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Dead in a Ditch

Anne-Marie Ford    -    6 January 2013

The Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle of 15th January 1881 recorded an unexplained death in the midst of “Severe Snow Storms” in the county of Surrey:

The police at Mitcham are engaged in investigating a mysterious affair, which has caused various rumours in the neighbourhood of Croydon. On Thursday morning a man named Cansy, a labourer, living at Beddington Corner, was proceeding along a little-frequented footpath leading from Beddington railway station across Mitcham Common, when he found a body of a female lying in a ditch about three feet deep by the side of the road. . . It was found that the woman had been dead for sometime, and that various suspicious circumstances existed in the affair. Subsequently the body was identified as Charlotte Stanley, aged 36 years, who had been living in a tent on Mitcham Common with a Gypsy. It has been ascertained that the last time she was seen was when she called at The Goat public house at 11 o’clock at night, and was served with half-a-pint of beer. . . The body lies at The Goat, awaiting an inquest . . . On the body was found a pedlar’s certificate and 19 playing cards.

There were, of course, several Gypsy and Traveller families wintering out on Mitcham Common, a popular stopping place and camping site, so it is hardly surprising to find Stanleys, Coopers, Lees, Matthews, Williams and Bowers in the 1881 census for that year,living on the Common.

George Stanley, born about 1847, a hawker, the son of Diveris Stanley and his wife, Naomi King, can be found in the census, camping out with his wife, Cinderella, formerly a Cooper, the daughter of Edward and Henrietta, and their children Daylia (Delia), baptised in 1873; Sarah, three years’ younger; Rebecca, aged one year. Rebecca was named after her grandmother, since Diveris was the son of Peter and Rebecca Stanley, baptised in Putney on 27th February 1820. (Incidentally, both Edward and Henrietta Cooper were also camped on Mitcham Common in the 1881 census, hawkers, both claiming to be 76 years of age).

Nor was George Stanley the only member of the family in the vicinity. Surrey was a particularly favourite location for this tribe, although they can also be found in Hampshire and the west country throughout the year. Diveris and Naomi were wintering out at Handcross Alley, in the registration district of Croydon, Diveris recorded as a basket maker, and their son, William, as a hawker. Also staying with the family was a married daughter, Sarah, and her husband, James Williams. In the same registration district, at Church Road, was another son of Diveris’ and Naomi’s, John, recorded as a hawker, with his wife, Louisa, and children John, aged 12; Peter, named for his grandfather, aged 10; Diveris, named after John’s father, aged eight; Naomi, named for her grandmother, aged six; four-year-old Louisa.

It is reasonable to suppose that the Charlotte Stanley who met such an untimely death was related in some way to this particular family; it was a popular given name amongst the Stanley tribe, and there are a number of candidates, including (if we assume that Charlotte was baptised a Stanley, and not using the surname of a partner) Charlotte, daughter of Vandelow and Sarah Stanley, who was baptised on 26th September 1847 in the district of Alton, and Charlotte Stanley, daughter of Frederick and Charlotte Stanley, baptised in Berkshire on 1st February 1846.Of course, the age estimated at her death may not be accurate – it would almost be surprising if it were! In which case, the Charlotte, daughter of William and Charlotte Stanley, baptised in Hampshire on 5th September 1841 is also a possibility, as is the Charlotte Stanley baptised in Sussex in 1850, the daughter of travellers James and Charlotte.

There does seem to be a distant connection between Vandelow’s daughter, Charlotte, and Peter Stanley, however, which might point to which Charlotte died in such tragic circumstances. When Vandelow Stanley was baptised, in Fawley, Hampshire, the son of James and Margaret Stanley, on 20th December 1806, his parents claimed to come from “Chieveley, near Newbury, in Berkshire.” Peter, too, could claim it as his ‘home’ through his descent from Peter and Jane Stanley, who baptised a son, Paul, in Chieveley, Berkshire, on 30th January 1731.Paul and his wife, Mary, were to baptise a daughter, Sarah, on 9th March 1755, and a Peter Stanley with his wife, Jenny, baptised their daughter, Deborah, on 21st March 1756. This couple could, of course, be Paul’s parents, as Gypsy families were usually begun at a very young age, and continued apace for more than 20 years, or it could be a brother of Paul’s, simply named after his father, or Peter and Rebecca’s son, Peter.

In addition, John Stanley, possibly an elder brother,or more likely an uncle, of Vandelow’s father, James, who himself had a daughter called Charlotte, also baptised another daughter, Lydia, with his wife, Susannah, in Bucklebury, Berkshire, a short distance from Chieveley. Lydia Stanley’s baptism was recorded in 1777, and the records show her marrying in Hampshire at the end of the century to a Reuben Stanley, presumably a cousin.

The Berkshire connection, which may simply be historical, or may even refer to a settlement, was clearly significant for this branch of the Stanley family, who travelled the southern counties, many of them going down to the west country, but still claiming their ‘home’ in Berkshire. Peter and Rebecca, Diverus’ parents, baptised a number of their children in Berkshire: Olive on 25th December 1825; Peter on 3rd February 1828; Penelope on 11th April 1830; John on 3rd November 1833. All of these baptisms point to a wintering in the county.(Interestingly, although it is far from convincing, another son of Samuel Stanley’s, David, was to use the names Jane and Peter for two of his children; this might be a coincidence, but may perhaps indicate a distinct family link). This brings us back to the Charlotte, daughter of Frederick and Charlotte Stanley, who was herself baptised in Berkshire. The location may still be the signifier, but simply indicate a different Charlotte Stanley.

Trying to build a picture through these fragments is not especially satisfactory, and often seems something of a compromise with chaos, but it does attempt to understand the family connections sufficiently to explain travelling companions and territorial choices.

Other members of the Stanley tribe are, thankfully, easier to identify; take, for example, the Clara Stanley who was convicted of fortune telling, and whose case was reported in the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle of 25th April 1895:

Clara Stanley, 44, a Gypsy hawker, of Lawrence Road, Southsea, was brought up on a charge of unlawfully pretending to tell the fortune of Jessie Wells, and was committed to seven days imprisonment with hard labour.

The age and particularly the location identify her as one of blind Solomon Stanley’s daughters, the son of Samuel Stanley. Clara was, in fact, to form a union with a (probable) cousin, a James Stanley, and had a considerable number of children by him. She remained close to her father, with whom her daughter, Sarah, by her first marriage to Edward Rolph, lived, appearing census records close by and so regarded the Hampshire location where she spent most of her life as her idea of ‘home.’

Copyright © 2013 Anne-Marie Ford