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The Family of John and Ruth Chilcott: Explanations

Eric Trudgill    -    1 June 2018

John Chilcott was christened in Gt Yarmouth Nfk in 1793 son of John Chilcott horse dealer and Elizabeth Smith. His wife Ruth claimed to have been born in Middleton, Sfk about 1790, and was buried in Birkenhead, Chs in 1866 (aged 78) the year after her son-in-law, Charles Lee.

John Chilcott senior had married Elizabeth Smith in Bethnal Green, Mdx in 1792, both claiming to be widowed. John was surely connected to the Chilcott/Lee criminal gang operating in Essex and East London at that time. And Elizabeth Smith was ex-wife of the Ambrose Smith, baptised in Calne, Wil 18/5/1760, who had been transported to Australia in 1789, dying on the ship in June 1790 and thus making John Chilcott junior the half-brother of Ferdinand Smith (father of Ambrose “Jasper Petulengro”), of the Ambrose Smith baptized in Bergh Apton, Nfk 15/5/1785, and of the Susanna Smith baptized in Gt Yarmouth Nfk 10/2/1787 (where her mother christened John Chilcott junior in 1792).

The younger John was not, as has been claimed by a distinguished modern gypsiologist, the John Chilton who fathered by Maria Harris six children, all christened in Winston, Sfk 1826-34 (that was a local gorjer, described always as a labourer). Nor, though it’s clear from the 1851 census our John married a Ruth, was his wife, as was claimed by the pioneer gypsiologists, a Ruth Lovell who moonlighted maritally with Charley Penfold and was also Charley Penfold’s mother-in-law through the daughters, Louisa and Matilda, she had had by the husband (Samuel Lee) of her sister Mary Ann Lovell: the Charley Penfold wives in question were another Ruth Lovell and Louisa Print and Matilda Smith. And it’s clear from the baptism of Charles Chilcott in 1825, where his parents are given as John Chilcott, tinman, and Ruth Boss, that John’s wife wasn’t even a Lovell.

Similarly, it’s clear from the birth-place given in the census for Samuel Lee’s wife (Ealing, Mdx) that Mary Ann was not only not a Lovell, she was also not Ruth’s sister: she was baptised in Ealing 1/6/1794 daughter of James Lee and Letitia [Draper], and the sister of the Benjamin Lee, baptised in W Drayton, Mdx 8/12/1799, who travelled with her and her husband (christening children jointly with them in 1827 and 1828), and as a widower was travelling in the 1851 census with their friends, John and Ruth Chilcott. If all of this shows the risks involved in uncritically re-cycling the gypsiologists’ data, to be fair they were perhaps not altogether wrong: Ruth, wife of John Chilcott, may well have had a brief sexual relationship with Samuel Lee, husband of Mary Ann: a Urenda Lee was baptised in Wakes Colne, Ess 14/8/1836 [near Halstead where John and Ruth christened one child and Great Coggeshall where they buried another] daughter of Samuel and Ruth, travelling tinker, although of course it’s possible the priest confused John, the father, with his friend.

John and Ruth’s other children present no such problems. When they were arrested in Beccles, Sfk in April 1822, John and Ruth had with them six daughters aged from eight years to four months, Union, Sillia, Marsillia, Assurance, Florence and Caroline. And when we look in the records, we find Union christened in Clacton, Ess in 1812, Celia christened in Rougham, Sfk in 1814 and buried in Gt Coggeshall, Ess in 1842 (aged 28), Marcella christened in Halstead, Ess in 1816, Shurensi christened in Norwich, Nfk in 1818 (as Sureanthy – perhaps one of her parents had a lisp) in a church used two years earlier by Ferdinand Smith, Florence christened in Norwich in 1820, and Caroline born in Beccles in late 1821 or early 1822, shortly before the family was arrested there. After that episode we find John Riley Chilcott christened in Barton Bendish, Nfk in 1823, the fore-mentioned Charles christened in Norwich in 1825, and Erosabella christened in S Wootton, Nfk in 1831.

Only four of John and Ruth’s children seem to have had families of their own, Union, Shurensi, Florence and Caroline, none of them, I think, radically problematic

Copyright © 2018 Eric Trudgill