The Ford Family by Philip G. Ford
Until two years ago I was totally unaware of any Romany connections to our family. Any scraps of information that members of the family held had been kept close to their chests, and were not disseminated to the younger generations. Today, the internet has enabled Romany families to gain instant access to millions of data records, something that had previously taken a lifetime to acquire. Romany family histories are usual passed on as an oral tradition, but in my case I had just a few enigmatic clues, a few photographs and a handful of half remembered stories.
My late father, George Ford (2), was born in Cardiff, Wales in 1923. He was the youngest of five children, and the only boy. His mother Annie Ford (née Warren) died in 1927 when he was four, at 44 Thomas Street, Merthyr Tydfil. In the previous year, the ‘General Strike’ had brought Britain to a temporary halt, but a year on suffering and hardship were still cruelly lingering on in the South Wales coal mining communities.
In researching the death of my grandmother, I found out that ’44 Thomas Street’ was the official address given for the workhouse in Merthyr, and that she had died in the infirmary from pneumonia at the young age of 38. My grandfather, also a George Ford (whom I never knew) had a momentous decision to make. How could he raise such a young family on his own?
He was living in a caravan/vardo at Rhos Farm in Gelligaer, and he was working as a House Painter (journeyman). After consultation with other family members it was decided that, in the short term it would be better if two of the girls (Rainey Lucy Blodwen Ford and Rhureania Ceridwen Lottie Ford) were placed into the local Guardian Home to be looked after. Both Rainey and Rhureania, like my father had been born in South Wales. The two eldest girls Dorothy and Annie went with their father, and ‘Georgie’ (as he was called) was brought up with his aunt Lizzie, uncle Albert and their three children in Wiltshire.
Annie was later housed with her grandparents at ‘Cuckolds Green’ near Worton, Wiltshire. They were Henry Ford (2) and Rowena Isaac. It has only been through much collaboration with a second cousin, and Norman Burton that it was discovered that Rowena Isaac’s original name was Eurania Scamp, and that she was the daughter of John Scamp (1824 – 1860) and Lucy Burton (1824 – 1890), and a great granddaughter to the famous Joshua Scamp of Odstock in Wiltshire.
It was through the marriage of one of Lucy Burton’s sisters that the Ford family became connected to the Romany way of life. The Ford family originally came from Dorset, and from 1550 to 1800 the family were farmers and agricultural labourers.
On the 18th of October 1848 Henry Ford (1), described as a horse dealer, and son of George Ford (a Somerset farmer) married Amoria (aka Ann Maria) Burton at the church of St. Peter & St. Paul in Wincanton, Somerset.
Amoria was the granddaughter of Henry and Dove (née Herran) Burton, and according to newspaper accounts of the time she was considered to be very beautiful. So much so that ladies of Wincanton were keen to attend the wedding just to witness the proceedings. The wedding passed by so agreeably that three other couples, whose grooms were also members of the Burton family waited to see the parish clerk the following morning, and to pay their fees to have their own banns published the following Sunday.
Henry settled into the travelling life, and with guidance from Thomas Burton, one of Amoria’s brother, he successfully integrated into the Romany way of life. Between the years 1851 and 1877 Henry and Amoria produced fourteen children. Their travelling circuit took in the counties of Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire, with the majority of their children being born in Somerset. They are recorded in census records as basket weavers, licensed hawkers and on two occasions Gypsies.
The Ford family has a third connection to the Burton family from another of Amoria’s sisters. Mahala Burton married James Lockett in 1854 at Wincanton. Two of their daughters Anna Marie and Amy Lockett married two of Eurania Scamp’s brothers, John and Samuel respectively. However, John and Samuel appear in the 1871 census records under their mother’s maiden name of Burton. I believe this is because their father John Scamp had died in 1860 at Binegar in Somerset.
In 1858 the Scamp family had sailed from Liverpool to New York aboard the packet ship ‘Constellation’. The journey took around 30 days, and they accompanied members of the Cooper family. Defiance Caroline Scamp had married Elisha Cooper, and was John Scamp’s sister. Unfortunately, Defiance died shortly after reaching America, and Lucy and John returned to Britain. I am currently trying to ascertain with the help of Matt Salo from the Gypsy Lore Society in America if any of the Scamp family remained in America.
Lucy (Scamp) Burton died at North Barrow, Somerset in 1890. Her son, John stayed in Somerset, but Samuel moved to Pontypridd in 1891 with his wife and family where he worked at the coking works. Samuel and Amy had seven children, and their eldest, Rose Annie Burton married Henry John Ford, the eldest son of Eurania and Henry (1) in 1914. They were first cousins as were both their respective parents and grandparents John Scamp & Lucy Burton.
Henry John Ford was to have a remarkable military career. He was born in 1875 at Evercreech, Somerset. The family travelled between Somerset and Wiltshire up until 1891, after which time they settled in a thatched, timbered cottage with a large orchard just outside of Devizes.
Henry John enrolled in the local militia, and then served in the Duke of Edinburgh’s (Wiltshire) regiment in both South Africa and India. He returned home and became an attendant at Roundway Asylum in Devizes for a short time, and then moved to Pontypridd where he married Rose Annie Burton. He worked as a miner and gained a great deal of tunnelling experience. It was this experience, and his height of just 5’4″ that allowed him to be recruited as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers, at the advancing age of 40. He tunnelled in the very dangerous, claustrophobic, dank chalk and clay tunnels that criss-crossed no man’s land during WWI. Ever alert to the dangers of poisonous carbon monoxide gas, tunnel collapse and the ever present thought that the slightest sound could give away their position to the enemy. The British and the Germans played a dangerous game of cat and mouse, where any mistake could result in your own tunnel being blown up by an enemies mine or camouflet charges. Henry John Ford somehow managed to survive all of these dangers and returned back to Pontypridd and his wife. He died in 1958 at the age of 83.
A number of his brothers also saw military service. Samuel, who was also in the D. of E’s (Wiltshire) regiment was assigned for a period of guard duty on the island of St. Helena. Here he helped to guard Boer P.O.W.’s. A walking stick that was carved by one of the prisoners was brought back by him, and was passed down to my father. Dad was bequeathed the stick by his uncle Albert with whom he was raised. On one side of the handle it shows a profile of President Paul Kruger, and on the other side a Boer preparing to shoot ‘The Lion’.
With the lettering:
Made by a Boer POW
St. Helena 1901
In 1932 my grandfather (George Ford 1) got remarried to a Maud Wall in Bristol. They had three children, two girls and a boy. The photo at the top of this article shows my grandfather in 1937 pulling his hand cart with two children from his second marriage, Mavis and Benjamin (Benny). The photo was sent to my father with this inscription written on the back:
For Georgie from Dad
This is the Childrens Go Cart see how nice I painted the cart and wheels
‘All lined out’ for the Coronation
The paper Herald took this.
This picture was one of the small clues to my ancestry. ‘Lined out’ is a wagon/vardo painters term for the fine lines that are executed free hand. They lived in the Bedminster area, and this part of Bristol was heavily bombed during WW2. Although they lived in brick, my grandfather still carried on numerous Romany trades. Chair bottoming, basket making, wooden flower making, shoe mending and saw sharpening. He also played the violin and accordion, and was by all accounts a fair dancer. He was quite religious, and went to church quite frequently. Dorothy, his eldest daughter from his first marriage was in the Salvation Army in Bristol. She later went to live in London for a while, and shared accommodation with her sister Annie in High Barnett. Dorothy looked completely different from her other sisters, and it is clear that she took after the Scamp side of the family. She later became cook to the noted Coventry industrialist W. H. Bassett-Green at his house in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire. Dorothy’s sister Annie was also employed at ‘Bassett House’ as a maid, and this is where she met her future husband who was a house painter and decorator. Annie became pregnant, and she and her fiancée went to the island of Jersey. Here they got married , and a baby girl was born. Annie’s sister Rainey came out to visit her, and they only just managed to leave the island before the Germans invaded it. If they had stayed on the island they would have been sent to Germany as non native prisoners of war.
Rainey returned to London where she and Rowena (Rhureania) had been nursing at the Hostel of God in Clapham. The accommodation that Rainey had been living in took a direct hit from a bomb during the blitz. A woman’s body was found, and they believed it to be Rainey. Her sister Annie even signed a death certificate to acknowledge the fact. My father was not so sure, and as late as the 1950’s he sent the only photograph that he had of his sister to the Salvation Army in London to see if they could find any trace of her whereabouts. The Salvation Army turned a blank and returned his photograph, but the uncertainty of what had happened to his sister played on his mind up until his death in 2004.
In 2014 I decided to go to a family history day in Trowbridge, Wiltshire. In the space of three hours I learnt more about my father’s family than I had know in my previous 54 year.
I received two momentous shocks.
1. Rainey had survived the war, had married a Richard Plows and they had three children. She had only died in 2010, just six years after my father (2004) and they had not know of each other’s whereabouts. Rainey and her family had been living in Devon. So close and yet so far, it was such a tragedy that they never met.
2. My father’s family had a huge Romany/Gypsy connection that my brother and myself had no knowledge of.
Through Ancestry I met an unknown second cousin Michelle (Annie’s granddaughter) who introduced me to Andrea, another second cousin (Rainey’s granddaughter). I learnt that one of Rainey’s children Elizabeth was still alive and living in Spain. With a bit of planning we all managed to meet up in Wraysbury, London for a very emotional reunion. It was such a great shame that my father could not be there, but I’m sure he was there in spirit.
It is through the establishment of friendship between second cousins that the extended family has been reunited. Had we left it any longer our Romany history would have been totally lost. My father worked as a drayman for a brewery in Devizes until his retirement, and my brother who is seven years older than myself got married using a horse drawn dray to take him and his wife to and from church. My brother and I are both self employed as is my cousin Michelle. She is a florist, and was one of a handful of people chosen to decorated the Royal barge for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
I attended art college in Newport and gained my BA degree. I then worked for 14 years for an embroidery firm in the Rhondda valley as a designer and digitiser. I lived in Cardiff, and in 1998 I established my own commercial embroidery and digitising business back in Wiltshire after I was made redundant. In my time I have produced designs for Harrods, Hollywood films, corporate uniforms for the Covent garden area, as well as numerous item for society weddings. Earlier this year I decided to contact the Romani Cultural and Arts Company in Cardiff, and my cousin Michelle and myself recorded the family’s history as part of a project that will be permanently housed at St Fagans National History Museum. I have always felt that throughout my entire life I have been on a predestined journey ‘a distilled memory’.
With a rich cultural heritage, and five hundred years of history in this country alone. I firmly believe it is time that everyone was made aware of Romany culture, and that it has a relevance to all members of today’s society.
Image: George Ford (1) pulling his hand cart in Bristol 1937 (Coronation year)