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Leap Year

Anne-Marie Ford    -    31 January 2016

On 29th February 1880 a little girl, Mabel, was born in Bedford gaol. Her mother, Leviathan Thorpe, had been sentenced to six months hard labour in the September of 1879 for fortune-telling.

The Cambridge Independent Press reported the case in a somewhat patronising tone:

On Thursday, the 18th instant, a Gypsy woman, rejoicing in the unfeminine name of Leviathan Thorp (sic), the wife of a travelling Gypsy, called at the residence of Mrs James, of Market Street, having buttons to sell. Two servant girls answered the door-bell and some small articles being purchased, Leviathan asked Hannah Chapman . . . whether she would like to have her fortune told. [She] was requested to produce a piece of gold, which she did, in the shape of a sovereign, with which she crossed the Leviathan’s delicate hand; then a pack of cards was produced, representing a small planetary system, on which the gold was placed. . . The sovereign was placed in a piece of paper . . . then . . . returned to the girl . . . [who was told] “put the parcel under your pillow, and you will dream of a handsome young man; he will be your husband; but if you examine the parcel before the end of the week the charm will be broken.” . . .When Hannah Chapman informed her fellow servant, Sarah Adams, of the result of the interview, she was incredulous, and strongly urged her to open the mysterious parcel, and Hannah did so, and lo and behold! Her golden sovereign had been metamorphosed into a paltry farthing.

Leviathan Thorpe was arrested within a couple of hours and remanded until the 25th September, where her counsel, Mr Naylor, advised her to plead guilty. However, he explained to the court that Leviathan already had four children and was now pregnant with a fifth; he requested compassion, especially in view of the fact that the sovereign had been returned. Nevertheless, the court sentenced her to six months hard labour and deprived her of her hawking certificate.

Leviathan’s prison record claimed that she was 29 years of age, had been born in Deal, Kent, was 5’3 ˝” tall, a Gypsy pedlar, and the wife of Ambrose Thorpe. She had been remanded at Ely . . . for stealing a sovereign, by mean of a trick, as a fortune teller. She is described as having black, curly hair, dark eyes and a dark complexion, dressed in a black and white checked shawl, with a black felt hat.

Leviathan’s marriage to Ambrose was her second union, and his third; his second wife had, in fact, been Leviathan’s sister, Elizabeth Draper. Ambrose was the son of James Thorpe and Eliza Buttress, baptised in Suffolk in 1840. Leviathan Draper, who had been baptised in Stevenage, Hertfordshire in 1852, was the daughter of Joseph and Ann Draper. At the time of her arrest she had already given birth to Lementina, born in 1871; Mackenzie, born in 1872; Delilah/Laila, born in 1874; Lurina, born about 1876; Adolphus, born in 1878. Her daughter, Mabel, born in Bedford gaol, was baptised together with Mabel’s brother, Adolphus, at Haslingfield, Cambridgeshire in 1880.

In the 1871 census Ambrose and Leviathan are in a travelling caravan at Headingley cum Burley, in Leeds, Yorkshire, with their baby, Lementina, and Ambrose’s sister, Holland Thorpe. However, since, in 1879, her counsel said Leviathan had four children, and not five, and Lementina, although appearing in the 1871 census, is not with the family in 1881, it is probable that she had died.

Subsequently Leviathan and Ambrose added several more children to their family. Mark was born in the registration district of St Ives, Huntingdonshire, in1882; Bendigo, born in the Downham registration district, in 1884; Esau, born in Huntingdonshire in about 1886; Otey, in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire in 1889; Emperor, born in the registration district of Holbeach, Lincolnshire, in 1894; Elias, born in the same location, in 1898.

In the 1881 census the family are found in a caravan on Ashdon Road, Great Barlow, Linton, Cambridgeshire. Ambrose has used his mother’s maiden name of Buttress for this record, and his forename is, anyway, incorrectly recorded as Adolphus. By 1891, the group are parked in a caravan in Gracious Street, Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, and Ambrose has returned to using the surname Thorpe; the family has grown, since Mabel’s birth, to include Mark, Bendigo, Esau and Otey.

The census records of 1901 and 1911 show the family in pretty much the same location. In 1901 they are at Charter’s Farm, Gedney, Holbeach, in Lincolnshire; Leviathan is listed as ‘Elizabeth,’ and eight of their children are present. Lurina/Laura is recorded as a widow, so presumably the little grandson, Ambrose, aged six, who is with the family, is her son. Mark is working as a groom, Bendigo and Esau as agricultural labourers, the remainder of the children are at school, and their father is listed as a licensed hawker.

1911 sees Leviathan recorded as ‘Mary,’ Ambrose Thorpe as a licensed hawker, and only three of the children are camped with their parents in the Gedney Road, Long Sutton, Lincolnshire: Esau, a general dealer; Emperor, a bird catcher and general labourer; Elias, still attending school. But there is another small family parked alongside, it is that of Otey Thorpe, a pedlar of hardware. He is with his wife, Cinderella, formerly Loveridge, and their baby daughter – carrying on the family name, the little girl is another Leviathan. A few months earlier they had lost their second daughter, Coralina, baptised at the church of St Mary, Long Sutton, Lincolnshire on 16th October 1910 and buried the same month, the daughter of a hawker.

The church of St Mary at Long Sutton was also to be the last resting place for the elder Leviathan, buried on 21st October 1916, aged 64, and Ambrose, too, was buried there on 19th February 1919, aged 81. It was probably considered a family church, since, in October 1893 Ambrose’s brother, Oliver, aged 47, had also been buried there.

One last reference to a Leviathan Thorpe is worth noting. Who was the little Leviathan Thorpe who was born in Glanford Brigg, Lincolnshire in the March quarter of 1897, and who died in the registration district of Caistor, Lincolnshire in the same quarter? Was this an unremarked daughter of Leviathan and Ambrose, born the year before her last known child?

Copyright © 2016 Anne-Marie Ford