|Marriage of Frederick Charles Blankley and Eliza Smith, 13 June 1880
by kind permission of FindMyPast.com
Frederick Charles Blankley, born in Syston, Leicestershire in 1858, son of John Corner Blankley and Charlotte Toon, decendant of a long line of butchers, he is where our story becomes much more interesting. While his ancestors seem to have lived in houses on streets of small towns and villages, Frederick Charles Blankley married into a family of horse dealers and travellers, lived in a horse-drawn caravan, and worked at a travelling fair. And it really wasn't all glamorous every day. The life was hard.
Eliza Smith was baptised in Whissendine, Rutland, on 30th May, 1858. Her father, John Smith; her mother, Selina on the baptism record, but maybe Carolina - records and researchers are not really clear after the baptism. John and Selina of no abode, occupation 'traveller'. In 1871, Eliza seems to be part of a huge family group, with John Smith possibly having two wives: Selina and Maria, but the census-taker might have messed up, or missed someone out. For certain, they are all travellers, living in caravans, in a field on Regent Hill, Sneinton, Nottingham, a track off Windmill Lane to the south, which no longer exists.
I am not going to attempt to try to disentangle the gypsy family that Frederick Charles Blankley married into: other researchers with far more traveller knowledge have tried, and the best account I can find is here: Johnny Two-Wives Smith, by Eric Trudgill on Gypsy Geneaology, which explains Eliza's mother being Carolina and Selina. I do want to take a look, however, at the reality of living as part of a travelling community in the late 19th and early 20th century.
|Example fairground caravan, unknown family,
Coalville, Leicestershire, about 1900from NFCA Digital Collection
On the night of the 1901 census, Frederick Charles Blankley and Eliza nee Smith were living in a caravan, somewhere within the parish of Shepshed, Leicestershire. Fred is a horse dealer working at a stables: so is one of his sons, also called Fred. We lost track of the family in 1891: they may well have been travelling under the name Smith, not Blankley, in Derby and with a group of gypsy travellers and performers: Fred a horse dealer, living with Eliza and two sons, John aged 7 and Frederick junior aged 4, again in a caravan. Other families in the group included more horse dealers, roundabout and swing boat proprietors, cocoa sellers, people who looked afters shooting galleries and riding donkeys: all those who would have made up a wonderful travelling fair. It's hard to be 100% certain that this is indeed our Frederick Charles and Eliza due to the name change: likely, but not certain. However, at the baptism of Nathan (born 1896), Fred's occupation is given as a travelling showman.
It seems nice, life on the road in a caravan. Romantic and free. You imagine beautiful horses, colourful homes, green grass and blue skies; a life outside of the rules of society. However, after 1838, like every other citizen, the travellers were still bound by law to report births and marriages and deaths. Frederick Charles and Eliza were no different: they reported the births of their babies. And far too often, they had to report their deaths, too.
These are the children that I have found, so far. Only John, Fred, Ernest and Sydney survived infancy. (At least, I think these are all from the same family - if there are errors that you know of, let me know.)
And poor Eliza. She passed away in her caravan, in Loughborough, on 15th December 1901, from postpartum haemorrhage, most likely at the same time as the last baby, a female, was born and died. Eliza was 43 years old.
I have not ordered the death certificates of all those babies - in a way I don't want to find out what happened to all those little ones: they were not all newborns, they survived one, three, six months, even a year or more. I can too easily imagine poverty and ill-health, in a little, cramped, colourful house on wheels.
Frederick Charles remarried, to Mary Ann Kellam in 1904, and they lived in a house, on George Yard, in Loughborough, just off the market place. Frederick's occupation, in 1911, along with his son Ernest, was that of horse slaughterer. A sad contrast to the life on the road, I think.
More about Ernest in part three... or maybe part four!
And see the wonderful collection of fairground photos at the National Fairground and Circus Archive (NFCA)
UPDATE: I couldn't resist... ordered the certs for four of the little ones. Little Flora was two months old when she died of bronchitis in March, 1888. George, aged four years in January 1889 died of pneumonia and meningitis. The family gave the same address for both, 11 The Rushes, Loughborough. Charles died aged 14 days in Sandiacre on 16th September, 1900, from "imperfect heart development". And the last of Eliza's babies, simply recorded as female, no first name, was only 16 hours old when she passed away from convulsions in the caravan in Loughborough - the day after her mother died. Seems just like a random thread of horrible luck.