At the petty sessions in Bedfordshire in 1853 Solomon Law, a Gypsy, was charged on suspicion of stealing a brown mare, in foal. The prisoner did not appear and was bound over in his own recognizance . . . to appear when called upon. His prison record while on remand describes Solomon as 41 years of age, 5′ 8″ with dark brown hair, light blue eyes, and sallow complexion, a hawker of no fixed residence, married with four children.
Solomon Law was about 42 years old, having been baptised at Shephall, Hertfordshire, on 31st March 1811, the son of Maria Law. Maria was to have a daughter whom she baptised as Bathsheba at Clothall, Hertfordshire on 21st May 1815 and is also, probably, the mother of Joseph Law, baptised on 5th May 1805, the son of a traveller, Maria Law, and Thomas Disable (Disborough) Law, son of Thomas Disable (Disborough) and Maria Law, traveller, who was baptised on 31st August 1817 at Great Munden, Hertforhire. (There had been a union some 50 years earlier in the Hertfordshire village of Royston between a Thomas Disborough and a Martha Law, in 1766, which indicates an historical connection between the two families.) Maria herself is possibly the child who was baptised at North Mimms, Hertfordshire, on 3rd July 1785, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Law.
Solomon Law’s partner was Silence Dighton, baptised at White Colne, Essex, on 3rd November 1822, the daughter of Thomas Gaskell/?Gaskin and Ann Dighton and they did indeed have four children: Joseph, born in 1848; Mary Ann, born 1849; John, born in 1851; Basilia Bathsheba (Mazillia) baptised on 8th March 1853 at Sheepcote Wood, Braintree, Essex, ‘of Shephall, Herts.’ The couple were to have three more children: William, Solomon and, born after Solomon’s death in 1856, Alexander/Saunders. As a result, Silence Law is recorded as a widow in the 1861 census, in tents at Hatfield Broad Oak, with Joseph, Mary Ann, John and Alexander.
Joseph Law was to use his mother’s surname at least as often as his father’s in census records, and his family generally chose to consider Dighton as their rightful name. In 1881 he is found with his wife, Eliza, and daughters Mazellia and Alice, at Green Lane, Romford, Essex. The couple had another daughter, Delila, who had been born in 1877 in Chelmsford, Essex, but died the following year, and was buried on 27th September 1878 at Totterscliffe St. Peter and Paul, Kent. Interestingly, although mainly travelling Essex and Hertfordshire, the couple’s first child, named for Solomon’s sister, was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, as Mazilia Dyton, and her mother’s maiden name given as Cooper. Why were they in Suffolk, off their usual patch?
The answer lies with Eliza’s antecedents, for she is the daughter of Moses Mills and Margaret Cooper and they and their family can be found in Ipswich, Suffolk in the 1871 census, where Moses is described as a chair turner and licensed hawker. He and Margaret are travelling with eight children: Esther Cooper, 24; Joab Mills, 18; Walter Mills, 16; Leanabelle Mills, 13; David Mills, 11; Lovenia Milla, 6; Clara Mills, 4; Louisa Mills, 9 months.
The 1871 census records the family before Joseph’s union, he is with his mother, Silence, and siblings Solomon, William, Mazelia, Mary Ann and Saunders, at Hornchurch, Romford, Essex. Also present are other members of the Law/Low family, Sophia, nee Webb, the widow of Henry Law, with her children, Esther, Andrew and Alice. Clearly Henry Law was related to Solomon, Silence’s partner, perhaps they were siblings, more likely cousins. These families continue to be found travelling together in 1891.
Meanwhile, in 1877 Silence was to find herself in court, as the Chelmsford Chronicle records: Silence Dighton, hawker of Lambourne, charged . . . with being drunk and incapable at Romford, was fined 1/- and 4/6d costs. Paid. Inspector Pepper said defendant had nearly £70 upon her person at the time.
In 1891 a vast extended family, mainly connected to the Dighton and Law tribes, are found in Hainault Forest, Lambourne, Essex. Among these are William Vale and his wife, Mary Ann, Silence and Solomon’s daughter, with children William and Jesse. Silence herself is with her sons Solomon and William, and family members Andrew Law, his wife, Marianne (Mary Ann Rossiter), and children Eliza, James, Phoebe and William, as well as his brother, Lawrence, his wife, H/Esther, and daughters Caroline, Minnie and Rose. Another daughter of Silence and Solomon is also present, her name, Mazellie, is incorrectly recorded as Amelia, and she is with her husband, Isaiah Shoesmith, and their many children: Elizabeth, John, James, Silence, Martha, Mary, Isaiah, Solomon, Alexander and Madona.
Silence Law/Dighton lived into old age, and was buried at St. Mary Magdalene, Harlow, Essex, on 1st September 1905, ‘aged 85.’ She had been a widow for nearly half a century, for Solomon had been buried on 17th October 1856, from the Great Dunmow Union in Essex, a hawker, aged 42. Actually he was a few years older than this, but it was an early death, in middle age, whilst his widow was really a couple of years younger than was claimed at her death, both belonging to a people to whom exact ages, or even surnames, were less important than family connections and home territory.