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Anne-Marie Ford    -    2 February 2018

Within the Romani community it was not unusual to discover that a given or baptismal name was altered, made into a pet-name, or changed altogether, through choice or mis-hearing or mis-transcriptions.  Equally, both census and baptismal records may use the surname of the mother or the father, or be mis-recorded.  Neptune Ayres and his wife, Talitha Gregory, are a case in point.

The couple married in 1890, and were recorded as Gypsies: Neptune Ayres, ‘aged 39,’ the son of Cornelius, and Talitha Gregory, ‘aged 38,’ the daughter of John Gregory.  Neptune was baptised at Witchampton in Dorset on 9th April 1852, his parents, Cornelius and Sarah,were described as Gypsies, living ‘under a hedge at Crichel.’  The two had married the previous day, according to the parish records, as Cornelius Ayres, son of George, and Sarah James, daughter of Cornelius.  In fact, ‘Sarah’ was recorded as Keziah in subsequent baptisms of her children with Cornelius Ayres and, since Neptune and his wife were to name one of their daughters Kezia, it was surely the name she bore.

Talitha also seems to have undergone a name change.  She was one of the 13 children born to John Gregory, basket maker, and Deanna/Diana Lee, the daughter of Charles and Ann, and was baptised Athaliah at Shinfield, Berkshire, on 12th August 1851.  At the age of 18 Athaliah baptised a daughter Emily Richender Gregory, on 14th February 1869 at Eversley, said to be ‘of Yateley,’ and, two years later, a Rhodabella Gregory on 16th April 1871 at Hartley Wintney.  Her remaining children with Neptune were listed with his surname: Ellen, the daughter of Neptune and Delitha Ayres, was baptised on 1st July 1877, at Addlestone, Surrey, together with the daughter of Neptune’s younger brother, Henry, and his wife, Martha Peters, named Rose Annie.  

Addlestone was also the location for the baptism of Neptune and Delitha’s son Cornelius, on 27th July 1879, followed by Henry, the son of ‘Nipton’ and ‘Litha,’ who was baptised at Odiham, Hampshire, the son of a hawker, on 30th August 1882.  Alfred Ayres was baptised at Grazeley, Berkshire on 29th November 1885, the son of Neptune and ‘Eliza’ Ayres, hawker, and back at Addlestone little Christabel Mary was baptised as the daughter of Neptune and ‘Delilah’ on 24th July 1887.  Their last known child, Mercy Louisa, was baptised at the same location on 24th August 1890, the daughter of Neptune and ‘Elitha,’ together with their daughter Rhodabella’s son, Job. When their family was complete the couple wed.

The census records treat the name of Athaliah/Delitha equally randomly, and Neptune, too, since he is often Nipton and even Lipton.  In 1881 the family are found in a Gypsy tent at Stratfieldsaye, Hampshire and Athaliah is recorded with her apparently favoured name of Delitha. They are surrounded by their extended family, for two of Delitha’s aunts are there, Emily Lee and Martha (Pat) Lee. John Smith and Martha Lee have several of their younger children with them, and have been joined by their married daughter, Macey, and her husband, John Doe. Charles Doe, with his wife, Dollie (Sinfai) is also present, his wife being the daughter of Thomas Boswell and Emily Lee; Emily is camped there with her three other daughters by Thomas Boswell, and a grandson, Tommy.

In 1891 the census enumerator records Athalia/Delitha as ‘Adela’ and ten years later she has become, incomprehensibly, Lillian. By 1911 she has reclaimed her baptismal name, however, and she and Neptune are accompanied by their son, Alfred, and grandchildren Job Ayres and Dora Alice Harris, and have remained at Addlestone, Surrey, where they appear to have settled, living in Common Lane.

Athaliah’s children mainly married within the Romani and Gypsy community, and it was here that Emily Richender Ayres married Belcher Scott, on 7th June 1890.  This was a marriage between distant cousins, since Belcher was a son of Mercy Lee and Hezekiah Scott, and Mercy a sister of Deanna Lee, Emily Richender’s grandmother.

The following year Neptune and Delitha’s son Henry wed Louisa Harris, the daughter of Walter, a labourer, at Addlestone and, in the same church, at the turn of the century, on 23rd December 1899, Cornelius (Naylor) Ayres married Urania Gregory, the daughter of Eli Harris. This was another cousin union, for Urania, daughter of Emily Gregory and Eli Harris, was the grand-daughter of Alfred and Ellen Gregory, Alfred being a brother of Deanna’s. Moreover, Alfred and Ellen had also contracted a cousin marriage, since Ellen was the daughter of Deanna’s sister, Martha (Pat) Lee.

Ellen Ayres married twice, her first husband was Henry Chandler, the son of Edward, a labourer, whom she wed in 1896, and, when widowed, formed a union with Samson Bowers, finally marrying him on 20th March 1916. He was the son of Robert and Patience Bowers, and had been baptised on 31st October 1886 in Woking, Surrey, the son of a hawker, living at Star Hill.

Mercy Louisa, the youngest of Delitha’s children, married Edward Stevens, son of William, a labourer, on 13th January 1906, although Alfred did not wed Annie Evelyn Fordstratford until 1912; both ceremonies took place at the church of St. Paul’s, Addlestone. It was Christabel Mary who was to be very different to her siblings, marrying neither a Romani nor a labourer, but a sailor, Archibald Sidney Hill, in August 1908.

Although there were to be many grandchildren for Neptune and Delitha, only Rhodabella, as Rosabella Ayres, who married Henry Ayres, the son of Sampson Ayres, at Yateley in 1893, used the name Athaliah. The 1911 census finds her, a widow, living in a caravan at The Quadrant, Ash Vale, Surrey, ‘a seller of firewood,’ and with her are Athaliah, Sampson, Nelson and Amy.  

Neptune was to live to a great age, dying in 1846, claiming to be over a 100 years old. The Dundee Evening Telegraph of 23rd September that year noted, ‘Mr. Nipton (sic) Ayres, of Addlestone, Surrey, who has died at the age of 105, left 58 grandchildren, 50 great-grandchildren – the eldest a girl of 15.’ In fact, although Neptune had lived to a considerable age, he was actually 94. Athaliah died very much earlier, her age was also inaccurate, for she was said to be 54 years of age; in fact, she was about 61.

It was her daughter-in-law, Louisa, the wife of Henry, who gave details of Athaliah’s death, which occurred on 19th December at Common Lane, Chertsey. Recorded as the wife of Nipton (sic) Ayres, Athaliah had suffered with cancer of the breast for two years, had an operation 18 months before her death, but to no avail, since the disease had recurred in the summer of 1912. Nor was her age the only inaccuracy - for in the registration district of Chertsey in the December quarter of 1912 the death of Autherliar Ayres was recorded.

Copyright © 2018 Anne-Marie Ford