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The Hodgkins of Staffordshire

by Garen Ewing Sep 2023

This article originally appeared in Romany Routes vol. 16, no. 4 (Sept 2023)

Gypsies on Cannock Chase by Thomas Peploe Wood (c.1843)

The Worcestershire Chronicle of 17 May 1890 reported the theft of six partridge eggs from a field belonging to the Earl of Dudley at Shelsley, the offenders being "gipsies", 18-year old Elizabeth Hodgkins and 13-year old Studyeous Boswell. This was the impetus for an eight-part commentary, starting the following week, 'Gipsy Items, Names & Customs', by 'An Occasional Contributor' (actually Thomas Waldron Bradley). He opened by saying Boswell "is the name of a great gipsy clan, who for years had kings among them", but "Hodgkins is not recognised as a gipsy name - though gipsy girls now and then marry out of their tribe". Here he agreed with Francis Hindes Groome, who in 'In Gipsy Tents' (1880) pronounced a Hodgkiss a gorgio, with a "very un-Gipsy name".

While that was the only mention of Hodgkins and the author went on to speculate on the noble ancestry of Studious Boswell, it is probable this Studious was, in fact, Stradivarius Boswell, son of Dinah Hodgkins, grandson of Solomon Hodgkins, and great-grandson of Benjamin Hodgkins - with Elizabeth being his cousin once-removed, daughter of another of Benjamin's children, Esther Hodgkins, who partnered Thomas Boswell, thus making Elizabeth a Boswell too.

Benjamin was the grandson of Edward Hodgkins and Mary Woods, the progenitors of the Warwickshire Hodgkins whose family line has been detailed through the fascinating research of Eric Trudgill, and highlighted in the Tracey Emin episode of 'Who Do You Think You Are' ( 2011). I believe Eric has speculated that Edward, married in Alcester in 1780, is a sibling to Thomas Hodgkins, who married Joan Windsor in Alcester in 1778, with another Hodgkins, Margaret, a sister and marrying Edward Holland in Claybrook, Leicestershire, in 1773. Thomas was my 5xg-grandfather, and the Edward link may be more than speculation as I share a number of DNA matches with descendants of the Warwickshire line.

My 4xg-grandfather, James Hodgkins, according to the 1851 Uttoxeter census, was born in Leire, Leicestershire, c. 1777. A 1781 Leire parish record shows Jospeh and James baptised to Thomas and Joan Hodgkinson 'of Chelsea Hayse or Warley Bank in Staffordshire". These are evidently Cheslyn Hay and Wyrley Bank, an important locality to this particular branch of the Hodgkins. The 1781 Joseph may not be the Joseph who was baptised in Claybrook (3 miles from Leire), in 1789 to 'travellers' Thomas and Jane, but the latter certainly described himself as of "Cheslyne Hayes near Cannock, Staffordshire" at the Warwickshire baptism of his daughter Sarah in 1833, and he could be a second Joseph after the first did not survive.

Other possible children for Thomas and Joan/Jane include Ann, who married Job Sherriff; Margaret, who married Joshua Booth; Rosanna, who married Edward Holland; Patience, who partnered John Holland; Elizabeth, who married John Sherriff; and Sarah, who married Benjamin Holland. The Hollands are brothers (sons of Robert, whose father, Edward Holland, was likely the witness at Thomas and Joan's marriage), while the Sherriffs are uncle and nephew, descendants of Thomas Sherriff and Mary Butler.

There may be other children too, among them a John Hodgkinson who died in Rugeley in 1861, husband of Alice Vale, and a son to Thomas Hodgkinson, a besom maker; also a Richard Hodgson, son of Thomas and Jane, travellers, baptised at Creaton, Northamptonshire, in 1804.

While the majority of Thomas and Joan's offspring travelled Warwickshire and Leicestershire (Thomas may be the "Gipsey" buried in Sowe Waste in 1826, and his wife the "itinerant" in Yelvertoft in 1830), James made Uttoxeter his home after marrying Constance Hodgkins in Tutbury in 1802. Constance could be a cousin, her father Robert being another possible sibling, or cousin, for Thomas, Edward and Margaret. This Robert married Elizabeth Hollins in 1761 and had a number of children in Hanbury, Penkridge and Burton upon Trent.

One of them, Josiah (Elias, Sias), married Mary Wright in 1798 at Acton Trussell (the curate was John Peploe Wood, cousin to Thomas Peploe Wood who painted the Gypsy scene at the head of this article) and had children in Penkridge and Tutbury, settling eventually in Uttoxeter. Three daughters married Clarkes in Penkridge: Elizabeth to Matthew Clarke in Apr 1793, and Maria and Susannah to William and Joseph Clarke on the same day in October 1793, and then Matthias Hodgkins married Sarah Pitt a week later, also in Penkridge.

Baptism entry for Joseph and James Hodgskinson, Leire, Leicestershire, 1781

Elizabeth Hodgkins (Clarke) can be found on the 1841 census in Burton upon Trent with a possible brother, William Hodgkison. William could be a candidate for one of two interesting Hodgkins families whose descendants interconnect into the Staffordshire Hodgkins. One is a William Hodgkinson who, with Mary (perhaps Maria Clarke), had Emanuel, Sarah, Elizabeth, William, Mary and Thomas, all in Cheslyn Hay between 1814 and 1829. The other is a William Hodgkinson who married Eleanor Young in 1785 and had Elizabeth, Richard, William and Edward between 1786 and 1796 (the last child may have been the death of Eleanor, buried in Brewood the same year).

William and Mary's children married into another Hodgkins branch - daughter Mary married Aaron Hodgkiss in Penkridge in 1858, while daughter Sarah married Henry Hodgkiss in Penkridge in 1859. Henry and Aaron were sons of James Hodgkins and Kerenhappuch Lovell, their mother being a daughter of Gypsies Henry and Margaret Lovell. Her sister, Kezia Lovell, married Richard Hodgkins in Wolverhampton. This Richard could be another child of Thomas and Joan (perhaps the Richard baptised in Creaton, 1804 - it would have to be a late baptism to fit), he could be the Richard who was son of William and Eleanor (though the discrepancy in recorded birth dates is probably too wide), or he could be the son of Isaac and Susannah Hodgkins, Isaac himself the son of a Richard of Cheslyn Hay.

Richard and Kezia have strong links to another Wolverhampton Hodgkins clan, that of Edward and Sarah (Bradley) Hodgkiss, married in 1807. Their son, Thomas, married Richard and Kezia's daughter, Sarah in 1840, and a grandson, John Hall (son of Diana Hodgkiss), married Richard and Kezia's daughter, also called Diana, in 1892 (though they had children together already, that day saw a number of Hodgkiss weddings at the same place, St. Marks in Wolverhampton).

These Wolverhampton Hodgkiss families were largely located around Brickkiln Street, and chiefly worked as besom makers, though some can be found living a more traditional Gypsy lifestyle. In 1871, Richard and Kezia's son, Thomas, is recorded with his wife, Jane Smith, in a traveller encampment alongside his brother Richard, with Bosworths and Lovetts. His older sister, Elizabeth Hodgkins, who married James Bloor in Rugeley in 1849, was known as 'Black' or 'Brown Bess', and was described by one old Uttoxian as "a perfect type of the old Gypsy clan - a strong lined old face that must have had an extraordinary beauty in her younger years". A Rugeley Times article from 1971 stated 'Black Liz' was "the last of the besoms of Cannock Chase" and described her "nomadic life, together with a strain of Romany blood and a dark tan from rain, wind and sun ..."

Black Bess's brother, John Hodgkinson, aka 'Jack Grapes', was likewise no stranger to the local papers, appearing in it repeatedly for illegally gathering underwood and fighting - often with members of the Nield family. Such is the tangle of these Uttoxeter clans that I, at one time, mistakenly believed my Hodgkins were descended from the Nields (see, or rather please ignore, my article 'Names Lost & Found', Romany Routes vol. 7 no. 6, Mar 2006). Thomas Nield had married Maria Hodgkins in Uttoxeter in 1839 - a widow after Thomas's brother, John Nield, killed her first husband, John Grundy, in a fist fight on their wedding day. John married Sarah Hodgkinson in 1828, almost certainly Maria's sister, and both children of William Hodgkinson and Elizabeth Mear.

This William, born c.1791, was likely the son of the previously noted William Hodgkinson and Eleanor Young. His wife, Elizabeth Mear, I think was a Mayer and daughter of Obadiah Mayer and Sarah Blewer, with another likely daughter, Sarah Mayer, being the wife of William's brother, Edward Hodgkinson (both would name daughters Eleanor). Maria Hodgkins (Nield) died from mastitis after her son, William Clement Nield, was born (not to be confused with Clement William Nield, son of Charles Nield and Mary Ann Grundy). William was adopted by Josiah Hodgkins and his wife, Ann Smallwood - Josiah being my 4xg-uncle, son of James and Constance Hodgkins - suggesting a family link.

James and Constance had two children who were direct ancestors of mine: Jane Hodgkinson married a chimney sweep, Thomas Johnson, in Cannock in 1824, and her younger brother, James Hodgkins, married Hannah Duffield in Uttoxeter in 1841. My gg-grandparents were William Hodgkins and Charlotte Sherriff - William the son of James and Hannah, and Charlotte the granddaughter of Jane and Thomas.

Charlotte is a vector for much of my own Gypsy ancestry. She was a Hodgkins through her grandmother, leading back to Thomas Hodgkins and Joan Windsor; and a Sherriff through her father, Joseph, leading to her grandparents, William Sherriff and Tresi Boswell, giving us our "true Romany blood of the Bodie [Boswell] line", according to what an elderly cousin told me. Joseph Sherriff was Charlotte's mother's second husband, her first being a cousin of his, Joseph Clayton, son of William Clayton and Ann Sherriff. He was transported after being arrested for an 1844 robbery, dying on Norfolk Island from dysentery in 1847.

Also caught up in that robbery was John Hudson (aka John Preston), the brother of Mary Ann Hudson who married Emanuel Hodgkinson in Uttoxeter in 1835, the son of the previously referred-to William and Mary Hodgkinson of Cheslyn Hay. Emanuel's son, William, married Sarah Hodgkins, daughter of my 3xg-grandparents, James and Hannah Hodgkins. The Hudsons are another family well-ensconced with the Hodgkins, with one variation of their name, Hodson, showing earlier recordings, intriguingly, as Hodgson and Hodgskin within the same line.

Another of James and Constance's children, Elizabeth, Married a Nathaniel Hudson, in Uttoxeter in 1845. Their daughter, Rachel, would marry William Johnson in 1872, a son of my ancestors Jane Hodgkinson and Thomas Johnson, and one of William's sisters can bring us back to the Mayer family - Rhoda Johnson (aka Hodgkins) married Thomas Mayer in 1848. There is a possibility Thomas's mother was Maria Jane Florence of the Gypsy Florence family (descendants of George and Ann), though it's a bit too fuzzy to confirm for sure (another of James and Constance's children, Thomas Hodgkins, may have married a sister, Amiter or Emma Florence). More certain is that another of Rhoda and William Johnson's siblings, Joseph, married Eleanor Hodgkinson in Rugeley in 1849. Eleanor was the daughter of Edward Hodgkinson and Sarah Mayer, and it is they who were, undoubtedly, the Edward and Sarah Hodgkins witnesses at the 1832 Rugeley marriage of William Sherriff and Tresi Boswell (daughter of Anselo), another sign that the Hodgkins had recognition as Gypsy kin of some kind.

While I've been unable to find a grand unifying Hodgkins ancestor, DNA connections suggest ties with many of the branches mentioned above, taking in Cannock, Cheslyn Hay, Wyrley, Brewood, Penkridge, Wolverhampton, Tutbury, Uttoxeter, Yoxall and Rugeley. Occupations within the families include a vast number of besom makers, as well as tinkers, grinders, braziers, chimney sweeps, pot sellers, and chair makers and menders.

"I am a besom maker, come listen to my tale" The Besom Maker (illustrated by Heywood Sumner, 1888)

A deep-dive into the earliest Hodgkins is still in progress. A Thomas Hotchkiss of "Wirly Bank" had a daughter "born in Robert Stanley's barn" at Preston in 1731. Arthur Hodgkins and his wife, Sarah, "travelling people of Chesland Hay" had children in the 1740s and beyond, as did several other contemporary Hodgkins couples. There are even some intriguing DNA links with a family of Hodgkins that settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts, in the 1600s, who claim to hail from Herefordshire and Worcestershire and whose family lore profess them "pure blood Romany Gypsy", but whether this story travelled with the family in the 17th century or was added by genealogists looking at English Hodgkins in more recent times, I don't know.

A certain romance was connected to my Hodgkins family as my g-grandfather, Charles Hodgkins, died at just 34 years old in 1925, the day before his daughter's - my Grannie's - 6th birthday. My Mum always said her black hair came from Gypsy ancestors, but when I heard this as a child, I had no idea of the truth of the claim, or just how deep and wide that ancestry went - taking in Hodgkins, Sherriffs, Claytons, Butlers and Hollands - as well as the "great gipsy clan" of the Boswells.

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