Share this page

Aladdin

Anne-Marie Ford    -    5 December 2015

<.> The Suffolk Quarter Sessions of 1849 recorded the acquittal of a Constine (sic) Gray in a case of larceny, and, if the Bury and Norwich Post’s article of 17th January is to be believed, she was particularly fortunate in escaping a prison sentence:

Constine Gray, aged 28, a Gypsy woman, resident at Woolpit, was charged with stealing a dress and other articles, the property of Eliza Mulley . . . There were at least 30 people in the shop, the prosecutrix purchased the articles in question. She put them on the counter, near where the prisoner was standing, and shortly after she missed both the parcel and the prisoner. The constable went to the prisoner’s house and, after she had denied having anything but what was her own, found the parcel on her table, which she then said she had found on the road, but it was not at all dirty.

Constantia Smith, daughter of Meshach Smith and Constance Gray, had married Founess/Foundness Gray, son of Riley Gray and Lydia Sly, on 10th November 1846 at Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. The couple already had several children, the earliest being born in 1833, when Constantia, baptised in 1811, was about 22. Clearly the age referred to in the newspaper report was somewhat wide of the mark. The witnesses to the union between Constantia and Founess were Harriet Stedman and, perhaps more interestingly, Aladdin Gray. Harriet was Founess’s sister-in-law, wife of his brother, the younger Riley, whom she had married at Offham in Kent two years earlier. Is it possible that Aladdin was also related by marriage? It is clear that Aladdin is a member of the extended family of Grays that favoured Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, and his presence at the wedding suggests a close connection with the family of Riley Gray and Lydia Sly. Aladdin was baptised as Eladdon Gray on 15th June 1817 at the church of the Holy Trinity, Haddenham, Cambridgeshire, illegitimate son of Peter and Sibby Gray, tinker, abode Barton. Since the name Peter, common though it is, was used within the family, Riley having a brother, eventually a grandson and also a second cousin called Peter, it is probable that Aladdin was also a cousin of the elder Riley and/or of Founess Gray. He can be found in the census records from 1841 to 1871, although his unusual name, which I have only found in the Taylors and Days, is frequently mangled, and tells us what little we know about Aladdin. In the 1841 census Aladdin is in lodgings, listed as Habbeden Gray, tinman, born about 1820. Also at the same address is a Sophia Ward and, since subsequent records reveal that Aladdin formed a union with a Sophia/Sophy, it is tempting to see this young woman as his future wife. But there is another Sophy who is a more promising candidate. Is the daughter of Riley and Lydia, baptised in Suffolk in 1820, a likely match for Aladdin? For, fve years after Constantia and Founess’s marriage, Aladdin can be found in the 1851 census at a lodging house, 66 Long Brackland, St James, Bury St Edmunds, as Lodden Gray, 28, a tinman, born in Cambridgeshire, together with his wife, Sophia, 26, a hawker, born in Suffolk. Next door, at number 65 Long Brackland is Founess Gray, razor grinder, with Constantia and their substantial family: Founess, William, Lazarus, Miranda, Bathsheba, Christopher, Meshach and Shadrach. This continuity in the relationship of Aladdin and Founess, wintering out together, suggests a closer connection than that of distant cousins. Are they, perhaps, brothers-in-law, together because Sophy is not only Aladdin’s wife, but also Founess’s sister?

In the April of 1857 the Bury and Norwich Post mentions Sophy and Aladdin regarding a charge of assault, when “Sophy Gray, wife of Aladdin Gray, a tinman and brazier, was charged with cutting and wounding Mr Goold, landlord of the One Bull Inn.” Evidence was offered by Joseph Frost, a wheelwright, of Norton:

He stated that he saw the prisoner on the previous night at the One Bull, in [the] town. Mr Goold, the landlord, was turning her out in consequence of her disorderly behaviour, when he stumbled, and fell down upon her. Immediately he got up witness saw that his thumb was bleeding profusely. The prisoner had a knife in her hand, which she put into her pocket.

Sophy Gray was to be remanded in custody, but eventually acquitted and discharged in the July of that year.

But by the 1861 census Sophy is no longer with Aladdin, who is found in Hammersmith, Middlesex, camping on wasteland with several other Gypsies and travellers, amongst them Hearns, Lovells, Mills and Smiths. Whether Sophy had died, or the couple had simply parted, it is clear that Aladdin considers himself single, and is listed as unmarried.

However, there is an interesting entry in the Greenwich workhouse for 30th December 1867 that suggests a new relationship; it reads, “Aladdin Gray, 52, a tinker, and his wife, Jane Gray, 40, were admitted, as they were destitute.” A second wife, it would seem, although, frustratingly, she, too is absent in the next record we find for Aladdin. In the 1871 census he is lodging at the White Horse Tap Public House, Gravesend, Kent, and is listed as Ladon Gray, 58, a working tinman, but is now recorded as a married man.

By 1978 Aladdin seems to be alone again, as the only person present at his death was his landlady, Eliza Toon, the wife of a hawker and lodging house keeper. Aladdin was an asthmatic and had died of this, together with the added complication of bronchitis, and his death certificate records him as Aladdin Gray, an itinerant tinker, aged 68.

The Bury and Norwich Post offers our next reference to Aladdin, when, on 16th March 1875, it notices his death: “On the 14th inst., aged 68, Aladdin Gray, Long Brackland, knife-grinder.” Aladdin burial was recorded in the registration district of Bury St Edmunds, which indicates a continued link with Founess Gray, whose burial in the same district had occurred in 1869, “aged 62.” Whatever Aladdin’s wanderings it seems home was with this particular tribe of Grays. Were Founess and Aladdin really brothers-in-law, as appears likely, or simply cousins brought up together, in the absence of Aladdin’s parents, who seem to disappear from the records? What was the obviously close family connection between Founess and the splendidly named Aladdin?

Copyright © 2015 Anne-Marie Ford