Ten Turkeys

At the Sussex Assizes of January 1882 the Surrey Mirror reported ‘a gang of Gypsies were charged with stealing ten turkeys from nearby Monk’s Hill Farm.’ The article of 14th January confirmed that the turkeys ‘were not locked up, but roosted in some trees . . . the prisoners [were] found in a tent at Ashdown Forest [and] the turkeys were some 50 yards from the tent, in a bag.’ Found guilty the Gypsies were named as Sidney Matthews, Thomas Trainer (?Turner), Saunders Emmett, Riley Scamp sen., Riley Scamp jun., George Scamp, George Lee, James Lee, Henry Lee and Samuel Scamp, and all were sentenced to five months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

This was, of course, an extended family group travelling together, and most were scissor grinders, although Saunders Emmett declared himself a sweep, another trade found frequently amongst the Gypsy population, and Thomas Trainer was a costermonger. The elder Riley has been baptised in Temple Ewell, in Kent, in 1820, the son of John/Jack Scamp and Grace Lee. He, too, would form a partnership with the Lee family, uniting with Sarah Lee/Matthews, and together they would have a large family.

The Scamps favoured the South coast and Riley and Sarah baptised their considerable number of offspring in the Kent villages they travelled. The 1861 census finds them in tents listed as vagrants in the parish of Graveney with their children: Oliver, baptised in 1843; Charlotte, baptised in 1845; Cinnamenta, baptised in 1847; Riley, baptised two years later; William, baptised in 1851; Samson, baptised in 1854; Clarinda, baptised in 1856; George, baptised in 1858; Mary, baptised the following year. (There was also the baptism of a Maria Scamp at Eastry, in Kent, in 1841 that may well be their first child.)

Riley and Sarah had at least two more children, who are still with them in the 1881 census, where they are recorded in tents at Deal, in Kent; they are Mizellie, baptised in 1862 and Sidney, baptised in 1864. Elder sons Samson and George are also present, as well as their daughter, Mary. Camping alongside the central family is their son Oliver, a widower, who has with him two children, Riley and Sabina, from his union with Letitia Lee, another child, William, having died. Riley and Sarah’s son Riley is also present, with children Sidney and Matthew.

Oliver has been found ten years before, in the 1871 census, at Rainham, in Kent, with his wife Letitia and their little son, Riley; they are camping alongside the family of Thomas Lee, presumably Letitia’s father. Many of Oliver’s other siblings are also found in Kent in this census, on Bostal Health, Plumstead, in tents, where their parents are not recorded and were, presumably, absent when the census takers arrived. The occupants are listed as Cinnamenta (recorded as Salamandy!) Riley, Samson, Clarinda, George, Mary, Mizellie and Sidney.

Although Letitia was to die young, Oliver was to eventually find himself the patriarch of a particularly large family. His second partner, Mary Jane, and he would offer a home to a considerable number of siblings, nieces and nephews, for by the 1911 census Oliver, a cutler, is in loco parentis to: Oliver Scamp, a horse dealer and his wife, Mary; George Scamp; Sidney Scamp; another Oliver Scamp; Menty Scamp; Louise Scamp; Walter Scamp; and yet another Riley Scamp.

Riley, son of Riley and Sarah, and his wife, Esther Scamp (?Baker), the parents of Sidney and Matthew, were, meanwhile, to have another son, James, born in 1875, but after this Esther seems to disappear from the records, and Riley’s second partner, Amelia Hickson, is found with him in subsequent census returns, usually listed as the housekeeper, along with another son, John Hickson, who is probably Riley’s child. He seems to have settled in the Ramsgate area, where he is found in King Street in the 1891 census, and is with Amelia, John, and his elder son, Matthew, who is working as a clothes peg maker. Ten years later the couple are at Bellevue Cottages, and only John remains at home; by 1911 Riley and Amelia are alone and Riley is still working, like his brother Oliver, as a cutler.

The elder Riley Scamp and his wife Sarah both died at the close of the nineteenth century, but the Scamp tribe continued to favour the county of Kent. Perhaps the recounting of the story of the stolen turkeys was one of those which provided amusement in the winter evenings – even though the adventure had rather come home to roost for those involved!