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Anne-Marie Ford    -    3 December 2012

Ran old Tommy Lewis to earth right on the top of Berkshire Downs; he is a genuine Boswell, being only called Lewis because of his father, Lewis Boswell, . . . he is a fiddler and being 84 or so, ought to know some old tunes.” This extract is from a letter E.O. Winstedt, the Gypsiologist, had written to Scott Macfie in 1909. Actually, Tommy might have felt 84, but he was in fact a mere 71, having been baptised on 6th February1838, at Hagbourne, Berkshire, the son of Lewis and Constance Boswell, Gypsies.

Since Winstedt and other scholars investigating the roots of Romany language often conversed with the old Romanies in their own tongue, there were a number of misunderstandings, one of which appears in the following reference to Tommy, written by Winstedt on 20th November 1901:

I saw that old Boswell, Tommy Lewis, again on Thursday evening and he mentioned several Bucklands I hadn’t heard of . . . there are lots of strange names in his family: Ceterus (Siterus), his great grandfather, also an uncle and son of the same name (but he called the son Jack, because he didn’t like to mention the dead uncle’s name); daughters Adeli, Trefini and one worse than that, [the] mother [is] Counsaletti Smith.

And later, “just back from a visit to Tommy. He knows nothing of Edward or Paradise . . . but has numerous Buckland names . . . Barendon, Colliberry, Shelley.”

In fact, it was Tommy’s grandfather who was called Siterus, itself a corruption of Septimus, amongst his own people, although he was to use the name Bartholomew both in the records of his two marriages, the first to Colliberry Smith/Buckland, in Bletchingdon, Oxfordshire in 1779, and, following her death, to her sister, Mary Buckland in Great Gonersby, Lincolnshire in 1798. Bartholomew also used that name when, together with his family, he was arrested for vagrancy and tried at Kesteven, in Lincolnshire in 1796.

Tommy’s father, Lewis, who became well-known for his skill as a fiddler, was amongst thisfamily group; he had been baptised at Bromham, in Wiltshire, as Lewis Bozwell, in Bromham, Wiltshire on 18th May 1788. His first wife, Cleopatra Smith, was the mother of his daughter, Syphorella, whose son, Stephen, was baptised alongside Tommy in Berkshire in 1838. Lewis’ second wife, Constance Smith, was Cleopatra’s sister, and Fairnetti and Tommy his children from this union. The Barendon, actually Barrington, referred to by Winstedtwas a brother of Colliberry’s and Mary’s and Barrington’s wife, Charlotte, was the Shelley mentioned by Tommy.

Although both Solomon Boswell, Tommy’s uncle, and Tommy himself were to use the name of Septimus for their sons, corruptions of the name sometimes make it hard to recognise, but Tommy’s use of ‘Satus’ at the registration and baptism of his son suggests a pronunciation that indicates the possibility that Bartholomew and Colliberry also used the name. A son who died early in infancy, and was buried as Deceitus, in Brinkworth, Wiltshire in 1793, was perhaps a mis-hearing of the corrupted form of Siterus/Ceterus.Soloman’s and Ann’s son Septimus, who was baptised at Long Wittenham, Berkshire on 15th June 1828, was, fortunately for us, to continue to use the name in its pure form, and, more importantly does not appear to have any by-names.

Tommy’s son’s birth was registered in the June quarter of 1872 at Wantage, Berkshire and his baptismtook place on 24th April at West Hanney, in Berkshire, the son of Thomas and Consolette Boswell. He continued to be called ‘Cetus/Ceterus’ amongst his people, although, as Tommy mentioned, John/Jack was the name he used amongst the gorjer community at large, and, like his sisters, when they married, he used the surname Lewis. Tommy also had, with his third wife, Counselettie Smith, a son Henry, baptised as Lewis, several daughters, Adely (Adelaide), Tryphena, who also used the name Alice, Marani, who also used Rose Hannah, and Fairnetty, who, rather gloriously, used the name Tryphena, a name which also belonged to her sister, Alice, when she married. I hope you’re keeping up! Another daughter, Charlotte, died young, as did her brother, little William Thomas.

Tommy’s son, Ceterus/Jack, married Vertina/Vertie Smith, in a cousin union that was extremely common amongst Gypsy families: Vertie was the daughter of Black Jobey Smith, a brother of Counselettie’s, and her mother was Marennie, Tommy’s niece, the daughter of Fairnettie and James Smith.

Ceterus/John, along with other family members, can be traced through local newspaper stories, as well as the census. Summoned, at the Petty Sessions, for allowing a horse to stray on the highway, the defendant claimed it was no longer his, but belonged to Job Smith. He added that his horses were at Challow Bone Mills and called Edward William Welch, the proprieter, to corroborate his evidence, which he did. John was, in fact, convicted and fined; it is interesting to note that the Job Smith referred to is his uncle, and father-in-lawand that the Edward William Welch who owned the Challow Bone Mills was the second husband of John’s sister, Adely. None of these relationships were thought worth mentioning.

There are also court records that refer to John with his brother, Henry, and also one with his father, Tommy, when they found themselves accused of a breach of the peace by fighting on the highway. A witness, Alfred Breakspear (surely there is a relationship here, too; two of Tommy’s daughters were married to Breakspears), said he saw “the older man, Thomas, was sitting on the bank, and another man struck him three times.” The defendant, John Lewis, said he “could not see the old gentleman knocked about and he went to the rescue.” The others involved in the fight absconded and Tommy and John were, eventually, bound over to keep the peace for six months, and to pay 6/9d costs, which they did, although protesting that they were “very innocent.”

In the North Berkshire Herald of 4th May 1912 a report on the Petty Sessions recorded that John Lewis, a travelling hawker, was summoned . . . for camping on the Icknield Way at Woolstone, and was fined in his absence. In June of the same year, John is once again in court, this time with his sister, Rose Breakspear (Miranni), and charged with the same offence, as well as allowing two horses to stray. They both pleaded guilty and were fined accordingly.

In the 1901 census John/Ceterus and his wife, Vertie, are shown living with their extended family in a van and tents in Browns Lane, in the parish of West Lockinge, Berkshire. Listed as hawkers, they also have a little daughter, recorded as Tryfeania, born in 1897. By 1911 they are in the registration district of Wallingford, in Berkshire, and John is described as a general dealer, Vertie’s name is written as ‘Bertha,’ and they have added totheir brood: Tryfeania has now become Marian, probably the Maria Lewis recorded in the December quarter of 1897 in the district of Wantage, and is now 14; Adele, presumably named after his sister, is recorded as about four, but is likely to be the Adelaide Lewis registered in the June quarter of 1905, also in Wantage, making her five and a half; Polly, just three years old, is probably the Mary Lewis registered in the June quarter of 1908, again in the district of Wantage.

A story about Ceterus, which can be found amongst the Hall and Winstedt papers at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, was recounted by Nelson Loveridge:

Ceterus had been quarrelling with Vertie and Ginger Harry Loveridge (Nelson’s brother), and his wife, Britty Smith, agreed to have some fun with Ceterus. Harry got Ceterus drunk and agreed to swap wives with him. Then Britty and Vertie (by prior arrangement) walked in and Harry told Britty she now belonged to Ceterus. So Brittyhugged Ceterus, saying “what a man you are, my Cetey.” Then Ceterus said, “go on, Harry, take my wife, she’s yours!” But Vertie was having none of it – they all got very drunk and went home with their own wives.

 Ceterus Boswell

Ceterus Boswell aka John/Jack Lewis s/o Thomas Boswell and Counselettie Smith
(with thanks to Katy Hooper, Special Collections, Liverpool University)

Copyright © 2012 Anne-Marie Ford