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The Penfolds and the Press

Anne-Marie Ford    -    31 July 2016

The Ipswich Journal of 25th January 1888 carried the story “Gypsy Funeral at Wattisfield,” under which banner it described, in some detail, the funeral of Norfolk Gypsy David Penfold:

The Pinfold (sic) tribe is one of the oldest and best known of all the tribes of Gypsies at present travelling the country, but the interment of one of its members in a secluded country burial-ground is by no means of ordinary occurrence. However, the sudden decease of one of them took place while their van was in the neighbourhood of Hinderclay, and the funeral was conducted at Wattisfield on Tuesday afternoon. The deceased, David Pinfold (sic), appears to have been a well known member of the tribe; he was born in Wattisfield, and was christened in the parish church. During his lifetime he travelled the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk, hawking various articles, and thus gaining a precarious livelihood. It has been stated that the deceased was a “prince” amongst his compeers, but here seems to have been no ground for such assertions, the deceased holding no more than an ordinary position amongst the Romany folk.

The ceremony naturally attracted an unusually large number of spectators, who came not only from Wattisfield itself, but also from many of the adjacent parishes, and there must have been several hundreds present. It is the custom with this tribe, when the death occurs of any of its members, for all of the Pinfold (sic) family who, at the time, are within reasonable distance to attend the funeral as a last mark of respect, and in the present instance the rule was my no means departed from. A large number travelled long distances for the purpose of attending the ceremony and pitched their tents and tied up their caravans on a meadow near Crackthorne Bridge, in the parish of Hinderclay, about three miles distant from the place of interment. It was here that the procession was formed. The body was conveyed in an open hearse and the immediate friends of the deceased travelled in three closed vehicles, whilst the other members of the tribe followed in open carts.

The mourners included several members of the deceased’s own family – they were all attired in black, others present wore their usual clothing . . . the bell of the church was tolled as the procession neared the sacred edifice . . . the pretty little church was crowded . . . [the inscription on the coffin read] “David Pinfold, died January 19, 1888, aged 45 years.” On the coffin were wreaths of wild flowers, the members of the deceased’s family doing all in their power to show respect to his memory.

David’s wife, Emily, appears to have been a Taylor, for the previous census, in 1881, shows David and Emily Pinfolden (sic) at Springs Lane, in the parish of Mundham in Norfolk, together with a brother, Charles Taylor, his wife Kate and their son, Moses. The Ipswich Journal had reported on the events of David Penfold’s life many times over the years, and an article in their publication of 28th October 1873 seems to confirm his link with the Taylors. “William Taylor and David Pinfold (sic), two Gypsies, were brought up in custody, charged with having, on 21st October, assaulted P.C. Schofield while in discharge of his duties.” Both pleaded not guilty, but were found guilty and fined, Taylor paying 40/- and costs, whilst David Penfold was fined half that and just 7/6d in costs. This William Taylor, then, is almost certainly David Penfold’s brother-in-law, and can also be found lodging in Springs Lane in 1881, with Thomas and Mary Taylor, hawkers, and their children, who include Laura, aged about 25, her sister, Matilda, four years’ younger, William aged around 28 and a baby boy, Mace, recently born.

The Ipswich Journal continued to find David Penfold of interest, and in their publication of 18th November 1882, noted that “Noah Brown and David Penfold, at Gorleston, were charged with assault,” appearing at the Petty Sessions, where they were both fined. On the 13th May 1887, just a year before his early death, David Penfold was again mentioned in despatches. The Ipswich Journal recorded that “David Penfold, travelling Gypsy, was charged . . . with unlawfully trespassing in search of game at Debenham on the 29th ult. The defendant pleased not guilty to looking after game, but guilty to trespassing.” Once more he was fined, this time 5/- and 11/- costs.

David Penfold was not the only member of his tribe to appear regularly in the pages of the Ipswich Journal, for at the Framlingham Petty Sessions of November 1859 Charles Penfold and an accomplice were charged with petty theft, “Charles Pinfold (sic) and Thomas Wilton, travelling machine menders, were charged with having . . . stolen a pint of beer, value 1d. . . . Both prisoners pleaded guilty and [were] sentenced to the County Gaol at Ipswich . . . Pinfold (sic) for one calendar month with hard labour (he being an old offender) and Wilton for 14 days with hard labour.”

Just three months before Charles had indeed been charged with a crime, this time assault, which seems, under any circumstances to be rather unfair. “It appeared that there was a dance on [the 5th] at the Plough Inn, at which the defendant was a fiddler. After a dance, the complainant, not having any coppers to pay the fiddler, [said] he would pay him when he had got change; but this did not satisfy him and from words they came to blows.” As a result of this altercation Charles was fined 7/6 with 5/6 costs. By the 1881 census this “old offender,” Charles Penfold, seems to have faded from the records and his is probably the death recorded in the registration district of Norwich in the June quarter of 1880, “aged 89 years.”

Charles and his wife, Ruth, formerly a Lovell, had baptised several children in Norfolk. Their son, Charles, was baptised at St John the Baptist, Garboldisham on 22nd May 1829, his father being designated a Gypsy tinman and brazier. At the church of St James with Pockthorpe, another son, James, born on 26th December 1833, was baptised on 12th January 1834. On 14th May 1837 Samuel, son of Charles and Ruth, Gypsies, was baptised at Syderstone, and a boy, Joseph, born on 15th January 1840, was baptised a couple of weeks later, on 2nd February 1840, once more at St James with Pockthorpe, the son of a brazier.

Several baptisms of the Penfold tribe are listed in the locality, including the daughter of George Penfold and Elizabeth (formerly a Smith) on 7th March 1830 at Tivetshall, where she was given the glorious name of Savory (possibly a rendering of Reservoir). Other Penfolds, too, had formed unions with Smiths, including a Charles Penfold, who, with his wife, Matilda Smith, baptised a daughter, Harriet, at St James with Pockthorpe on 10th November 1839.

The unions between these Penfolds and families such as the Taylors, Smiths and the Lovells, do indicate the importance of a tribe which the Ipswich Journal had declared to be “one of the oldest and best known . . . travelling the country.” Clearly, their very existence had provided interesting copy for the newspaper over the decades, which is perhaps why it published such a fulsome record of the funeral of one of its more significant local characters.

Copyright © 2016 Anne-Marie Ford