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Anne-Marie Ford    -    1 June 2018

Vidence Smith was baptised at Langford, Bedfordshire, on 13th March 1803, the daughter of Christopher and Vidence, Gypsies.  This shortened form of the name Providence was to continue to be used in the family and three of Vidence’s known children were to pay tribute to their mother when naming one of their daughters.  Vidence’s first children were Joseph and Pamela, who were both baptised at Langford, too, and possibly another Vidence.  These baptisms took place in the early to mid1820s, and were the children of Vidence and her first partner, Henry, who may also have been a Smith.

Subsequently, Vidence united with Edward Smith, a son of William Curtis and Viramenta Smith, a couple who were known to the Gypsiologists.  Edward and Vidence had five known children, Hemlock, born in 1832; Bazaina, baptised in 1834 at Dean, Bedfordshire (incidentally, this unusual name was also used by Edward’s elder brother, Abraham, for a daughter), Humphrey, born in 1836; Britannia, born about 1838; Caroline born in 1839.

Vidence’s daughter, Pamela, and her husband, William Smith, baptised a daughter Vidence in July 1855 at Wisbeach St. Peter, Cambridgeshire, and she is with her parents Pamela and William in the 1861 census. Her father is recorded as a rush and cane repairer, and her siblings as William, 14; Miseretta, 9; Shelosmith (Salome) 2; Mary, 2 months. Also present is the children’s grandmother, Shelosmith (Salome), 65, an umbrella mender and they are found at Wilburton, in Cambridgeshire, camping with William’s brother, Joseph, and his family, his wife, Sarah, and children Alfred, Angelus, Aaron and Christina.

By 1871 William and Pamela are located in a tent at Bluntisham cum Earith, with children William, 22; Miseretta, 20; Providence, 15; Mary, 10, as well as two more siblings that have been added to their brood, Henry, 4; Alfred, 2.  William is working as an agricultural labourer, his son, William, 22, as a hawker, and Providence, 15, is working in the fields.  Is Providence the little daughter mentioned in the letter to the Bedfordshire Mercury of 21st September 1900, written by the Reverend Basil Airy, who recalled:

Many years ago a Gypsy, belonging to a caravan which annually visited my father’s parish, and whose Christian name was Hemlock, told my father that the name was given him because he was born on a spot where that plant was growing luxuriantly.  My father baptised the child of one of these Gypsies by the name of ‘Vidence,’ not in the least knowing what it meant.  Upon inquiry he found that ‘Providence’ had been a family name and that in the case of one of the family (either the mother or the aunt of the child, I think) the name had been shortened into ‘Vidence,’ which the parents desired to perpetuate.

Hemlock, the son of Vidence, and uncle to little Vidence, would have been 23 years of age at the baptism of his sister Pamela’s daughter.  As to the story of Hemlock’s name, it is entirely likely that he invented the tale.  It was extremely common for Travellers to enjoy teasing gorjers in such a way, and, anyway, curiosity about their sometimes unusual names was something Gypsies were wary about.

Or perhaps the baptism referred to is more likely to have been the Vidence born to Joseph Smith and his wife, Charlotte, in Flamstead, Hertfordshire in 1850, five years earlier than her little cousin? Born on 28th November, the baby was baptised on 2nd December 1850 and Charlotte, who made her mark, claimed to have been formerly a Smith. Her marriage to Joseph Smith records Charlotte as a Gray, the daughter of Joshua Gray – but maybe her mother had been a Smith, or she was simply unwilling to give too much information to the clerk who recorded the birth.

The 1861 census seems to have caught Joseph and Charlotte twice. At Silver Street, Buckden, St. Neots, they are found with daughters Esther and Sophia and son Joseph. Also living in Silver Street are Joseph’s sisters Britannia and Caroline, with Caroline’s daughter, Viramenta, incorrectly recorded as Britannia’s nephew. However, the 1861 census also records Joseph, a tinker and dealer, with his wife, Charlotte, and their family: Sarah, 13; Providence, 11; Joseph, 8; Edward, 4; Jane, 1, at Streatley cum Sharpenhoe, in Bedfordshire and all are found sleeping in a stable.

Hemlock’s brother Humphrey, who married Matilda Loveridge, also baptised a child with his mother’s name, Vidence, in Fen Drayton, Cambridgeshire, along with her brother, Elijah, in 1865, when she was about 2 years of age.  Another daughter, Britannia, was named for his sister, who seems to disappear from public records and may possibly be the Britannia Smith who died in 1871 at Addenbrooke’s, in Cambridgeshire, although, admittedly, the birth date of 1844 given for her is about six years out.

By the 1881 census Humphrey’s daughter Vidence is married to Henry Sharman, a licensed hawker, and is living with his parents, Henry and Rebecca, at St. Ives, Huntingdonshire, with her little son, Henry (Harry), born c1880. She seems to have settled in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, for ten years later she and Henry are recorded there with two more sons, Humphrey, aged 9, and Elijah, aged 5. Their eldest son, Harry, is staying with his grandparents, Humphrey and Matilda.

A close neighbour to Vidence and Henry Sharman in this 1881 census is a Joseph Thompson, listed as a general labourer, his wife, Britannia, a hawker, and their son, George, aged two. Since Britannia claims birth in Buckden, a favoured location for Humphrey and Matilda, it must surely be their daughter, Vidence’s sister.

There would also be a great grand-daughter with this significant family name, as Bazaina’s daughter, Elizabeth Reason, would baptise a little girl Vidence. Born in 1892, Vidence Reason carried on this naming tradition nearly a hundred years after the baptism of Vidence, daughter of Christopher and Vidence Smith.  There seems no doubt that the name, and the way in which the family chose to render it, continued to be used throughout the generations.

Copyright © 2018 Anne-Marie Ford