Francis Proudley

In January 1829 Francis Proudley, “late of Alton in the County of Southampton, but now of Langley in the parish of Fawley in the said County, a licensed hawker,” made two marks on his last will and testament, leaving land both in Langley and Fawley as well as all his goods to his wife and children and naming his brother-in-law, William Pearce, as an executor. In the will the five (illegitimate) children of Francis Proudley and his first wife, Collony, are listed as: (?) Henry; Sarah, baptised on 29th July 1803 at Alton in Hampshire; William, baptised 22nd December 1805 at Weeke, in the same county; Harriet, baptised 9th May 1810 at Chawton, Hampshire; James, baptised 17th August 1812 at Fawley, Hampshire. The will also names his second wife as Ann Proudley, formerly Parker, as well as his brother-in-law.

William Pearce was an alias, and he was also known as William Stanley, a Gypsy who was married to Repentance Ware and the brother of Collony Pearce/Stanley, Francis Proudley’s first wife, although no legal marriage exists. She had died following the birth of a son, James, and was buried at Twyford on 15th August 1812. When Francis, as a widower, married the following year to an Ann Parker in Fawley, in Hampshire, his brother-in-law and wife had been witnesses at the wedding, putting their marks against their names: William and Repentance Stanley.

The connections between the Stanley/Pearce family and the Proudleys were many, for William’s sister Rose, who had been baptised on 16th August 1778 at Medstead, Hampshire, the daughter of William and Rose Stanley, Gypsies, had also married a Proudley, William, in 1801. (Rose had a considerably longer life than her sister, and can be found in the 1851 census in Hampshire, where her birth at Medstead, as well as her 72 years, are correctly recorded). William Proudley had been baptised in 1777 in Sussex, and he and Rose baptised a son, also a William Proudley, at Bishopstoke, on 22nd September 1800, a year before their legal marriage. Both William and Francis appear to be the sons of Henry and Sarah Proudley (formerly Rook), and claimed Graffham, Sussex as home territory. Another known child for Henry and Sarah was a daughter, Ruda/Rhoda, baptised on 12th December 1779 in the parish of South Bersted, West Sussex.

There was also an Edward Proudley who had married Sarah Saunders, a widow, in Hampshire in 1800. He was also a relative, perhaps a son of Henry Proudley’s or possibly a nephew, the son of another Edward. He was to baptise a son Francis on 12th September 1802, in Graffham and perhaps it was this Francis who was once more to be intimately connected with the Stanley/Pearces, although most inauspiciously. (Certainly the date of baptism and the age of this Francis Proudley in the year 1827 would suggest this is the man, although it is also possible that Rose had named a son after her brother-in-law, and his baptism has yet to be traced.)

The Oxford Journal of 17th March 1827 carried a story of a court case in which the miscreant, or at least one of them, was condemned to death:

Francis Proudley (indicted with Reuben Stanley, who was acquitted) for stealing two horses, the property of J. Ellyett, of Cranborne, Dorset. Mr Justice Burrough, in pronouncing the awful sentence of death on Francis Proudley, observed that he had been tried on two indictments for horse stealing, one in conjunction with Reuben Stanley, a man of very bad character, who had been acquitted; the prisoner had also been tried on a third charge of a similar crime, and though not convicted it was perfectly clear he was concerned in stealing the horse. It appeared evident that the greater portion of the prisoner’s life had been devoted to the crime of horse-stealing, which had become so common in all the counties throughout England that it became imperiously necessary to make a signal example of those convicted of the offence; indeed it was a duty which was owing to the justice of the country. Nothing could be urged in favour of the prisoner; he was found associating with a man of notoriously bad character, who, though for the present he had escaped, would probably be doomed to the awful punishment which awaited the prisoner at the bar. It behoved the prisoner to make the best use of his time, to repent of the crimes which he had committed in this world, and to avail himself of the spiritual advice and instruction which he would receive. Sentence was then passed in the usual manner.

The “man of very bad character” was Reuben Stanley, alias Pearce, and so almost certainly the brother of William Stanley/Pearce, as well as the Rose and Collony who had formed unions with the Proudley brothers. This Francis Proudley was executed for horse-stealing and the event, together with his subsequent burial, were recorded in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal of 2nd April 1827:

On Saturday last the sentence of the law was executed on . . . Francis Proudley, aged 24, who had pleaded guilty to one charge of horse-stealing, and was convicted on a second . . . As some atonement to society, Proudley (who had been long connected with a gang of Gypsy predators) made confessions whereby two horses have already been recovered . . . The body of Francis Proudley, after hanging the usual time, was given up to his wife and some Gypsies, who conveyed it in a coffin to Whitehead’s Wood, near Southampton. The corpse was there placed in a separate tent for the purpose of being shewn to people at one penny each. The corpse was interred in Millbrook church-yard on Monday last, amidst a large concourse of spectators.

Francis Proudley was buried, as he had requested, with his little son, Francis, who had died at the age of two years old, and had been buried on 5th January 1826 at Millbrook, Hampshire. In order to comply with her husband’s wishes, Patience Proudley had walked from Winchester to Millbrook for the purpose of arranging this. Together this couple had had three children, Francis, baptised on 20th October 1823 at Farlington, in Southampton, Elizabeth, baptised on 19th June 1825 at Milton in Hampshire and little Vandello, baptised on 18th February 1827. This last was a name popular in the Stanley family and indeed Patience was a Stanley, the daughter of Reuben, which explains the bond between Reuben Stanley and Francis Proudley.

Reuben had married his first cousin, Lydia Stanley, in the parish of Alton, Hampshire on 3

rd October 1799. They had five known children: Harriet, baptised at Fordingbridge on 9th December 1798; Stephen, baptised at Hambledon on 6th February 1803; Patience, who was baptised at Beaulieu on 3rd March 1805, the daughter of travellers; Thomas, the son of travellers, baptised at Catherington on 12th April 1807; John, once more at Hambledon, on 23rd July 1809. Only the daughters of this union are known to have survived long enough to have children of their own. John is probably the infant buried on 20th May 1810 at Hambledon, and both Stephen, “aged 21” and Thomas “aged 17” were buried at Hambledon in the spring of 1825; Stephen on 14th March and Thomas on 3rd May, just a few weeks later.

The relationship between the two Gypsies accused of horse-stealing was confirmed in the Hampshire Chronicle of 18th June 1827, in which Reuben Stanley is described as “the father-in-law of Proudley.” Reuben’s acquittal did him little good, however, for just a month later the same newspaper was to carry news of Reuben’s death; on 16th July 1827, it announced that “Reuben Stanley, the aged king of the Gypsies, died in prison as a result of a visitation of God.” His death is recorded in Winchester on 12th July 1827, and he is described as being 63 years old, which places his birth at around 1764. Patience, therefore, had lost both husband and father and was also to lose her remaining two children: Elizabeth Proudley, aged 4, was buried in the district of Southampton St. Mary on 23rd April 1828 and little Vandello was buried in the same spot on 5th May 1829, three years of age. Harriet, Reuben’s other daughter, is known to have had at least two children, Caroline Stanley was baptised at Hartley Wintney on 22nd July 1821, the base born daughter of Harriet and Lydia Stanley was baptised at Millbrook on 24th April 1825, the daughter of Harriet, a Gypsy. Who the father of these children was is not recorded, and the marriage of a Harriet Stanley of the right age is, thwartingly, Harriet, daughter of Benjamin Stanley, to an Isaac Coles. Nor do we know much more about Patience. By the time her husband, Francis, was hanged Patience was only 24, so it is likely that if she survived the loss of most of her family for very long, she too would have formed a union which, like that of her sister’s, left no official record.