hampshire; Alice, baptised in the same location, on 29th March 1838; Amos born about 1840. Presumably, these are the five children “under the hedge” with Amos and Jane.

In 1842 Walter is born, baptised on 21st June 1841 at Kintbury, Berkshire; Henry, was baptised on 1st May 1844 at Hungerford, Berkshire, “son of a basket maker” ; John on 29th March 1846 at Speen, Berkshire; Rosanna at Inkpen on 19th January 1848; Thomas on 19th January 1850, at Kintbury Berkshire; Matthew, baptised at Thatcham, Berkshire on 28th March 1852; Arabella, baptised at Inkpen on 29th June 1854; Rhoda, baptised on Christmas Eve 1856, at Newbury, Berkshire; Maurice/Morris, baptised on 27th June 1858, at Inkpen, “son of a traveller.”

By 1858, however, Jane was already a grandmother, several of her elder children were already married and were having children of their own. And with two of these daughters, at least, she was to share the experience of a long widowhood. On 6th July 1853, Jemima, daughter of Amos, had married James Aldridge, son of Robert, at Avington, in Berkshire. Mary Ann, who had formed a union with Richard Williams, a brother of her sister Lemontania’s husband, was married on 3rd November 1859 in the registration district of Kingsclere, Hampshire.

Richard Williams, who was a hawker, was probably, the “hawker and vermin destroyer” who was reported in the Reading Mercury of 19th March 1864 as being charged with “having, at the parish of Kintbury, on 25th February last, wilfully and maliciously damaged a park fence,” for which he was fined 8/3d. He appeared with his considerable family in a caravan at Blurrings Meadow, Lambourn, Hungerford, Berkshire in the 1871 census. With him were his wife, Mary, and children James, 16; Tom, 17; Amos, 14; Richard, 12; Sarah, 10; Mary, 8; Samuel, 7; Absalom, 4; Jane, 2; Job, an infant.

However, by the next census, in 1881, Mary is recorded as a widow, working as charwoman, living in Newbury, Berkshire with Absalom, Jane and Job. There is a burial record of a Richard Williams in the registration district of Hungerford, “aged 40,” in the second quarter of 1871, and given that Job was their last child, it is quite possible that Mary Ann was a widow for more than 40 years. The 1901 census finds her working as a laundress, living in Derby Road, Newbury, still claiming birth in Combe, Hampshire, so it may well be her death that is recorded in the registration district of Newbury, in 1912, “aged 77.”

Jane’s daughter, Jemima, was also widowed early. She and James were found in the Old Road, Newbury, Berkshire in the 1861 census, where James was described as a licensed hawker. With them were children James, 6; Charlotte, 5; Annie Maria, 3; William, an infant. Two more children were to follow, Robert, born in about 1863 and Edwin, born around 1866. This is, in all probability, the year that James Aldridge died, the burial record of a James Aldridge in the registration district of Reading, Berkshire, “aged 32,” may well be his. Whatever the case, Jemima is recorded as a widow by the 1871 census, living at West Fields, Newbury, with James, 16; Charlotte, 14; Ann, 12; William, 10; Tom, 8; Robert, 6; Edwin, 4. 1881 finds the family in the same location, Jemima is recorded as a hawker, and with her are sons William, Robert and Edwin. There is also one-year-old Florence, listed as a daughter, but she is far more likely to be a granddaughter. By 1891 Jemima is living alone at Enbourne Road, Newbury, and her occupation is described as that of a “dealer in left off wearing apparel.”

Jemima had also had a long widowhood, but, unlike her sister and her mother, she finally remarried. At the church of Reading St Giles on 5th November Jemima Aldridge, widow, daughter of Amos, a deceased horse dealer, was united with Abraham Harris, a widower, son of Abraham, a shoe maker, in 1898. They are together in the 1901 census at Enborne Place, Newbury, Berkshire, where he is recorded as a brickmaker. His death is probably the one in the registration district of Newbury, “aged 84,” and Jemima’s, also like that of her sister’s and husband’s, is recorded in Newbury, in 1915, “aged 79.” In her old age Jemima had been married for 13 years to her second husband, and probably lived a little more comfortably than when she was a widow, a “dealer in left off wearing apparel.”

Copyright © 2016 Anne-Marie Ford