On 24th June 1832 Edward and Vidence Smith, Gypsies, baptised a son with the name of Hemlock. It might be supposed that with such an exotic name he would be easy to trace in subsequent census records, but this is not quite the case. Certainly, an article in the Bedfordshire Times gives his name correctly, and offers an intriguing alias, when it notes, in May 1871, that ‘Hemlock, alias Curtis, Smith,’ a Gypsy, was charged with trespassing on land at Swineshead. This trespass looks back at an offence dating from the spring of 1866, when Hemlcok was engaged in searching ‘of game or conies.’ In view of such an historical event the case was dismissed. Nevertheless, the idea that Curtis was an alias is an interesting one.

Although it is reported in the newspaper in such a way that it might be seen as an alternative forename, I believe it actually references the union of a William Curtis with Viramenta Smith. Of their four known children we know only some details of the lives of sons Abraham and Edward; the other two, John and James, being far more difficult to trace. (Yet surely the Woodcock Smith, son of James and Elizabeth, must be a candidate for this James, given the unusual name; together with brothers Cornelius and Barthy he was to achieve some fame.)

Abraham formed a union with a Mary Booth and, interestingly, one of his daughters was named Bazaina, a name Edward and Vidence Smith also used for a daughter baptised in 1834 in Dean, Bedfordshire. Vidence was five or six years older than her husband and was already probably the mother of Joseph Smith, baptised in Langford, Bedfordshire, in 1824 and Permelia (Pamela), who also claimed birth in Langford and seems to have been baptised along with a sister, Vidence. However, all the children from 1832 onwards appear to be Edward’s: Hemlock, Humphrey, Bazaina, Britannia and Caroline.

Joseph Smith and his partner, Charlotte Grey, named one of their children Viramenta in tribute to his grandmother and Vidence is a name remembered in the name of a daughter of Pamela and her husband, William Smith. Humphrey, too, remembered his mother in naming his eldest daughter, baptised in 1865, and both she and her sister, Alice, were each to name a son after their father. These tributes within the family are helpful in tracing the tribe as they intermarried with other Gypsy families, especially when slightly unusual, like Vidence, Viramenta and the very extraordinary Hemlock.

Hemlock and his brother Humphrey both make an appearance in the Bedfordshire gaol records, where they are charged with vagrancy in the summer of 1874 and sentenced to seven days’ imprisonment with hard labour. The following year Hemlock was found guilty of ‘making a fire within 50 feet of the centre of a cartway at Goldington.’ The census records are far less forthcoming about him.

In the 1871 census at Goldington he is recorded as’Emlock’ and his wife as Sarah L. Smith and their several children, the names of some probably having undergone translation by the enumerator: William, 16; James, 20; Cornelius, 23; Matilda, 23; Caroline, 13; Martha Meredith, 10; Serpometer (?Viramenta) Sophronia, 8; Edith, 6; Christopher, 2. In fact, both Cornelius and James had been recorded with their mother’s name, Loveridge, when they were baptised together at Kempston, Bedfordshire in the spring of 1853, and were only 20 and 18 years of age at the time of the census. The Matilda listed in the census might possibly be an earlier daughter of Sarah’s, prior to her union with Hemlock, and just possibly she is the Matilda Loveridge who formed a union with Hemlock’s brother, Humphrey. Later in 1871 another child was born to Hemlock and Sarah, named after his father, a chairmaker, where his mother’s name is confirmed as Sarah Loveridge on the birth certificate.

Hemlock never seems to have moved far from home territory, but the next record I can find for him is his death, on 20th January 1897. He was staying at Anchor Yard, Biggleswade, and appears to have been suffering from an intestinal obstruction; he was 65 years of age, described as a general labourer. The informant, Councelettie Loveridge, was his daughter-in-law, who later entered into a legal marriage with Woodlock Smith in 1903 as Councie Lettie Loveridge, the daughter of Montague Grey and Elizabeth Smith/Loveridge.

In the 1901 census Councelettie and Woodlock are ‘in tents’ in Bedfordshire, where Woodlock in described as a grinder and their children as Christopher, 11, and Morany, 5. Woodlock generally gives a birthdate between 1869 and 1871 in census records, and is indeed the child baptised as Hemlock, son of Sarah and Hemlock. This is confirmed by a probate record dating from 1956.

This concerns itself with the moneys of Councelettie Smith, who had died in Bedfordshire the previous summer. She is described as the wife of Hemlock Smith, a retired dealer and her assets are a surprising £1,644. It is clear that Hemlock, son of Hemlock, used Woodlock as an alternative name. At his own death in the registration district of Bedford in the December quarter of 1957, aged 86, he was once more recorded as Hemlock Smith.