Somerset Sojourn

In the churchyard of All Saints at Lopen, Somerset, a gravestone is inscribed ‘Robert Carter, born 1793, died 6 April 1869, husband of Mary Ann, father of Mary Ann Carter.’ Robert Carter had travelled some distance to his final resting place, and his memorial stone had probably been erected by Job Carter, son of Robert and Mary Ann, who was the licensee of the King William Inn at Lopen, and also a successful horse dealer.

Robert Carter was a Gypsy who had been baptised at Eling, in Hampshire, in January 1793, the son of Robert and Mary. With his first wife, Esther, Robert had five known children, baptised in Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey, most of whom were subsequently to see Somerset as home territory. This move was surely due to Robert’s second union, with Mary Ann Small, whose family favoured the West Country.

There were three known children from Robert’s second marriage, Patience, baptised in Dorset in 1835, Job, who was registered in 1838 in the district of Chard, Somerset, and Mary Ann, baptised on 18th October 1840, where her father was described as a ‘temporary sojourner in Curry Rivel, hawker,’ but by the late nineteenth century his son, Job, was to be considered a significant member of the settled population.

Job’s younger sister, Mary Ann, died on 28th March 1869, ‘aged 29,’ just over a week before her father, Robert, who died on 6th April; he is recorded as 76 years of age. The death of Mary Ann Carter in Lopen on 7th January 1876, ‘aged 73,’ is that of his wife, Job’s mother.

Job’s elder sister, Patience, formed a union with a Joseph Davis, and remained a Traveller, but continued to favour Somerset; in 1871 the family were recorded in a travelling caravan, at Chard, Somerset, with their considerable family, Minnie, John, Job, Kezia, Caroline, Henry, Ellen and Sophia.

Meanwhile, Job Carter married a local girl, Susan Lang, daughter of Jacob and Anne, in 1870, when he was about 32 years of age and so chose to settle. Susan’s parents were the landlords of the King William Inn in Lopen, and this was a position that Job was to inherit. The 1871 census finds the couple living with Susan’s mother, Anne Lang, a widow, recorded as ‘a beer house keeper.’ Job not only took over the license after Anne’s death, but also maintained something of his Gypsy inheritance by working as a horse dealer, which appeared to be extremely successful, according to local newspapers. Job and Susan baptised a son, Job Carter, in 1872, but there do not appear to have been other children and Susan died in June 1883, ‘aged 48 years.’ Administration of her personal estate was granted to her widower and her grave was marked with a footstone, engraved with her initials and the date.

Five years later Job married his second wife, Elizabeth Smith Ackerman, and they baptised three children in the local church at Lopen: Rosa Lily; Robert James; Selina Mary. The couple appear in the 1901 census with Job’s son from his first marriage, as well as their children, Rosa and Robert. Selina Mary was to be born the following year.

Job Carter is recorded in a local newspaper as late as 1906 applying for a license for the King William and claiming to have been landlord there ‘for 32 years.’ He appears, too, in local horse race, winning prizes regularly, and is typical of the manner in which so many Gypsy and Traveller families became members of the settled community during the late 19th and early 20th century.

So much a member of the settled community does Job become that his daughter Rosa Lily has her marriage recorded with some flourish in the Western Chronicle of 8th July 1910. The newspaper notes that she is the ‘eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Job Carter of Lopen,’ and that she wed Mr. Joseph Pitts, wearing a gown ‘of cream silk, trimmed with lace and orange blossom to match,’ and was given away ‘by her uncle, Mr. William Ackerman,’ whilst one of her several bridesmaids was her younger sister, Selina Mary.

Why did Job Carter, still alive in the summer of 1910, not give his daughter away? His death was recorded in the Western Gazette of 27th January 1911: ‘Carter – Jan 16th 1911 at the King William, Lopen, Job Carter, aged 72.’ But his death certificate surely explains his absence from Rosa’s wedding, since his demise from heart failure noted ‘that he had suffered from heart disease for 12 months.’ Job was buried in the local churchyard, which the newspaper reported in its 3rd February edition, and the same month Elizabeth Carter was given a transfer of the license for the King William, since ‘the house had always been properly conducted.’ The census that year therefore recorded Elizabeth as a widow, residing at the King William Inn, with her step-son, Job, and children Robert James and Selina Mary.