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Hemlock

Anne-Marie Ford    -    2 March 2018

On 24th June 1832 Edward and Vidence Smith, Gypsies, baptised a son Hemlock.  It might be supposed that with such an exotic name he would be easy to trace in subsequent census records, but this is not quite the case.  Certainly, an article in the Bedfordshire Times gives his name correctly, and offers an intriguing alias, when it notes in May 1871 that ‘Hemlock, alias Curtis, Smith,’ a Gypsy, was charged with trespassing on land at Swineshead.  This trespass looks back to an offence dating from the spring of 1866, when Hemlock was engaged in thesearching ‘of game or conies.’  In view of such an historical event, the case was dismissed.  Nevertheless, the idea that Curtis was an alias is an interesting one.  

Although it is reported in the newspaper in such a way that it might be seen as an alternative forename, I believe it actually references the union of a William Curtis with Viramenta Smith, and is a surname used as an alias by some of their descendants.  The four known children of William Curtis and Viramenta Smith were Abraham, probably born in the late 1790s, and known to the Gypsiologists as a son of this couple; John, who was baptised on 9th November1800, at Roxton, Bedfordshire; James, in the same county, at Steppingley, on 13th February 1803, and Edward, baptised in Ravensden, Bedfordshire in1809.

Abraham formed a union with a Mary Booth and favoured Lincolnshire; interestingly, one of his daughters was given the unusual name of Barzena, a name his brother Edward and wife Vidence also used for a daughter, who was baptised in 1834 in Dean, Bedfordshire.  Vidence was five or six years older than her husband, and was probably already mother to Joseph Smith, baptised in Langford, Bedfordshire, in 1824 and Permelia (Pamela), who claimed to have been baptised there c1823; Vidence may also have baptised another daughter there with her own name.  However, her children from 1832 onwards all appear to be Edward’s: Hemlock, Humphrey, Bazaina, Britannia and Caroline.  

Joseph Smith married Charlotte Gray, daughter of Joshua, at Yelling, Huntingdonshire, on 21st December 1846, where he names his father as Henry Smith, but where his step-father, Edward, is a witness to the union. Pamela, and her husband, William Smith, also named a son Henry, as well as calling a daughter (Pro) Vidence, in tribute to her mother.  Humphrey, too, thought of his mother in naming his eldest daughter, baptised in 1865. Vidence’s youngest daughter, Caroline, remembered her grandmother when she baptised a daughter Barlementi (sic), obviously Viramenta, at Buckden, Huntingdonshire, on 20th November 1859. These naming patterns within close family relatives are helpful in tracing the tribe as they intermarried with other Gypsy families, perhaps when they are slightly unusual, like Vidence, Viramenta and the very extraordinary Hemlock.

Hemlock makes an appearance with his brother, Humphrey, in the Bedfordshire gaol records, where they are charged with vagrancy in the summer of 1874, and sentenced to seven days imprisonment with hard labour.  The following year Hemlock was found guilty of ‘making a fire within 50 feet of the centre of a cartway at Goldington.’  But it is the census records that are far less forthcoming about Hemlock.

At Goldington he is found with his family in the 1871 census, but is listed as ‘Emlook,’ and his wife is recorded as ‘Sarah L. Smith.’  The children’s names, probably some of which have undergone translation by the enumerator are: William, 16; James, 20; Cornelius, 23; Matilda, 23; Caroline, 13; Martha Meredith, 10; Serpometer (? Viramenta) Sophronia, 8; Edith, 6; Christopher, 2.  In fact, both Cornelius and James had been recorded with their mother’s name, Loveridge, when they were baptised together at Kempston, Bedfordshire in the spring of 1853, and were only 20 and 18 years of age at the time of the census.  The Matilda listed in the census might possibly be an earlier daughter of Sarah’s, prior to her marriage with Hemlock, and just possibly she is the Matilda Loveridge who formed a union with Hemlock’s brother, Humphrey. Later in 1871 another child was born to Hemlock and Sarah, named after his father, ‘a chairmaker,’ where his mother’s name is confirmed as Sarah Loveridge on the birth certificate.

Hemlock never seems to have moved far from home territory, but the next record I can find for him is his death, on 20th January 1897.  He was staying at Anchor Yard, Biggleswade. and appears to have been suffering from an intestinal obstruction; he was 65 years of age, at his death and his occupation as that of general labourer.  The informant, Councelettie Smith, his daughter-in-law, was present at his death and made her mark.  Surely this is Councelettie Loveridge, who wed Woodlock Smith in 1903 as Councie Lettie Loveridge in the registration district of Bedford, a daughter of Montague Gray and Elizabeth Smith/Loveridge.

Two years before Hemlock’s death the 1901 census shows Woodlock and Councelettie in tents in Bedfordshire, where Woodlock is described as a grinder, his wife as ‘Loveridge Smith’ and their children recorded as Christopher, 11, and Morany, 5.  That year they were to have another daughter, Hilda Elizabeth. (Ten years earlier the young couple had been listed as Woodlock Smith, 22, Counsy, 20, with their first child, 11 month old Christopher, although their ages were closer to 19 and 17 years of age.)  Since Woodlock generally gives birth dates between 1869-1871 in census records it is probable that he is the child recorded as Hemlock, son of Sarah and Hemlock, and this is confirmed by a probate record dating from 1956.

The record considers the disposal of moneys by a Councelettie Smith, who had died in Bedford the previous summer.  She had been living in Greenhill, Bedford, at the time of her death and is described as the wife of Hemlock Smith, a retired dealer.  Her assets are a surprising £1,644.  As a result of this it is clear that Hemlock, son of Hemlock Smith and Sarah Loveridge, used Woodlock as an alternate name, indeed used it as his forename when he married Councelettie, and in census records, but was named as Hemlock when his birth was registered by his parents, at his own death in the registration district of Bedford in the December quarter of 1957, aged 86, he was once again recorded as Hemlock Smith.

Copyright © 2018 Anne-Marie Ford