In the Bible Aquilla was a maker of tents and it was a Biblical name which, perhaps somewhat ironically, found favour amongst Romanies and Travellers for both sons and daughters. In the parish of St. Paul’s Walden, Hertfordshire, on 13th October 1816, James and Sarah Smith baptised their daughter Aquilla. They were recorded in the notes as “itinerant Gypsies” of “no particular residence.” The following spring, in the same parish, on 20th April 1917, Aquilla’s brother, Josias, was baptised, the son of James Smith and Sarah Baily, (sic) a “tramper” with “no residence.”
Aquilla was to form a union with a Gypsy named Brinkley, reputedly a Thomas, but, in fact, her partner was Jonathan Brinkley, almost certainly the son of Robert and Ann Elizabeth Brinkley, formerly Tunstill. Marrying in Ayot St Peter, Hertfordshire in 1892, this couple baptised their son Jonathan on 22nd October 1809 at Watton-at-Stone, Hertfordshire, and he is probably the Jonathan Brinkley whose death was registered in the district of Edmonton, on 16th August 1867, when he was “aged 60.” Jonathan’s death, after four years of painful operations for the treatment of cancer, was witnessed by Isaiah Smith, presumably a close relative, perhaps even a son of Brinkley’s with Aquilla, who chose to use his mother’s surname. Jonathan Brinkley, described as a wireworker, is recorded as a travelling hawker from Weston in Hertfordshire. This relatively early death explains why, by the 1871 census, Aquilla is travelling with her son and daughter-in-law. That she named a son Jonathan, after his father, is unsurprising, and her other known children having the names of two of Jonathan’s siblings, Annis, who had been baptised at Knebworth on 12th July 1807, and Charles, baptised on 27th August 1797, further seems to confirm his antecedents. The elder Charles can still be found in Hertfordshire during the 1851 census, where he is in a tent, near the village of Great Wymondley, with his wife, Martha, and is described as a “travelling rat catcher.”
Aquilla, and her two sons, Jonathan and Charles Brinkley, as well as her daughter, Annie, can be traced in a variety of records, census returns, court proceedings, records of birth, marriage and death, as well as newspaper reports, throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and North London. The Hertford County Petty Sessions of 8
th April 1871 refer to both Aquilla and Jonathan in a complaint made against a family of Gypsies camped on the road, between Wheathampstead and Codicote on 26th March, in the parish of Ayott St. Peter. The complainant stated that he saw Jonathan Brinkley, who was already known to him, with other Gypsies “and with two vans and two horses” standing by the side of the road; he spoke to them and told them to move on. Returning the following morning, he found the group were still there and had a large fire; one of the vans had the name ‘Aquila (sic) Smith’ on it. A penalty of 40/- and 11/6d costs, or six weeks’ imprisonment was the result – but the Brinkleys had, of course, moved on, and did not appear in court. They can be found in the census of 1871, taken on the night of 2nd April, a few miles down the road, at Rowley Green, Boreham Wood, Hertfordshire: Jonathan Brinkley, born 1841; his wife, Susan, born 1846; Aguila (sic), born 1817.
Aquilla had already made something of a name for herself. The Hertfordshire Mercury of 7th August 1858 reports on ‘A Gipsies’ Quarrel,’ in which she is accused of assaulting an Ann Brinkley, clearly a relative, perhaps a sister-in-law. It appeared that a dispute arose between the defendant and a girl named Jane Woods, and when Ann Brinkley took Jane’s part, Aquilla knocked her down into a ditch, giving her the wounds and contusions she bore in court. Aquilla’s defence was that “it was a fair fight, and she happened to get the best of it.” For which she was fined £1.10/- and committed for 11 days in default. ( Just the year before Aquilla and Ann Brinkley had been in the dock together, at the County Petty Sessions of 23rd May 1857, accused of obtaining money and goods by false pretences, for which they had been committed to the House of Correction for 14 days.)
Aquilla’s name also acts as a genetic marker when her son, Charles Brinkley, and his wife, Siberetta, baptised two of their daughters on 29th May 1872 at Ardeley, Hertfordshire. Alice and Aguila (sic), older than her sister Alice by at least a year, and whose birth is given as occurring in 1870, are both described as the children of “a travelling shop keeper” living in a “house on wheels.” Little Aquilla is obviously named after her grandmother, whilst Alice is often to appear on records as ‘Annie,’ which suggests that it might, more properly, be Annis, a popular family name amongst the Brinkley tribe.
In the Hertfordshire Guardian of 28th January 1865, the report of a supposed robbery, tried at the Petty Sessions, names an Annie and a Charles Brinkley:
On Monday last two gipsies, Charles Brinkley, 18, and Annie, 16, his sister, went to the shop of Mr Phillips, pawnbroker, Maidenhead Street, and attempted to sell several silver spoons and gold rings, but Mr. Seymour, the assistant, communicated with the police, and in consequence, the two Brinkleys were taken before Mr. Hancock on Tuesday, charged with unlawful possession of the articles, and remanded till February first for the police to make inquiries.
The additional information of a female sibling for Charles and Jonathan is interesting, the more so since Charles called one of his daughters Alice/Annie – likely to have been named after his sister, and, in all probability, really a rendering of Annis, a family name in the Brinkleys. (Charles’ grand-daughter, Sibby, was to name her first child ‘Annas,’ which
seems to confirm this theory.)
The 1881 census is the last time Aquilla and her two sons are found together. She is with both Jonathan and Charles, and their families, at The Folly, Hertford St. John, Hertfordshire, in caravans. Jonathan and his wife, Susan, are hawkers, Aquilla is described as a widow. Charles, a wire worker and hawker, is with his wife, Siberetta, and their growing family: Aquilla, born around 1871; Alice, born about 1872; Sally (probably named for Aquilla Smith’s mother, Sarah), born about 1875; Jonathan, named in tribute to Charles’ father and brother, born around 1876; Fanny, just one year old. (Aquilla’s husband also had a sister of this name, baptised at Knebworth on 19th January 1800.)
It was in 1881, too, in its edition of 5th March, that the Hertfordshire Mercury newspaper carried a story about Jonathan Brinkley which cast him as something of a local hero. Whilst condemning an illegal bare-knuckle boxing fight as a “degrading exhibition,” it reported it in some detail, beneath the heading ‘Prize Fight.’
A very determined prize fight took place in the fields in the neighbourhood of St. Albans . . . the principals were Jonathan Brinkley, aged about 38, a gipsy (sic) and Henry Wakefield, aged 28, the son of a china-dealer, late of St. Albans. The parties fought for £5 a side. . . . A start was made about 10 0’clock in a meadow at the back of the Church at Colney Heath, near St. Albans, whither the men journeyed, accompanied by their backers. . . . For one hour and twenty-five minutes the fighting was continued without interruption, and in that space of time 45 rounds were fought. A policeman then appeared on the scene, and the men decamped to renew hostilities, however, on Tyttenhanger-green, about two miles distant.
The newspaper admits that a considerable number of on-lookers took part in the proceedings, and that finally “Brinkley caught hold of Wakefield by the thigh and threw him on his back.” Although the referee said it was not a foul, the fight had, by this time, lasted two and a quarter hours, and the parties, “agreed to leave the matter for settlement by a sporting paper.” since both men were “fearfully punished; so much as indeed to be hardly recognisable on leaving the field.”
Two years later Aquilla herself is in court again, at the Petty Sessions at Hitchin, Hertfordshire on 30th October 1883, for stealing from, presumably, a haberdasher’s shop:
Acguilla (sic) Brinkley of Hitchin on 27th October 1883 at Hitchin did feloniously
steal a salt cellar, a packet of envelopes, a packet of pins, four dozen hooks and eyes,
curtain braid, a quantity of thread, a quantity of worsted and a quantity of cotton, together to the value of 2/-, the property of Elijah Howard.
She was found guilty, and imprisoned at St. Albans for one calendar month, with hard labour.
And what of little Aquilla Brinkley, named for her grandmother? Her marriage, in Bedfordshire, in the registration district of Luton, took place during the June quarter of
1886, where she had married a Henry Twinn. Although her father, Charles, claimed she was 18 on the marriage certificate, if the age given at her baptism in 1872 of just two years’ old was the more accurate, she can barely have been 16 years of age.
But by 1913 Aquilla Brinkley appears to be forming a second union – surely it is the same Aquilla, daughter of Charles Brinkley, a dealer, who marries Frederick William Hewett, a carter, son of Joseph, at the Parish church of Gorlestson in Suffolk? True, she is still unsure about her age, claiming to be 37, when, in fact, she is 43, but perhaps this is due to her marrying a younger man – Frederick Hewett’s age is recorded as 30, although he, too, is a little inaccurate, being, in reality, only 28 at the time!