Tinkers of Chedworth

Chedworth is a Gloucestershire village nestled in the Cotswolds, just seven miles from Cirencester, and was considered home territory by the Traveller family descended from Robert and Eleanor Stephens/Stevens from at least the late eighteenth century. In 1787 the Gloucestershire Overseer’s records list Robert Stephens, claiming to come from Cirencester, his wife, Eleanor, who said she was from Burbage, Wiltshire, and their three children, Elizabeth, Robert and Mary, all said to be of Chedworth.

It is probable that the marriage between a Robert Stephens and Eleanor Collier, which took place on 15th January 1783 in the registration district of Cirencester, applies to this couple, who, three years later, appear in the Overseer’s records once more, this time noting that Robert was a tinker. Robert and Eleanor baptised most of their children in Chedworth: in addition to the three mentioned previously, (one of whom, Robert, was actually baptised in Wiltshire) they baptised Joshua on 12th February 1788, Ambrose on 23rd January 1790 and Hercules on 3rd November 1793. Between these last two brothers an Immanuel/Emmanuel was baptised on 16th October 1791 at Newton Toney, Wiltshire. In Chinnor, Oxfordshire in November 1798 Penella Stevens was baptised by Robert and Eleanor, the cleric noting that they were ‘travelling.’ Another daughter, Elianor Leander, was baptised on 28th December 1801 at Fairford, Gloucestershire, and their last known child, Joyce, was baptised on 6th March 1803 at Woodborough in Wiltshire, and died in the same county a few months later.

Wiltshire was clearly part of Robert and Eleanor’s travelling route, so it is hardly surprising to find a removal order of 19th March 1831, in which an Emmanuel Stephens and his family are removed from Somerford Parva, Wiltshire back to Chedworth. With Emmanuel, the son of Robert and Eleanor, are his wife, Elizabeth, and children Maria, aged 13, baptised at Berkley, Gloucestershire on 24th August 1817; Moses, aged 11; nine-year-old Amos; Mark, aged five; Ann, three; two-year-old Ezra (baptised as Hazor at Little Somerford, Wiltshire on 8th June 1828); Eli, just six months.

Robert and Eleanor’s eldest son, Robert, and his wife Jane baptised three of their known children in Chedworth: Charity, baptised 14th July 1811; John, baptised 29th May 1815; Eleanor, named for Robert’s mother, on 14th December 1817. Another son, Joshua, and his wife, Mary Scott, whom he married on 6th January 1808 at Chedworth, recorded eight children there: Eleanor, after his mother, was baptised on 26th June 1808 (and probably she is the child buried on 10th October 1811); Elizabeth on 11th June 1810; James on 2nd August 1812; Joshua on 18th September 1814; Moses on 28th February 1817; Aaron on 25th June 1820; Edward on 16th June 1822; another Eleanor baptised on 18th July 1824, the daughter of Joshua and Mary, ‘tinker’.

Joshua and Mary appear to be settled at Chedworth, and one of their sons, another Joshua, was to marry a Jane Scott in Chedworth (this is probably a cousin marriage, since his mother was a Scott), and this couple, too, had a Joshua Stevens, baptised in 1839. Other children also married in the village: Elizabeth married Thomas Rogers on 7th February 1829 on on 14th December 1839 her younger brother, Moses, married Ann Rogers. Thomas and Ann were the children of Richard and Ann Rogers and, like cousin marriages, unions between two sets of siblings was also fairly common. In addition, Joshua and Mary’s son, Aaron, was to marry Keziah Trotman in Chedworth on 8th December 1856, a family with whom the Stevens had united in previous generations.

The 1841 census of Chedworth records the matriarch Eleanor, widow of Robert, aged 83, living with 65-year-old Joyce Trotman. Mary, widow of Joshua, is also in the village, living with her son James and his wife Edith, together with children Edwin, five, and Moses, two. The local church had been the site of the elder Robert’s burial on 14th February 1840, aged about 76, but claiming to be 80. Eleanor, too, was buried there on 29th Mary 1847, claiming to be 97 years of age.

In May 1837 an Emmanuel Stephens appeared at the Gloucestershire Summer Assizes on the charge of stealing a kettle. This Emmanuel is not the son of Robert and Eleanor, but possibly their grandson, certainly a member of the extended family; he was born the son of Henry and Jane, baptised in Gloucestershire, was about 30 years of age at the time, and married to Eve Lock, the daughter of Merrick Lock. Found guilty, he was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, the final month to be in solitary.

A dear friend and distant cousin suggested too much material about crimes and prison records are used in these stories, but the truth is that, together with settlement hearings, removal records, baptisms and burials, these records offer material we might never find elsewhere, and tell us a good deal about society itself. Anxieties felt about outsiders, and wider concerns regarding the poor in general meant that the impoverished often found themselves in court for stealing basic foodstuffs or poaching, and they, as well as the Romany and Traveller population, were frequently dealt with harshly.