William Proudley

When William Proudley of Christchurch, Hampshire, was arrested and charged with larceny in 1826, he was 26 years of age, a married man, with four young children and described as a vendor of earthenware. Found guilty, he was sentenced to seven years’ transportation, however some ‘mercy’ was shown, perhaps in view of his family, and he was thereafter removed from the gaol in Poole, in Dorset, to the penitentiary at Milbank, in London. He appears to have served some four years here before returning home – the gap between the baptisms of his several children explained by this enforced absence.

William was descended from the important Stanley tribe, and was baptised in Hampshire in September 1800, his mother, Rose Stanley, marrying his father, William Proudley senior, on 19th July 1801. In 1820, when he was just 20 years of age, William would marry Susan Hawkins at Christchurch, on 30th April. In 1822 William and Susan baptised a daughter, Caroline, who was two years old at the time, together with a second baby daughter, Sarah, and then two sons, James in 1824 and William in 1826. These were the four children referred to in William’s charge sheet. Little Elizabeth Proudley was baptised in Bransgore, Hampshire on 17th April 1831, the first child born after William’s return. She was followed by Hannah in 1833, Henry the following year, John, baptised in 1836, George in 1840 and Charles in 1841.

In 1841 the Proudley family are found at Neacroft in the registration district of Christchurch, where William is described as an agricultural labourer; by 1851 he is working as a brickmaker, but by 1861 he is a farmer. What is fascinating about William Proudley is the way in which he becomes a significant local farmer, so that when his wife, Susan, died in 1868, ‘aged 68,’ it is noted in local newspapers as a matter of some social importance.

William Proudley is a central figure in a period of time in which society began to change rapidly, seeing Romany and Traveller families settling in areas they had originally thought of as home territory. William began life as a Traveller whose arrest and draconian sentencing in 1826 was typical of the treatment of the poor in the period, yet by the time of his death he was an established member of the local community, a successful farmer and employer.

William and Susan’s eldest son, James, having worked for the local curate in Bransgore, married the cook at the establishment, Priscilla/Anne Abbott, in 1865. In the 1871 census they are found living in Hampshire and James is recorded, like his father, as a farmer; with them is James’s brother, Charles, a merchant seaman who, ‘whilst serving at sea,’ had been commended for bravery in the same year that James had married. James was to eventually become a farmer of some 160 acres, ’employing six men and two boys,’ whilst Charles Proudley married a Mary Stevenson and had, by the 1881 census, become a publican at the Platform Tavern.

Charles’s wife died in 1882 and in 1885 he remarried an Eliza Dinnage, with whom he had a daughter, Mary. The family are recorded in Hampshire in 1891, where Charles is a licensed victualler, and with them is a brother, William Proudley, who does not appear to have married, working as a labourer on the docks. (In the 1851 census William is with another sibling, his sister Sarah, who had wed Joseph Harvey, a musician, in 1848, and here he is listed as a tallow chandler.)

Charles died in 1893, and leaves very little in material goods. Probate was granted to his widow, Elizabeth Proudley, and states that Charles Proudley of the Builders’ Arms, and a pensioned seaman, died on 12th July that year, leaving just over £13. Elizabeth was to remarry, and is found with her daughter in the 1901 census with her husband, Harry William Roberts, whom she wed in 1895.

Both Henry and George Proudley disappear from the records too, but John Proudley (who is living next door to his parents in the 1861 census), marries a Charlotte Jones in 1857 and has a large family. In 1871 John and Charlotte are at Milton, in Lymington, where John is working as a labourer in a brickyard; with them are Edwin, bp. 5th August 1857; Arthur, bp. 25th December 1859; Anna, bp. 30th March 1862; Albert, bp. 15th May 1864; Frederick, born July 1866; Beatrice, who was baptised with a younger brother on 25th February 1872. Subsequently they would have five more children: William, bp. 25th February 1872; Francis, bp. 10th November 1874; Charles, bp. 10th December 1876; Clare, born January 1879; Florence, born October 1883.

By 1901, however, John Proudley is living at Pine Cottage, in the parish of Christchurch, and is a clerk and sexton. Charlotte is a general nurse, and their son, Frederick, who remains living with them, is a gardener. Perhaps his brother James was instrumental in obtaining John’s position at the church of St. Mark, in the parish of Highcliffe, for James Proudley has become important and successful in the local community. He was a church warden at Highcliffe for 12 years, retiring from the post in 1890. James and his wife Anne both died in 1909 and by 1911 John, too, had retired, dying the following year.

Principally James Proudley, but also John and Charles, appeared in local papers because they held public office, were employers or even heroes, very different reasons from William’s earlier appearance. In addition almost all of William and Susan’s children were to wed members of the settled community, and so became subsumed into village life, perhaps forgetting, or not even knowing, of their Romany forebears and the history of their people.