Thursday, 23 June 2011

Are the Atkins's descended from gypsies?

While doing a search on the Atkins's of Gloucestershire I came across a William Atkins listed as a Hawker on the Romany/Gypsy website. He was aged 25 and listed in the 1841 Census as born in Gloucestershire, no address, Lamb Street, Clifton.

He was born 1816, within nine years of the birth of Edward Atkins depending on which age for him is correct, given differences between the age he put when he married Elizabeth and the age of 84 as recorded on his death notice in 1891.

It's a long shot, as all such things are but given that we have no place to begin our search for the family of Edward Atkins this might be as good a place to start as any.

It would be so much easier if we had some exotic christian names in our Atkins family like Jeremiah or Engelbert or something less common than Edward or Joseph and yet common seems to be what my family does best of all, despite the lingering stories about a noble connection for Elizabeth Mashford. So far, trawling back through the generations and nearly two hundred years we are in the main, bogstandard ordinary and poor, poor, poor.  I should be grateful, and I am, that recent generations have been able to drag themselves up by the bootstraps and achieve standards of living which my ancestors would have considered rich beyond measure.

And I still have to trace  the Joseph Atkins who  married Ann Hai(y)nes in Cirencester, Gloucestershire on August 14, 1809. Interestingly, very interestingly in fact I have found the name Ann Haynes on the same Romany site where I spotted William Atkins. She is listed in the 1881 census of Hawkers born in Gloucestershire: Ann Haynes, Bc 1801 St George, Gloucestershire, England Inmate Stapleton, Gloucestershir.  This Ann Haynes is not likely to be the one marrying Joseph Atkins because she is too young, but there is every chance she is a relation.

The Haynes' are listed as gypsy basketmakers and the Stapleton Workhouse, which I believe is close to both Clifton and Cirencester, is likely to be where Ann was an inmate.

In an extract from The National Gazetteer, 1868:
"STAPLETON, a parish in the hundred of Barton Regis, county Gloucester, 2 miles N.E. of Bristol, of which it may be considered a suburb. The Midland and the Bristol and South Wales Union railways have stations here. This parish is situated at the north-western angle of the South Gloucester and Somerset coalfield, and is bounded on the N. by a range of hills 200 feet high, to which elevation the strata of the coal measures has been lifted up by a mass of millstone grit. It is traversed by the river Frome flowing through a glen, and contains the villages of Stapleton and Fishponds. The hat manufacture formerly carried on has declined, but there is a flock manufactory, coal mines, and stone quarries. The palace of the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, the diocesan training institution for National schoolmistresses, and the Clifton union workhouse, &c., are in this parish.

In a 1797 report on the poor in England, Stapleton was thus described:

STAPLETON lies about two miles north-east of Bristol, and has 1,377 inhabitants. There are 254 houses; 84 pay tax, 170 exempt so that it appears there is very little more than 5 and two-fifth persons to a house. Day labourers earn from 8s. to 10s. 6d. a week. Provisions are purchased in Bristol market. Farms are small and chiefly pasture. The common was enclosed in 1783, when half an acre was allotted to each cottage. There is now no wasteland, and labourers find great difficulty in getting habitations, and when anxious to set up house have to migrate to other parishes. Land lets at from £2 to £3 an acre. Some of the Poor are maintained at home, some in the Workhouse. Bill of fare in the Workhouse—Breakfast—Sunday—6 oz. of bread, 1oz. butter, and beer; other days—Broth. Dinner—Sunday—Boiled beef, potatoes, bread and small beer; Monday, Wednesday, Saturday—6oz. of bread, ½oz. of cheese, and beer; Tuesday, Thursday—Boiled beef, potatoes or carrots, and beer ; Friday—Milk broth or rice. Supper, every day—Bread and cheese and small beer. The children's allowance of bread at dinner is 4oz. On Christmas Day and Whit Sunday the dinner is baked veal and plum pudding. There are in the house 3 men, 5 women, 5 children. In 1795, 5 men, 7 women, 8 children. The children are employed in spinning flax and hemp, but their earnings are very inconsiderable. 

All of which sounds a far cry from what my ancestors may have experienced as gypsies, if indeed the Atkins and Haynes families listed on the Romany records are indeed mine. Then again, no doubt it was better than starving to death in the hedegrow or freezing to death on a cobbled street in winter.

In the 1841 census of Gloucestershire Hawkers there is:

Charles Haynes aged 50 born circa 1791 Licensed Hawker born in county No address Northleach Northleach & Stow On The Wold
So along with a William Atkins, gypsy hawker of no address, we have a Charles Haynes, gypsy hawker, of no address.  The interesting thing for me is that these are two names which are joined together in my family. Gloucestershire is big, but not that big when you reduce names to one source, i.e. Romanies.

In the 1881 census of Bristol City Workhouse, Stapleton inmates are listed:
Elizabeth ATKINSU57FInmateDomestic Servant

Harriet HAYNESU56FInmateDomestic ServantImbecile

In the late 19th century imbecile was a term used to describe the uneducated, feeble-minded and mentally ill. If Harriet had worked as a domestic servant then she could not have been too much of an imbecile, but perhaps after the drudgery of probably fifty years of virtual slavery, she had become a tad feeble-minded.

Ann Haynes is not listed here but she may well have been at the Clifton Union Workhouse and with a bit more searching, there she is at Barton Regis Union Workhouse, in the Clifton section:

Ann HAYNESW80FInmateHawker
St George, Gloucester

The Clifton Workhouse (map of site above)was known as Barton Regis from 1877 and has this excerpt regarding it in the 1777 parliamentary report:

The Poor of the out-parishes of St. Philip and Jacob, and of St. George, which contain about 16,000 inhabitants, are partly relieved at home, and partly in a Workhouse in which there are at present 85 persons. The number of out Poor is about 200. It is singular that here it is thought most beneficial to the parishes to maintain the Poor at home, and that the Poor want to get into the house. It is pleasantly situated and appears to be clean and comfortable. There are 2, or 3 beds of flocks and feathers in each room. Bill of fare in the Workhouse: Breakfast—every day, milk pottage. Dinner—Sunday, Thursday, bread and cheese; Monday, rice milk; Tuesday, Friday, pease soup; Wednesday and Saturday, pickled beef and vegetables. Supper—every day, bread and cheese or butter. 3 pints of beer are allowed to each person on meat days, and a quart on other days. One lb. of bread is given out daily and 9oz. of cheese every week. Once a month 12lbs. of butter are distributed, and at particular seasons better fare is provided, more especially for the sick.

Ages in the workhouse records range from babies to people in their 90's... a collection of human misery which was part and parcel of life in the 19th century and before. There is poor and there is workhouse poor and the former is vastly preferable to the latter.

I have other ancestors on my mother's side who spent time in the workhouse and where some died as children and it was a life so bleak as to be almost unbearable. Perhaps life in the new colony of South Australia, despite struggle and poverty was better than anything they had ever experienced. There is no doubt it offered opportunities which could never be more than dreams back home in England.

Both Haynes and Atkins are listed as surnames in the Gypsy Surname Index of Great Britain.

So, at this point of time I have a connection between Atkins and Haynes (the mysterious middle name given to Edward Atkins's son by Elizabeth Mashford Lewis and then handed down by James Haynes Atkins to his oldest son and third child, Haynes Mashford Atkins, who was born July 15, 1890, at Booyoolie Est. Near Gladstone, South Australia.

We also have a link between a Joseph Atkins (the name of Edward's father) and a mother called Ann Haynes in the right time-frame for the birth of my ancestor. And it is all in Gloucestershire.

Given the nomadic, albeit gypsy nature of my life there would be something satisfying in discovering a Romany connection in the Atkins line.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Dear Layne,

    We may well be connected. I would not be surprised if my ancestor came from your area but we have yet to find out. Keep in touch, Ros