F. J. Harvey (Frederick Joseph Harvey) Darton.

The marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England online

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Lucy was too stupid to be trusted to identify, and which
her brother, who found Clarke unerringly, had to revisit
five times for certainty ?

And George did not at once fetch William to his Lucy,
but 1 dged that night at Abbotsbmy ; thereby missing
some good cheer at Litton, for the villagers were wont to
rmg in the New Year on the church's peal of six bells at
daybreak, and thereafter to resort to the public-house,
" with our jug of cider, that was given us, to have something
put in it." The horticultural barber, Gladman — it is a good
name — in his exhilaration tried to get the old woman to
tell his fortune, or to talk Spanish or Portuguese or Hutch
or French to him ; but she would not. " Then 1 said,
* You are one of the family of the scamps ' ; she said,
' No, I am no scamp.' "

James Angel of Litton also noticed her : ho had re])aired
to the inn " after evening prayer " on the Sunday, liut the
cheerful party, after two hours of cider— doubtless with
" something put into it " (gin, " says I, knowing the


language ") — adjoui'iied to go fox-hunting with " the
minister's kinsman." (This may have been Mr. WilUam
Chafin Grove, of Friar Waddon, a few miles away, one of the
earliest recorded keepers of a pack.) They were hunting
all Monday till about three o'clock — just as the Cattistock
hunt there every January now ; and then Angel came back
to the iim : for why ? " The minister's kinsman gave the
people some money."

On the Monday George Squires walked back to Litton
with WiUiam Clarke, and WiUiam met his Lucy " about three
or four o'clock — it might be three o'clock ... I know it
was some time before it was dark." He should know, as a
lover. But the other witnesses gave conflicting evidence.
It is at least agreed that the three gipsies and Clarke ate
two fowls (boiled) at the Litton inn that afternoon. George
had bought — not stolen — the fowls from Dance Turner of
Litton, for sixpence apiece, making " a cludation " for the
feathers, which Mrs. Turner was to have. This struck the
London lawyers as curiously luxurious ; but " we don't
eat roast meat in the country but very little," said the inn-
keeper, and George stated that he often ate fowls, because
they could be purchased in that district " cheaper than beef
or mutton."

After the meal they set out for Abbotsbury. According
to Clarke (who was pressed on the point) the old woman
could not do more than two miles an hour. The actual
distance from Litton to Abbotsbury, for a crow, is three
and a half miles ; but by either of the two old farm-tracks
across country to-day it is at least four and a half ; the first
mile through flooded water-meadows, and the last over
Abbotsbury Hill (691 feet) — a hill at which even Ford cars
boggle to-day.

At Abbotsbury the vagrants — vagabonds in the eyes of
the law, and in point of fact provided with very little money,
as will be seen — became at once part of the minor society of
the place. On that very first evening there was dancing
at the inn, country dances, up to midnight. Melchisedech


.Vinold. the blacksmith, "'played on the music." Ho was
a fiddler and a cider-seller as well as a smith, and ho played
fur them again the next {Saturday (January (Hh) : three times
at least they danced that week— for they had reached
Lucy's promised land, and need no longer haste away.
Lucy danced with her ^Villiam, and George with the host's
sister, Mary Gibbons.

And there came to the dancing many folk. Andrew
Wake was there, a temporary exciseman lodging in the house,
who slept in the same room as George Squires, and borrowed
his coat to go his round in. and was afterwards discharged
His Majesty's service for neglect of duty : Hugh Bond the
schoolmaster, who according to George had given the boys
a holiday and " got fuddled that night," but by his own
account was not at the Old Ship at all till January 8th:
John Ford (the innkeeper's uncle), a carpenter and baker,
who kissed Lucy and drank with George, and was said to bo
intoxicated when giving evidence a year later ;* a merry
fellow. These are the only three of the Abbotsbury
witnesses who did not claim previous acquaintance with
the gipsies.

There were present also many other villagers. There
was Daniel Wallace, a mercer, who " generally drank
cider " — as who would not in that hamlet of admirable
cider ? George bought sugar of him, and ]\Irs. Squires
asked him to dinner on Sunday ; but ho refused, for the
ungallant but intelligible reason that he " had something
particular to dine on " — a roast shoulder of mutton. Also
John Hawkins, a weaver, Jolni Bailey, a carpenter and
barber, and George Clements, who dined with the gipsies
on January 7tli, and drank with them on two other days,
and had, he said, seen Mary Scpiircs fifteen or sixteen years

• }lwovi(kiKo liasaclioorfiil tono of iiu-hrioty. On(< of tlic pmnplildccrH
KtntoH that at C'aimiiig'H triiil " ]w w<w Kr) iiitolcnilily drmiU that Ik- wiw
bid to f{o Bbout hw biwinoHH." CutuiiiiK'H proHocutor, to whom Ford wits ii
fri<<ii<lly witiicHH, did not k(H«p him long : " Von an- druidt now, and oiiylit
lu \x a«}iuiiuKl of youmolf."


Thus ill mirth and solace they abode at the Old Ship
till January 9th, a Tuesday. Where did the money come
from ? The inn was " the most public house in the town,"
according to the vicar, who afterwards upheld the good
faith of his corybantic parishioners : it was the excise-
office of the place, and the dancers evidently were not of the
lowest labouring class. George Squires said he had set out
originally from " Kent " with about twenty pounds' worth
of goods. The whole journey from London to Dorset and
back, by his evidence, lasted at least ten weeks. By the
time he reached Abbotsbiu-y, he stated, he had disposed of
all his wares, except a piece of " check," and two waist-
coats : he still kept, however, as will be seen, a small piece
of nankeen (not "check," he himself explained), worth two
shillings a yard. Clarke said he sold two aprons at the Old
Ship. Gibbons the innkeeper, at the first trial — that of
Squires and Wells — asserted that the gipsies " came with
handkerchiefs, lawns, muslins, and checks "—not a mere
penultimate nankeen or apron. George paid all expenses,
and a.t Abbotsbury, or a little later, remitted payment
for a debt to a London friend. He subsequently borrowed
six shillings from William Clarke, and evidently was hard up
for ready money. Their expenses were probably not high :
the tavern bill at Litton was three shillings and sixpence,
apart from the cost of the fowls. But even if they kept down
to that level, a seventy days' pilgrimage, with a week's
cheerful holiday thrown in, demands money. T shall come
to a possible explanation later.

If their sojourn at Abbotsbury was fantastic, their
departure is equally hard to understand. Somewhere they
received a letter from the invisible Mary Squires fiJle —
Polly, she was called by George Clements. Polly was ill,
and they must hasten to her. George Squires said this was
their reason for leaving Abbotsbury : but he could not decide
when he had received this letter, and his sister had been
given no address to which to write, nor did he remember to
what address the missive was directed. Moreover, Polly


could not write. I am iiiformod by the learned historian of
the post office that there was no official mail from London
to Abbotsbnrv in 1751-2: letters had to be sent on by-
private effort from Dorchester, which was on the Exet^-ir
mail route. The same authority tells me that the postboys
travelled about five miles an hoiu*. It seems safe to assume
that a letter from London to Dorchester would take at
least two days in transit. It would then have to await local
facilities. The gipsies maij just have been able to WTite to
" Kent " (but Polly was actuall}'- in London, as George said
at this point in his evidence : how did he know ?) and get
an answer, during their stay at Abbotsbiu-y ; but it seems
unlikely. Here, too, an explanation may be possible on the
general facts of the case.

At any rate, they, who were now in haste, m ho ten days
before, with less reason for speed, had accomplished at least
thirteen difficult miles in about five hours, set out from
Abbotsbury on January 9th (William Clarke accompanying
Lucy as faitiifidly as the dog of Tobias, Tobit's son), and
struggled as far as — Portisham. It is from one and a half to
two miles from Abbotsbury, according to the route taken :
two by the present-day drier road.

In that village a tailor, William Haines, who had seen
Mrs. Squires before, and known her " thirty years and
upwards," saw them at the Chequers inn. Haines sub-
sequently said that George Squires was not with the party
at first, but that on his way to Abbotsbury, where he rented
a shop, he met George " in the fields " : there is still a
field-path, a short cut through marshy ground, between the
two places. Haines' son also saw them.

They remained there the rest of the day and night. " It
was terrible bad weather the next day" (January l(»ih),
but they made a slightly better journey, nevertheless, and
attained Pvidgeway, four and a half miles east, on the Dor-
chester-Weymouth road. They aniv(>d between nine and
eleven in the morning, according to I'lancis Pewli-y, the
landlord of the Sloop Affronnfl ])ul»hc house, where they


had at first " some roll and cheese," and about one o'clock
" some beef-steaks for dinner."

It is here that the financial crisis occm-red. George not
only borrowed from Clarke, as has been said, but he was too
short of cash to pay his tavern bill. Early in the morning
of January 1 1th he repaired to the bedroom of Bewley with
a nankeen " waistcoat " (a piece suitable for a waistcoat),
and woke Bewley and offered it as payment in kind. Bewley
demurred : he had never had a waistcoat like that. To
them, Mary Squires : by whose suave arts the innkeeper
was persuaded to accept the cloth. He marked it there and
then. It was produced in court at Canning's trial, and
identified beyond doubt. The Squires, or some of them,
were certainly at the Sloop Aground somewhere about
that time.

And here Clarke must leave his Lucy and romance, and
return to his last at Abbotsbury. Fortunately for him, a
man with two horses turned up, one Thomas Mockeridge,
a turnip-seller of Abbotsbury, on his homeward way. He,
like Clarke, shared the Squires' beef-steaks : he had seen
Mary Squires three years before, as also had the landlord.
They left early the next day, and went off along the Dor-
chester road to Fordington, which joins the county town
at its south-eastern corner. If the Sloop Aground was
at Ridgeway Hill Gate — none of the inns mentioned now
exist under the names quoted — the distance is three miles :
it is four if the tavern was at Ridgeway hamlet. John
Taylor, of the Coach and Horses, close by the mill at
Fordington, who had known the gipsies " some years,"
saw them between 8 and 11 a.m. on Thiu-sday, January 11th.
He made the curious statement that " they were not in my
house, they were in my stable on the 10th.'' The discrepancy
in the date may be a reporter's error. But it must be
remembered, for later suggestion, that Taylor knew the

There is another discrepancy in the evidence here. Taylor
said the road was almost impassable through rain. " The


waters were so high, they (the gipsies) went through a
neighboui'"s house and my stable the back way." To get
them through " the water " a fortuitous miller's boy
appeared with a horse. He carried Lucy behind him over
the floods — for " a pint of beer " : but the human, humane
young maji " could not stay " to give the old woman a lift
too. According to Taylor, who agreed as to Lucy's cavalier,
" the old woman took up her coats and went along through
it." He saAv her cross two of the three bridges at this point.
*' Nobody carried her, she went on foot." According to
George, " I took my mother, and carried her on my back
through the water." When Taylor last saw them, they were
on the Blandford road, the great highway through the
middle of Dorset.

That small conflict of evidence raises two other points.
George Squires does not say quite clearly that he got Polly's
lett^'r at Abbotsbury : ho may have got it at Dorchester.
In that case the gipsies either went out of their way to the
centre of the town before or after crossing the streams, or
never went to Fordington at all. And why did they go to
Fordington ? It so happens that their visit coincided with
a recent piece of road development. In 1 74G the main road
from Dorchester eastwards did lun tlu'ough Fordington, in
a great curve. In 1747-8 the present road over Grey's
Bridge, a beautiful straigiit causeway, was built over two
new bridges, rendering the Fordington curve south un-
necessary. It might be a strong point in support of the
a jvriori truth of the gipsies' evidence that, not having
visited Dorset for three or four years before 1751, they went
by the old way. On the other hand, why did they not find
and use the now road ?

i'tit they wore really in a iiuiry now. They diil not stop
at Dorchester, but, says George, " went forward almost all
night." It is not diKclosed where they lay that niglit
(Thursday, .January 11th), l)ut "the next day we got to a
phvce called Tawncy Down, and we went into a little ale-
house on the road, an<l had some bread and cheese and a


pint of beer. We lay at Chettle that night, which was the
Friday." " We went through Blandford."

I cannot identify Tawney Down, unless it is a strange
version of Tarrant Hinton. Blandford is sixteen miles, by
the present fairly straight road, from Dorchester : Chettle —
to the left of the main road — at least another six and a half ;
making twenty-five and a half in all from Ridgeway Hill
Gate. No wonder " my mother was very weary," after
travelling a day and a half without a proper night's rest.

There was no alehouse at Chettle. They lay in a barn
shown them by Thomas Hunt, a thresher of that place ; he
saw them at about four in the afternoon, and said they set
off again the next da}^ which was very wet, about ten or
eleven o'clock, " or it may be something more." He had
never met them before, but in evidence he swore to knowing
George " as I know my right hand from my left." He was
less certain of Lucy " because she was covered over " ; he
was " very sure " of Mary Squires.

From Chettle next day they went to Martin ; there was
no alehouse here either, " so a gentleman let us lie in his
barn." There is some obscurity here. Their next place of
call was Coombe Bissett, near Salisbury. But, as George
admitted, Martin is " not in the direct way from Chettle to
London : it is the bottom way ; we came there because it
was night." That should only mean that they followed
either the present road — or the very old track which con-
verges with the Ackling Dyke near Bottlebush Down — up
to somewhere near Pentridge village, under the wild and
desolate Celtic camp on Pentridge Hill, and across the
Bokerly Dyke by Martin Down to Martin itself : nine and
a half miles by the shortest lino of older tracks.

Perhaps nine and a half miles was a long enough walk.
There was no lover awaiting Lucy as at the setting-forth
from South Perrott. They reached Martin at about 4 p.m.
on Saturday, January 13th. Three witnesses who had
never seen them before swore positively to their appearance.
One was a carter who found them shelter, by leave of his

THE A(;K of elegance 219

mast^^r, Farmer Thaiio, in an outhouse or barn : he testifiod
that they '" got up " about 8 a.m. the next day (Sunday).
Another was a servant of Thane, who spoke to tlieir sleeping
in the same outhouse, and also to the fact that ho " saw tiic
old woman in master's house by the fire, and her daughter
was joining china for tiiem '' ; and the third was a black-
smith who lived at Farmer Thane's. Farmer Thano was to
have given evidence, but was taken ill on the way to London.
From the presence of the visitors in his house, it would seem
almost as if ho had previous acquaintance witli thorn. The
question of foreknowledge is important. I should like
Farmer Thane to have been cross-examined.

Their journey through Wiltshire from here onwards is
full of email mysteries. I will not pursue it in detail. From
Martin, " on the Sunday night," though they got up so early,
they marched only five miles, to Coombe Bissett. Witnesses
who had not seen them before identified them. They left
Coombe on the Monday (January 15th) apparently about
seven in the morning. They next appeared at Basingstoke,
forty miles away, on Thursday, January 18th. They put up
at the Spread Eagle, kept by Mary Morris. Their movements
between these points are totally obscure.

Here a second letter episode comes in. Lucy had not
forgotten her William ; and thus she indicated her feelings,
by the hand of Mary Morris, whose little boy took it to the
post office, urged to the appropriate speed by a present of a
halfj)enny from George :

" Sir : This with my kind love and service to j'ou, and all
your family, hoping you are all in good health, as I be at
present. This is to acfpiaint you tiiat 1 am very uneasy for
your troublesome journey, hoping you received no illness
after your journey ; so no more at present from your most
obedient and humi)le servant,

Lucy Squires.

" I desire tc) hear from you ns soon as possible. Direct
ff»r Lucy Squires at l>reiilford, near London. George and
mother give their compliments to you, ami all your f.unily."


A reasonably warm message, as eighteenth-century love-
letters go. But why Brentford, when the sick sister was in
London ? The tale told by George was that they arrived in
Brentford on a Saturday. On the Sunday he went to White
Hart Yard at Tottenham " to look after Sister Mary,"
and on the Monday he took Sister Mary to Brentford. On
the Tuesday they all — Lucy, George and Mary mire et fille —
went back to Tottenham. All this prodigious haste along
neolithic byways for a girl whose good- or ill-health was
never even questioned in evidence, although she could run
to and fro between Brentford and Tottenham a fortnight
after her mother's alarmed departure from Abbotsbury.

I will leave them at Basingstoke. They were on the clear
high road to London, over Bagshot Heath (but doubtless in
no fear of highwaymen) to Brentford, and so to Mother Wells'
den, where it was admitted they lay for some days before
their arrest.

That is the story. Neither at the time nor since has any-
one hitherto thought it worth while to go closely over the
ground of this alleged journey. And there was another
strange omission of enquiry. Counsel for her prosecution
suggested that Canning really was at the Enfield house, and
that she went there to bo delivered of a child. The "wit-
nesses called in reference to her medical condition were
curiously chosen and very casually examined. A City
apothecary testified that she was completely exhausted
when she returned home. So did a City doctor. No one
doubted that fact. These witnesses said nothing of possible
childbirth. Dr. Daniel Cox, of the Middlesex Hospital,
whom one of the pamphleteers treated as a standing joke,
did not give evidence, but published a pamphlet himself,
describing how he had chanced to be near when she returned
to Aldermanbur}^ and had called in two midwives and an
old friend of the family to examine her. (The midwives gave
evidence in a language oddly like Mrs. Gamp's.) Their
examination of her was cursory, to say the least. It was
adequate, if believed, to show that she had not borne a child


diuing that month of absence : it was entirely inadequate
to show (inik'od. it ignored tlie possibiHty) that she had not
undergone what wmild now be an illegal operation, ov
prociu'ed abortion by medicinal treatment.

But can Mary Squires, that deformed witch, have been
at Enfu'ld, in view of the numerous witnesses from the West ?
Consider two other features in the case — both brought out
by the anti-Canning counsel. When William Clarke, the
steadfast lover, was brought to London for the first trial,
Canning's attorney, " with several persons well armed,"
accompanied him — in fact, carried him to London forcibly.
They beset him perpetually on the journey to town, trying
to make him admit that Mary Squires " was not the same
woman he knew at Abbotsbmy ; at the same time a; suring
him that his compliance should not hurt him, and that ho
might do it very safely, seeing there were two sisters so
much resembling each other that they could not be dis-
tinguished." Mary admittedly had a sister — who was not
called in evidence, though she could have borne out the story
about Polly's illness and strengthened the alibi if it were true.
Was this sister something like a double of Mary ?

The second point is that the gipsies avowedly travelled in
smuggled goods, and Ab1)otKbury was a smuggling centre.
It is in this connection that the question of previous acquaint-
ance is important. The country witnesses, if they gave
evidence at all, must hang together — in more than one sense.
They had no wish to dance on air. There was enough money
behind the gijjsies to take George .Squires five times over his
alleged route, in a coach. The smuggling trade was enor-
mously powerful. Its chief problem — distribution — was
solved by means of a network of regular secret routes and
storage centres far inland. And there was enough feeling
in this case to cause some of the Enfield witnesses to be
intimidated. London society, at any rate, guessed what
was behind the gipsies' defence : " all the people at Abbots-
bury, including even the Vicar, are Thieves, .Smugglers, and
PlundererH of Shipwrecks."


The evidence as to the gipsies' journey all points to one
thing — the fabrication of an elaborate tale based on a few
genuine facts, and so concocted as to keep in the background
all the elements dangerous to the great Free Trade industry.
George Squires learnt his itinerary by heart. He would not
give away a single place of call outside that prescribed
route : " Really, sir, I hope you will excuse me, be pleased
to excuse me : I cannot tell indeed : please to excuse me."
The smugglers' lines of communication must be kept secret,
except for the few stages needed for the alibi, and on most
of those stages friendly witnesses were ready to swear any-

At the same time, the evidence as to the presence of
George, Lucy and an ugly old gipsy in Dorset and Wiltshire
dm'ing that January is too strong to be dismissed altogether
— just as the Enfield evidence is. The details may be false :
knowing the country, I simply cannot believe the alleged
rate of progress. But I can believe that the places men-
tioned were visited approximately as stated — by George,
Lucy, and the unproduccd duplicate sister. As for Canning,
she may have been detained as she stated — Andrew Lang's
warning against disbelieving the incredible is a good one ;
or she may have gone to Enfield voluntarily for the purpose
suggested. The two explanations together at least meet in
some degree the preposterous facts — which appear even
more preposterous after a close geographical sm-vey.


" He is tlie wisest and ablest of all poUticiaixs who, by promoting tlio glory
of God, interests the Divine Providence in extending the power of
any nation. \\'e know in liow wonderful a manner the gospel wivs
proi)agated ; and we may confidently expect, that when this is
sincerely the aim of any government, the same assistance will not Ix)
wanting : for whatever men may do, the great Author of all things
never alters His maxims, and to follow them is the most infallible
method of securing, might wo not say commanding, success."

DR. 13ROCKLESBY, quoted by John Brou-nlow in

27ic History and Design of the Foundling Hospital.

** It was always considered as a piece of imjx^rtinence in England, if a
man of less than ii'UUU or i3UU0 a year had any opinion at all upon im-
portant subjects ; and in addition, he was sure at that time to bo
jissailed with all the Billingsgate of the French llevolution — Jacobin,
Leveller, Atheist, Deist, fcjocinian, Incendiary, Regicide, were the
gentlest apjxdlations used ; and the man who breathed a syllable

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Online LibraryF. J. Harvey (Frederick Joseph Harvey) DartonThe marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England → online text (page 17 of 28)