Dorothy Bennett and her Ancestors

Patience Penfold (1867 to 1927)

Patience Penfold came from a family of travelling hawkers. Her first husband, Charles William Light, was a great-uncle of Dorothy Bennett’s.

Patience was born in 1867 and was batised on the 3rd of November of that year in Saint Mary’s church, Portsmouth. Both of her parents were Romany gypsies who made their livings as travelling hawkers. Her father’s family, the Penfolds, and her mother’s, the Thompsons, were well known among the travelling community. When her uncle Robert Penfold died in 1892 the Western Gazette, which reported his death, described him as ‘King of the Gipsies’.

Patience and her eight brothers and sisters grew up travelling around southern England in caravans with their parents, uncles, aunts and cousins; in 1871 they were camped in Abbotsbury in Dorset, and in 1881 in Bere Regis which is also in Dorset. They were also sometimes in Sussex.

In May 1888 Patience married Charles William Light. Charles’ father (who was also called Charles Light) had been an inn-keeper but he died when his youngest son Charles was only ten years old leaving him to be brought up by his mother Ann who was his father’s third wife. Charles was her only child. When Charles was twenty years old his mother died. He made a living as a general dealer (which probably meant he was a market trader) which must have brought him into contact with local gypsies, including Patience’s family. Patience and Charles were twenty-one years old when they married.

For a while Charles adopted his wife’s family’s life-style. In April 1891 they were living in a caravan in a gypsy encampment, with several of her relatives and their families, near Lepe which is on the shore of Hampshire’s New Forest. There is still a path there which goes by the name of “Gypsy Lane”.

Charles and Patience settled near Southampton, in Freemantle, where they lived in Church Street (Freemantle today is very much part of Southampton). Their two children, Patience and Charles were born there in 1889 and 1890 respectively.

Patience’s husband Charles died at home on the 12th of December 1897 leaving Patience to care for their children.

Less than 18 months after Charles had died Patience married again. Her second husband, Fred Bartlett, was a costermonger (i.e. a market trader). In May 1905 he was fined £5 (or one month’s imprisonment) in the Southampton police court for selling margarine as butter. A second charge, of selling the margerine in an improperly marked wrapper, was dropped. The inspector who prosecuted the case had some difficulty finding Fred because he gave his address as Patience’s house in Church Street whereas he was actually found to be living at an address in Prince’s road.

Patience had seven children with Fred: Fred (b.1900), George (b.1902), Elizabeth (b.1903), Edward (b.1905), James (b.1906), William (b.1908), and Ivy (b.1910). All were born in Southampton.

Patience and Charles, Patience’s children from her first marriage, continued to live with her and Fred until at least 1911.

Patience’s son Charles died in or near Southampton early in 1914.

Her daughter Patience married in 1917. Her husband’s surname, Crocker, indicates that he may too have come from Romany stock. Young Patience sadly passed away just five years after she married.

Patience’s husband Fred died in 1919.

Having outlived both of her husbands, and both of her children from her first marriage, Patience herself died in Southampton in 1927.

Patience Penfold’s ancestry

Two generations of the Penfold side of Patience’s ancestry are shown in this chart.

Patience was one of nine children of William Penfold and his wife Priscilla Thompson.

Her father, William, was born in 1833 or 1834 in the north-western part of Hampshire’s New Forest. When asked, he usually gave his birth-place as Woodgreen and he was baptised in nearby Hale on the 11th of May 1834. He married his wife, Priscilla Thompson, on the 16th of October 1854 in Wymering near Portsmouth which is about 30 miles east of his place of birth. When they married he and the bride’s father, Amos Thompson, described themselves as hawkers. Thompson, like Penfold, is a common name among the English Romany gypsies and the Thompson family had many connections with Patience’s Penfold family.

Gypsy parents usually disapproved of their children marrying gorjas, as people of non-Romani heritage are known, so Patience’s marriage to Charles Light was very unusual.

The high level of intermarriage within the community produced tight-knit groups of related families who sometimes travelled and camped together.

Patience’s aunts Olive and Maria Penfold had married brothers of her mother Priscilla, Amos and Henry Thompson respectively. Her cousin Thomas’ wife Patience Thompson was a sister of Patience’s mother. Her brothers Amos and Robert had both married Thompsons. Patience’s sisters Priscilla and Charlotte Penfold had both married Penfold cousins as had Patience’s cousin James. As well as the Thompsons, members of the Page family featured prominently in Patience extended family.

The Romani people had migrated westwards from their original home in the northern part of India reaching central Europe by the 14th century, some of them arriving in England in the 16th. Many people believed they had come from Egypt and called them Egyptians which became corrupted to Gypsies.

Gypsies lived a highly mobile life-style and Patience’s family roamed around the southern counties of England from Kent in the east to Devon and Somerset in the west. Her grandfather John Penfold, who was born in about 1790, had four children that we know of. The eldest, Robert, was born in Braemore in southern Wiltshire; Olive in Portchester in Hampshire; Maria in Brockenhurst in Hampshire’s New Forest; and the youngest, Patience’s father William, was born in Woodgreen in Hampshire, which is on the Wiltshire border near to Breamore where his father was born. They made their living as hawkers, brush-makers and basket-makers.

In earlier times gypsies lived in rather makeshift tents which they called benders but from about the middle of the 19th century they also used waggons converted to provide living space. This picture shows a typical encampment of the early 20th century with a bender and a gypsy caravan, known in the English Romany language as a vardo.

Gypsies had always found themselves to some degree at odds with the societies in which they lived. In England the 1530 and 1554 Egyptians Acts, which provided a legal basis for their expulsion from the Kingdom, referred to their “devlish and naughty practices and devices”. Despite this many remained, although some were deported to Norway and a few were hanged. In the 17th century some were transported to the American colonies to work as slaves. In England the 1822 Turnpike Act and the 1835 Highways Act made it illegal to camp by roadsides and, with fewer and fewer places to legally stay, many found themselves in frequent conflict with the law.

Gypsies were excluded from the provsions of the 19th century’s various Education Acts and it was not until 1908 that education became compulsory for gypsy children, and then only for half a year.

In 1902 Patience’s cousin Henry Thompson and her brothers Amos and Robert Penfold were each sentenced to 14 days hard labour for camping near Fareham in Hampshire. The Portsmouth Evening News reported the incident on Tuesday 8th July:

A gipsy, named Henry Thompson, was summoned for commiting wilful damage by camping on Shedfield Common, the damage being assessed by the agent of Mr. J. Carpenter Garnier, the Lord of the Manor, at 6d. Similar informations were laid against other gipsies named Henry Green, Amos Penfold, and Robert Penfold. The Chairman, commenting on the intolerable nuisance caused by gipsies, imposed sentence of 14 days’ hard labour in each case, the alternative of paying a fine not being offered. One of the men, none of whom appeared, was encamped quite close to the warning notice board erected on the Common.

In 1900 Robert Penfold had been fined following an incident in Worthing in Sussex. He had smashed a coloured glass panel in a door after the occupier of the house had refused to let him have some water. His brother Amos was a witness, but not otherwise involved. The police were surprised to find when they searched him that he was carrying £220 in gold in a bag placed next to his skin.

Later, in June 1904, Amos was fined 5/- and costs in Wells, Somerset, for assaulting his wife Esther in the street.

Patience’s uncle Robert Penfold was a particularly well known figure in the gypsy community. He was born in Braemore in southern Wiltshire in 1816 and married his wife Amelia Page in Bishops Waltham, Hampshire, in December 1836. They lived mainly in the west of England with their children being baptised in Weymouth, Bridgewater, Wool in Dorset, Yeovil, and Bridport. At the time of the 1861 census they were in Uplyme in Devon, in 1871 they were at Abbotsbury in Dorset, and in 1881 at Shilling Okeford in Dorset. Amelia died in 1889 and he died three years later near Ilchester in Somerset. The Christchurch Times on Saturday, November 12th, 1892, reported that — “The death occurred, last week, in his caravan, near Ilchester, Somerset, of Robert Penfold, the ‘king of the gipsies,’ who had reached his 80th year. He was buried beside ‘the queen’ and other members of his family at Bradford Peverell, Dorset, last Saturday”.

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You are free to make use of the information in these web pages in any way that you wish but please be aware that the author, Mike Parsons, is unable to accept respsonsibility for any errors or omissions.

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The information in these web pages comes from a number of sources including: Hampshire County Records Office, Somerset Heritage Centre; Dorset County Records Office; Southampton City Archives; the General Register Office; several on-line newspaper archives; several on-line transcriptions of Parish Register Entries; and several on-line indexes of births, marriages and deaths. The research has also been guided at times by the published work of others, both on-line and in the form of printed books, and by information from personal correspondence with other researchers, for all of which thanks are given. However, all of the information in these web pages has been independently verified by the author from original sources, facimile copies, or, in the case of a few parish register entries, transcriptions published by on-line genealogy sites. The author is aware that some other researchers have in some cases drawn different conclusions and have published information which is at variance from that shown in these web pages.