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Fate and Fortune

Anne-Marie Ford    -    5 February 2012

On 13th February 1802 The Ipswich Journalreported “10 persons commonly called Gipsies (sic),” were committed to Woodbridge House of Correction for “wandering abroad, lodging in the open air, and not giving a proper account of themselves,” addingthat on the “same day was also committed to the above prison, Sophia Hearn (supposed to belong to the said gang), charged with obtaining three guineas from a female servant . . . under false pretences of telling her fortune.” Sophia Hearn, given the date and the location, is almost certainly the Sophia who was married to Taiso/Tyso Boswell, who was famously killed by lightening, and buried in Tetford, Lincolnshire.

The telling of fortunes could be a lucrative business, for Gypsy women in particular, although it had its risks.The Morning Chronicle of 30th June 1819 reported an incident at Hatton Garden where “Agnes Lovell, a fortune teller of the gipsy (sic) tribe,” was charged by Hannah Tunbridge with defrauding her of several sums of money and of clothes, under the pretence of telling her fortune:

The prisoner spread out the cards on the table, and commenced telling her fortune,putting various questions to the complainant, by which she ascertained that the complainant had been courted by a fair-haired young man, who had since emigratedto America. She told the complainant that if she gave her half-a-crown she would give her a charm that would bring her lover back in three days . . . the prisoner then took a tin box out of her pocket, fromwhence she took a small bit of paper and a leaf similar to a tea leaf, she cut a bit ofcomplainant’s hair, and the parings of her finger and toe nails, all of which shemixed with some salt, and desired her to sew itupin her stays, to put her faith in God, and to wear it until her lover returned, . . . The prisonercalled next day, and under similar promises obtained a £1 note, and 5/- in silver, also her most valuable articles of wearing apparel, which she said she wasto show to theQueen of the Fairies, and which she would bring back the next day.The time beingelapsed, and neither the young man nor the prisonerreturning, the complainantcausedher to be apprehended.

The Morning Chronicleof 13th January 1830,also broughtto public notice another story of Gypsy Lovells. At Bow Street, a “Mary Jones, alias Lovell, one of the well-known Norwood Gipsey (sic) tribe, was . . . charged with . . . obtaining from ladies, servant-maids, and others, sums of money under the pretence of . . . being able to inform them whether they would remain single, get married, and be fortunate in life, or the reverse.” Susan Jeffrey gave evidence that:

About 11 o’clock that morning she went to the house of the prisoner, 15 Charles Street, Drury Lane, where she had been informed a woman – a real gipsey (sic) – resided, who could tell fortunes. . . . she told the prisoner that she wished to have her fortune told. The prisoner said she must have half a crown, and took her into another room. Before she paid the money, the prisoner said, ‘Do you wish to have your fortune told by the planets, or the cards, or by hand?’ She told the prisoner she did not much care in which way it was told. The prisoner said, ‘Your husband is dead, and you will see him no more.’ She replied, ‘Good God! How do you know that? He has been abroad for some time, and I have not heard from him, and I wished to know that.’ The prisoner also said, ‘You are acquainted with a man whom you arefond of, I will take care to bind him to you, so that he shall never leave you, norilluse you.’

As a result of these prophecies, Mary Jones, alias Lovell, found herself committed to the House of Correction for six weeks.

By 1841 the redoubtable Agnes Lovell was in court once more, partly, perhaps, because she tended to inhabit the same location when plying her trade. Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commerical Advertiser of 14th August 1841, reported that, at the Hatton Garden Police-office “Agnes Lovell, alias Danks, a gipsy (sic), with a nut-brown countenance and a peculiar obliquity of vision” (presumably a squint!) was charged with having obtained, under false pretences, £1. 4. 6d., and various articles of wearing apparel:

It appeared from the evidence of the prosecutrix that . . . the prisoner knocked at the door of her master’s house, and being answered by the witness, . . . she asked whether she would like to have her fortune told. She said she had no objection, but her master being at home she suggested that the prisoner should call in an hour, which she did, when the prisoner said, ‘Will you trust me with sixpence tied up in a corner of a handkerchief?’ Witness tied a sixpence in the corner of a handkerchief, when the prisoner required to be ‘palmed’ with another shilling. . . . She then examined witness’s hand, and told her that a short time ago she had lent a fair young man three sovereigns; in two or three days she would see him, and he would return them. . . . She then predicted that in a very short time she would meet with a young man of fair complexion, of very good prospects, to whom she would be married, but it was necessary that she should use her usual charm, and she would require of her £1.4.6d., which witness gave her, and she left the house, saying she would call again and let her know the result of her powers. She subsequently called and informed her that in order to give effect to the ‘spell’ she would require some of her wearing apparel . . . and the complainant saw no more of her until Tuesday last, when she met herin the street, and gaveher into custody.

In answer to this, Agnes Lovell declared she was not the person, and she never saw the young woman before in all her life - she was committed to the House of Correction, with hard labour, for three months.

As far afield as Cheshire, the Lovellscan still be found in court for fortune-telling; Reynold’s Newspaper of 6th September 1885, records that “Dilla[pehaps Delia or Delilah] Lovell, . . . a woman of middle age, and of the real gipsy (sic) type,” appeared at the Birkenhead Police-court, . . . charged with obtaining money by false pretences from two servant girls.” The evidence from the two girls caused a great deal of merriment, and is, therefore, faithfully reported in the newspaper, for the amusement of its readers:

Mary Morgan stated that . . . the prisoner came to the door hawking some months ago, and wanted witness and the cook . . . to buy something fromher. They refused, and the accused said if they would not buy anything she would make them so that they would not be alive in the morning. Witness then bought acomb and [the cook] a brooch, and witness handed the prisoner a half-sovereign topay for them, the price being 2/-. She told witness that she should be married to a fair man in three months, but she was not married yet. (Laughter)

In addition, the cook said that she had been told that she should be “married to a dark man,” and that he “loved the ground she walked upon.” (Laughter) Asked if she was married yet, the witness sighed and replied in the negative, which resulted in more amusement amongst the listeners. The sentence handed down was two months, with hard labour.

Returning to Suffolk, where we began, the Ipswich Journal of 12 July 1834 reported the trial of Susan Boss, 30. She was charged with having obtained five sovereigns, two half sovereigns and divers other coins, and a silver watch, under fraudulent and false pretences (fortune telling), but was discharged for want of prosecution. The court reprimanded the prisoner and assured her that she had had a narrow escape, and that her delivery was owing to other circumstances than their doubt of her guilt. The newspaper described her as “one of the tribe of gypsies who have lately infested the neighbourhood of Bury, “adding that “numbers of her associates, who appeared to take considerable interest in the proceedings, were in the gallery of the Court.” Susan Boss’s later appearance at the West Riding Magistrates’ Court in Bradford was less fortunate. The Leeds Mercury of 23rd July 1857 informed its readers that “a dark-looking elderly gipsy (sic) woman was brought up on a charge of obtaining money by pretending to tell fortunes.” In consideration that the prisoner had a large family of children, she was sent to Wakefield House of Correction for [just] fourteen days.

Susan Boss was the Shuransa married to (William) Riley Boss, and born about 1802. She did indeed have a large family, and her known children were baptised in Suffolk (Lewis, in 1820 at Little Thurlow; Desibera/Separi at Bramford in 1825; Harroly at Walsham in 1839), Norfolk (Wilhelmina Delilah at South Wootton in 1830), Lincolnshire (Britannia at Grasby in 1826; Newcom two years later at Burton by Lincoln; Agnes at Wootton in 1832; Penelly at Winteringham in 1837; Siara at Frithville in 1841), and Yorkshire (Leanora in 1834 at Preston). The 1861 census finds her in Hull, and it seems she remained in the area, for her death, seven years later, in 1868, was recorded in the registration district of Hull, “aged 65,” rendering her name as Shorehensey Boss.

Copyright © 2012 Anne-Marie Ford