Stranger Bwoy – a poem by Ralph Ottey

For Black History Month 2023, we present a literary gem that is quite possibly unique: a poem written a black RAF veteran of the Second World War, Ralph Ottey. Ralph volunteered in Jamaica in 1944. He was among the first intake of approximately 5,000 Caribbean recruits who trained as RAF ground personnel at RAF Hunmanby Moor. Thereafter he was posted to RAF Woodhall Spa, then the home of the famed 617 ‘Dambuster’ Squadron. After the war, Ralph served for some time at RAF Coningsby, before opting to take a bookkeeping qualification at the County Commercial College, Wood Green, Staffordshire. Ralph wrote this poem at the conclusion of his course in 1947, en route to RAF Sealand and repatriation to Jamaica.


Stranger bwoy you come from foreign
You a lion
You a sailor on Nelson’s Column
You a Mary Seacole
You a Constantine, Turpin and Buxton
You a squashed lemon
You a broken pub glass
You an empty bus seat
Stranger bwoy you inconvenient
Stranger boy you black.

The sense of rejection – or at least of the lack of appreciation of the service he and his compatriots had offered to ‘the Mother Country’ during the war – is very strong.

Ralph was not in Jamaica long before he returned to the UK. He married and settled in Boston, Lincolnshire, where he still lives today at the age of 99. His was a different experience to those who congregated together in cities like London, Leeds or Nottingham: there was no Caribbean community in the making in Boston, and as such he had to work hard to adapt to this community in order not only to survive but thrive – which he succeeded in doing.

There are several references to well known black people of the 1940s in his poem, and indeed from much earlier times. A black sailor features on one of Carew’s bronze reliefs at the base of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square. He is one of 27 sailors of African or Caribbean origin known to have served on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.[1]

Mary Seacole (1805-1881) was born in Jamaica. She was an intrepid traveller and drew on her hospitality experience (managing hotels, catering) in many challenging settings, including in Cruces, Central America and setting up the British Hotel at Balaclava, during the Crimean War. Her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, was published in 1857. A statue in her memory was unveiled in London in 2016.

Learie Constantine (1901-1971) was one of the most famous Caribbean cricketers of all time.[2] He was born in Trinidad and played for the West Indies in 18 test matches before the Second World War, as well as pursuing a professional cricketing career in England. During the War, he worked for the Ministry of Labour and National Service, with responsibility for the welfare of Caribbean workers in factories in the UK. After the war he became active in politics, both in Trinidad and the UK. He became the UK’s first black peer in 1969. Ralph met Constantine on at least two occasions. Constantine had been among the party of dignitaries who welcomed Ralph’s troopship to Liverpool in 1944 and attended the passing-out parade of his intake at RAF Hunmanby Moor later that year. At this parade, Constantine stopped to speak to Ralph and gave him this advice:  ‘Very soon you will be rubbing shoulders with English people. Just behave in England as you would in Little London, with your grandparents around, and you will get along fine. The English are a fair-minded people and quite friendly when they get to know you. I say this as someone who has taken a London hotel to court for their refusal to accept me as a paying guest because of my colour.’ Constantine’s successful case against the hotel for racism had only recently been heard in court (June 1944). It attracted much publicity at the time. Constantine also visited the Commercial College in Wood Green while Ralph was studying there.

Turpin and Buxton were both well-known boxers from families of boxing brothers. Randolph, better known as Randy, Turpin (1928-1996) was from Leamington Spa and had already achieved boxing success by the mid-1940s. He became world middleweight champion in 1951.[3] Alex Buxton (1926-2004), whose family lived in Watford, was the most successful of his brothers, making his professional debut in 1941. In the immediate postwar period, he was at the height of his success, winning the British light-heavyweight title in 1952.[4]



[1] See ‘Black History Month’ at Accessed 1 October 2023.

[2] See The National Archives, ‘Sir Learie Constantine’ at Accessed 1 October 2023.

The accounts of the meetings with Ralph Ottey are taken from the latter’s memoir, to be published in 2024.

[3] See Wikipedia entry on Randolph Turpin at Accessed 1 October 2023.

[4] See ‘An interview with Allan Buxton’ on the Sporting Heritage blogsite at Accessed 1 October 2023.

Mahomet Thomas Phillips Part 2

Robert Waddington and Heather Hughes

“There is so much of his work in churches, chapels and schools all over the world that one could say of him what was said of Wren – ‘Those who seek his monument, look around’”. [1]

Training to be a sculptor

Following on from Post 1, this post takes up the story of Mahomet Thomas Phillips’s life in the UK. According to the 1891 census, he was living in Camp Street, Broughton, Salford with his father and cousins, Paul and Ernest Harrison. Richard Cobden Phillips was listed as the head of the household and his profession was given as photographer. He died in 1912. [ii] Mahomet’s sister Nené is listed in the 1901 census as a student in Southport, in the Ormskirk registration district. She was a boarder at Portland Street. Her name is transcribed as Ada Nina Phillips. She married in 1907 and settled at New Earswick, York, a model village founded by chocolate manufacturer and philanthropist Joseph Rowntree.

Mahomet attended the Manchester School of Arts, studying textile design under the eminent decorative artist, Walter Crane. Crane taught him for three years, and advised to him to continue his creative career in sculpture. [iii]  Mahomet’s uncle, John Searle Raglan Phillips, later the editor of the Yorkshire Post, introduced him to George Walter Milburn, a well-known sculptor in York. [iv] Between 1896 and 1909, Mahomet studied under Milburn and at the York School of Art. [v]  A fellow pupil was W.P. Horridge, who would become head of the carving department at E. Bowman & Sons in Stamford and would later bring Mahomet to Bowman. [vi]

While at York, Mahomet demonstrated a sporting prowess. He was a three times rowing champion, played football for the Ebor Wanderers and excelled at boxing, wrestling and ju jitsu.[vii]  He shared this interest in combat sports with his cousin Ernest Harrison, who was a black belt in Kodokan judo and one of the first westerners to write about Japanese martial arts, publishing a number of guides on judo and karate. [viii]

Family group
Phillips family and friends, early 1920s. Courtesy Phillips family

During this time, Mahomet also met his wife, Mary Ann Morley. [ix] She was born in Heworth, York, in 1875 to Thomas and Jane Morley. Her father was a boot maker. Mahomet and Mary married in 1899 and had three children; Nene Doris (b.1900), Lancelot Barros (1902) and Francisco Morley (1904). [x] Around 1910-11, the family moved to 11 York Villas, Dowsett Road, Tottenham, London. They are listed there in the 1911 census. He studied at the Polytechnic and London County Council School of Art and became a member of the Polytechnic sketching club. A figure that he had hurriedly modelled was entered in a national competition without his knowledge and won a bronze medal. He also won the Gilbert Garrett modelling prize. [xi]


By 1916, the family had moved to Peterborough. [xii]  Mahomet worked on a number of projects independently and for companies such as J. Thompson & Sons of Peterborough. One of these was the Edith Cavell memorial tablet in Peterborough Cathedral, dedicated in 1916. [xiii] This was of course during the First World War and in 1916, Mahomet was conscripted. The upper age limit for conscription was 41; as he was nearing this age, he appealed – but lost. [xiv]  He served in the Royal Field Artillery as a signaller and attained the rank of corporal; his medal card is held at The National Archives. [xv]

War Memorial
Sleaford War Memorial. Heather Hughes

Following the war, Mahomet returned to sculpting on projects with a number of companies. For Maxey & Sons, he sculpted the figures on the war memorial in the Market Square in Sleaford, unveiled in 1922 (during this commission, he had an accident to his wrist and the work was delayed). [xvi] The following year he was working on grotesques for the parapet of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, including a falcon on the north side and a unicorn on the south side.[xvii] Other work from the early 1920s includes the Hereford War Memorial (1922) and a reredos for the Anglican Cathedral of St John the Baptist, St John’s, Newfoundland (1923).  His surviving day book lists the hours he and his son, Lancelot Barros Phillips, worked week by week.

Grotesque sculpture
Grotesque for St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Courtesy Phillips family

Mahomet would work up to 70 hours a week.  His son would work up to 44 hours a week. The only breaks taken were for religious holidays, such as Christmas Day. The work on the reredos for St John’s Newfoundland alone took Mahomet 1,543 hours over 34 weeks, plus 1,236 hours by Lancelot. [xviii]

He had also started to work for Bowman & Sons in Stamford.  [xix] Bowman was a highly respected and prolific company specialising in church architecture and fittings, as well as civil and private projects. Mahomet worked with leading architects and designers, including Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, Sir Charles Nicholson and Wilfred Bond. [xx] An early work for Bowman was the Grantham War Memorial, in the churchyard of St Wulfram’s,  unveiled in November 1920. [xxi] He became head of sculpting at Bowman and continued to work at the company until his death. During the Second World War, he served in the Civil Defence First Aid and the Home Guard. [xxii]

Mahomet Thomas Phillips in his studio. Courtesy Phillips family

Although the long hours of work left him little recreational time, Mahomet enjoyed playing music. He made a complete quartet of a violin, viola, cello and double bass and taught himself to play them.  He performed in orchestral concerts and Gilbert & Sullivan operettas in Stamford. Several leading violinists of the time played on his violin, including Sybil Eaton of Tolethorpe Hall, near Stamford. [xxiii]


The family were living at 1 Rock Terrace in Stamford [xxiv] when Mahomet died on 7 June 1943. At his funeral service, the rector of St. George’s in Stamford, Rev Rees-Jones said that his three greatest characteristics were his great ability, his extreme humility and his keen love of little children. [xxv] He and Mary Ann, who died on 17 November 1954, are buried together in Stamford cemetery. Their headstone is an unfinished limestone block, seemingly waiting for a sculptor to work on it. Only the side bearing the inscription has been worked smooth. The headstone is surmounted by a disc-shaped sundial.

Verified works of Mahomet Thomas Phillips in the UK (alphabetical order of town/city).

Note: this list has been compiled by a team of researchers on the Reimagining Lincolnshire project, led by Robert Waddington. We have done our best to be as accurate as we can and expect this list to grow.

Place Building/space Object Date Ref
Airdale Figure of crucified Christ late 1930s – early 40s Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit; Phillips family archive
Balby St John The Evangelist Church:  

Rood figures

1938 Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit
Figure of Bishop Edward King 1930s Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit
North Yorkshire Bolton Hall Lord Bolton’s Coat of Arms Illustrated London News article, Phillips Family Archive
Bradford Cathedral Figure of St Peter on Bishop Boyd Carpenter memorial late 1930s – early 40s Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit; Phillips family archive
Bradford Leigh Wiltshire Figures for reredos 1930s Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit; Phillips family archive
Cardiff Reredos c.1922-24 Day book, Phillips family archive
Croydon Font cover c.1922-24 Day book, Phillips family archive
Dunholme St Chad’s Church Rood screen figures Pevsner: Lincolnshire, 1989 edition and Dunholme Church Guide “Welcome to St Chad’s Dunholme: A History of the Church Building”
Eastbourne St Phillip’s Church Figure of Christ 1930s Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit
Epsom St Martin of Tours Church Reredos 1930s, Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit; Phillips family archive
Gedling, Notts All Hallows Church Reredos panels c.1922-24 Day book,  Phillips family archive).
Grantham St Wulfram’s churchyard War Memorial 1920 Imperial War Museum War Memorial database
Hampstead St John’s Church Headstone of Temple Lushington Moore c.1922 Day book, Phillips family archive
Harrogate War Memorial sailor panel c.1922-24 Day book, Phillips family archive
Hereford St Peter’s Square War Memorial: figures 1922 Day book, Phillips family archive
Leeds Headingly Shaw Road, Home of John Searle Raglan Phillips Sun dial Phillips Family Archive
Leicester St Martin’s Church Figure of St Martin c.1922-24 Day book, Phillips family archive
London Munster Square Mary Magdalene Church Reredos 1930s Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit; Phillips family archive
Huddersfield Mold Green Christ Church Reredos figures and panels above altar 1942 RIBA Bowmans deposit at V&A; Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit
Nottingham St George’s Church Figure 1938 Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit
Nottingham Nottingham Priory Three figures including bishops late 1930s – early 40s. Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit; Phillips family archive
Peterborough Cathedral Edith Cavell Memorial tablet 1916 Phillips family archive; Imperial War Museum War Memorial database
Peterborough Cathedral Plaster models of Cathedral Peterborough Standard, 9 September 1938, p. 9
Peterborough All Saints Church Rood Late 1930s –  early 40s Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit; Phillips family archive
Peterborough Orton Hall Cornice 1922-1924 Day book, Phillips family archive
Peterborough St John’s Church Chancel reredos and rood Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit; Phillips family archive
Salisbury Cathedral Madonna and child (part of a screen) Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit; Country Life Journal 12 December 1936, p.26
Sleaford St Denys church Font cover 1923 Lincoln, Rutland & Stamford Mercury 12 October 1923.
Sleaford Market Square War Memorial 1920 Phillips family archive, Art UK website.
Southend on Sea St Mary’s Church Prittlewell Figure of Madonna and child late 1930s – early 40s Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit; Phillips family archive
Southwark Cathedral Font cover Phillips family archive
Stamford St George’s Church Figures Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit; Stamford Living June 2017
Stamford St George’s Church WWII War Memorial tablet incorporating George & the Dragon carving by the late Mahomet Phillips 1949 Stamford Mercury 8 April 1949, p.4, Stamford Mercury 29 April 1949.
Stamford St Martin’s church Screen including figures of St Martin and the beggar 1930s Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit; Phillips family archive
Stamford St Martin’s Church Pulpit including figures of Four Bishops 1930s Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit
Stamford St Mary’s Church Figures Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit; Country Life Journal 12 December 1936 p.26.
Thirsk Thrickleby Park (now demolished) Unspecified work Country Life Journal 12 December 1936 p.26
Todmorden Christ Church graveyard Angel for grave of Thomas Cowley Stephen Art UK website database


Windsor Castle, St George’s Chapel Parapet grotesques 1923 Day book, Phillips family archive
Windsor Imperial Service College Rood c.1924 Day book, Phillips family archive
Windsor Imperial Service College Dr Keeton tablet c.1924 Day book, Phillips family archive

Verified works of Mahomet Thomas Phillips abroad

Newfoundland Anglican Cathedral of St John The Baptist Figures for reredos 1923 Day book, Phillips family archive
Istanbul English church War Memorial English church Lincolnshire Archives Bowmans Deposit



[1] Laurence Tebbutt, appreciation of Mahomet Thomas Phillips in the Bowman Deposit, Lincolnshire County Archives.

[ii]; (accessed 21 March 2022)

[iii] Obituary of Mahomet Thomas Phillips, Lincoln, Rutland & Stamford Mercury, 11 June 1943; Bowman Deposit, Lincolnshire County Archives.

[iv] Obituary of Mahomet Thomas Phillips, Lincoln, Rutland & Stamford Mercury, 11 June 1943; Bowman Deposit, Lincolnshire County Archives.

[v] Yorkshire Gazette, 29 August 1896, p. 6; Yorkshire Herald  26 August 1899, p.3; Driffield Times 14 October 1905; (accessed 16 March 2022)

[vi]  Obituary of Mahomet Thomas Phillips, Lincoln, Rutland & Stamford Mercury, 11 June 1943; Bowman Deposit, Lincolnshire County Archives.

[vii]  Obituary of Mahomet Thomas Phillips, Lincoln, Rutland & Stamford Mercury, 11 June 1943; Bowman Deposit, Lincolnshire County Archives.

[viii] JCS the great enablers: E.H. Harrison at. (accessed 17 October 2022)

[ix] Mahomet Thomas Phillips at (accessed 17 October 2022)

[x] Mahomet Thomas Phillips at (accessed 17 October 2022) and database of civil registration

[xi] Bowman Deposit, Lincolnshire County Archives.

[xii] Peterborough Express 21 June 1916, p.3

[xiii] The Edith Cavell memorial tablet is listed on the Imperial War Museum Register of Memorials at; the stonemason is noted as Mr. T. Phillips, Huntly Grove, Peterborough.

[xiv] Peterborough Express 21 June 1916, p.3.

[xv] TNA/W0372/15/226815.

[xvi] The Sleaford Gazette and South Lincolnshire Advertiser 24 September 1921; drawing in the Phillips family archive;

[xvii] Day Book and photographs, Phillips family archive

[xviii] Day book, Phillips family archive

[xix] Bowman Deposit, Lincolnshire County Archives.

[xx] Bowman Deposit, Lincolnshire County Archive and Mahomet Thomas Phillips at (accessed 17 October 2022)

[xxi] Imperial War Museum Register of Memorials at (accessed 17 October 2022)

[xxii] Obituary of Mahomet Thomas Phillips, Lincoln, Rutland & Stamford Mercury, 11 June 1943.

[xxiii] Bowman Deposit, Lincolnshire County Archives

[xxiv]  Daffurn, J. Stamford Tenants: A History of Rock Terrace and its Occupants (Eptex, 2020), pp. 109-112.

[xxv] Obituary of Mahomet Thomas Phillips, Lincoln, Rutland & Stamford Mercury, 11 June 1943; Bowman Deposit, Lincolnshire County Archives.


Mahomet Thomas Phillips Part 1

Robert Waddington and Heather Hughes


Two posts to report on our research on Mahomet Thomas Phillips so far, to coincide with the exhibition we have prepared for Black History Month 2022. The exhibition can be viewed in the University of Lincoln Library (October-December 2022) and, during October, at St Chad’s Church, Dunholme (where one can also view one of Phillips’s earliest church sculptures).

How the quest began

In February 2021, Revd. Adam Watson, vicar of Dunholme, Scothern and Welton, invited the Reimagining Lincolnshire project to St. Chad’s church in Dunholme to examine how artefacts and church furnishings might yield neglected stories of diversity. A guide to the church, thought to have been written some decades ago by the local historian Terence Leach, mentioned the following: “The carved wooden Chancel Screen was a gift from Captain Leyland Stephenson in memory of his wife, a relative of the Wild family. It was erected in 1913. It was built by Bowman’s of Stamford, the rood figures were carved by one Mohomet (sic) Phillips, a Congolese sculptor.” [i]

Interior of church
Rood screen and sculptures, St Chad’s Dunholme. Heather Hughes

Pevsner’s The Buildings of England: Lincolnshire (1989 edition) included one reference to this sculptor and that was also in relation to Dunholme St Chad’s: ‘SCREEN. 1913, made by Bowmans of Stamford, with carved figures by Mahomet Phillips.’ [ii]   At this stage, it appeared that this example may have been a curious one-off. Nevertheless, we were intrigued: why were there carvings by a Congolese man in this Lincolnshire church? Could we find out more about this gem of local knowledge, left to us in the church guide?

Initial searches online brought up precious little about Mahomet Phillips. One wiki entry was all we could find. [iii] Wikipedia does not permit original research or research based on primary sources; any entry must reference published sources. While this is an understandable requirement, it is a major stumbling block to redressing imbalances in this ‘people’s encyclopaedia’. As this wiki article lacked references to published sources, it was parked on a subsidiary site.  It was dated 2020, so we hoped it was by a living descendant of Mahomet Phillips, possibly based on information or documents in the family’s possession.

That one wiki entry did give us sufficient leads to continue our research and led us to visit the Royal Geographical Society in London, where the papers of Richard Cobden Phillips, Mahomet’s father, have been deposited; the deposits of documents from Bowman & Sons of Stamford, for whom Mahomet worked, held at the Lincolnshire Archives; and the Royal Institute of British Architects archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Further, we were delighted to discover that the wiki article was indeed written by descendants of Mahomet Phillips, who generously gave us access to their wonderful family collection of day books, sketch books, photographs and cuttings.

We were soon to learn that the Dunholme rood was very far from being a one-off curio. His work is hidden in plain sight, everywhere: sculptures for churches, cathedrals and war memorials, up and down the country. It was made in a Gothic revival style that blends seamlessly into its surroundings in our churches, churchyards and public squares. The Gothic revival, which had become popular by the mid-nineteenth century and remained so into the early twentieth, resembled the work of medieval masons. So, these new works had the appearance of being more ancient than they actually were. Thus these quintessentially English sculptures, carved in wood, stone and marble and placed at the traditional and historical hearts of local communities, were the work of a black man from the Congo.

Mahomet Thomas Phillips: background and early life

African woman from Cabinda
Very likely Nené Barros. Courtesy Royal Geographical Society

Mahomet Thomas Phillips was born on 1 June 1876 in the settlement of Banana at the mouth of the Congo River. [iv] He was one of four children born to English trader Richard Cobden Phillips, and a black woman from Cabinda, Nené Bassa, also known as Menina Barros.[v] (In one letter, Richard explained their relationship: ‘She is Mamai, meaning Mrs’. [vi]) Richard was the son of the vicar of Hindley, near Wigan. [vii] The Phillips family was learned and talented but far from wealthy. Richard’s nephew, Ernest Harrison, recalled of him that although he found modest fame, he was ‘bereft of any business sense so that he remained materially poor until the end of his life’.[viii]

Richard arrived on the Congo in the early 1870s and stayed for around 16 years. He worked as a factor for Hatton & Cookson of Liverpool, a company that specialised in the palm oil trade in Gabon and the Congo. [ix]

Map of lower Congo River
Lower Congo River, showing factory settlements. Wikimedia

The company had factories, or trading stations, at Cabinda, Banana and up the river at Punta de Lenha. During his time at Banana, he became acquainted with the Welsh-American journalist and explorer, Henry Morton Stanley. [x] It is believed that he entertained Stanley during his expedition of 1869-1871, in search of the missionary and explorer, David Livingstone. [xi] Stanley began his second expedition in 1874 from the lower Congo. He returned in 1879 with the financial backing of King Leopold III of Belgium, to exploit the region’s considerable natural wealth; this was accompanied by the brutal treatment of local people. There are two photographs of Stanley in the National Portrait Gallery that were taken by Richard Cobden Phillips, probably dating from their 1874 encounter. [xii]

Letters between Richard and Joao Barros Franque in the Royal Geographical Society collection suggest that Nené likely belonged to one of the wealthiest and most powerful families at Cabinda, the Franques. [xiii] A man named Kokelo was the founder of the family fortune in the late 1700s. He had been the servant of a French slave trader who died at Cabinda, leaving his possessions to Kokelo, who named himself Franque Kokelo in honour of his benefactor. Kokelo used his connections to engage in the slave trade on his own account. He sent his son, Francisco (born c.1777), to Brazil to be educated. He was baptised as a Catholic, learned to read and write Portuguese and adopted Portuguese clothing. He was away 15 years, returning around 1800 in his early 20s. He became a ‘merchant prince’ at Cabinda. He imported Brazilian tutors for his sons, of whom one was called Joao. Francisco used his education and Brazilian connections to grow ever more powerful in the slave trade and became the principal African supplier of enslaved people to Manuel Pinto de Fonseca, the leading Rio de Janeiro trader.  He made several later visits to Brazil and was member of a delegation to the exiled Portuguese court in 1812, to promote trade with Cabinda. It seems that Nené was one of Joao’s daughters.

Mahomet and his brother Paul were sent to a mission school at Mukinvika, on the south side of the River Congo. Two of the missionaries there were I.J. White and Arthur Billington. [xiv] In a letter to his mother thanking her for books and toys she had sent them, Richard noted that they were making good progress at school. Nené had visited them there and ‘brought away a good opinion.’[xv]

This was certainly a momentous time to grow up on the Congo River. From the late 1870s, the Phillips family witnessed the intensifying colonial conflicts in the region between the British, Portuguese, Dutch, Belgians, French and Germans, in what became known as the ‘Scramble for Africa’. There were gunboat battles along the river as rivals vied for control of territory and resources; the culmination was the Treaty of Berlin of 1884, according to which European imperial powers carved up most of Africa between themselves.  The lower Congo region was divided between Belgium and Portugal and the British were forced out. Hatton and Cookson and other British traders relocated their interests further north, along the West African coast.

Group photograph, Congo
Richard Cobden Phillips seated middle row on left, with a group of visiting European ethnographers. Courtesy Royal Geographical Society 

Coinciding with these events, the relationship between Richard Cobden Phillips and Nené Bassa broke down. [xvi] Two of their children, Mahomet and Nené, were sent to England, while Sara and Paul remained with their mother. According to family tradition, Paul was tragically taken by a crocodile.   Richard himself was back in England by 1888. In that year, he presented a paper at the Royal Anthropological Institution; [xvii] he aspired to be recognised as an authority on the indigenous people of West Central Africa. He had some other contributions published in British newspapers and corresponded with several German and British geographical and anthropological societies.

Part II picks up the story of Mahomet Thomas Phillips’s life in the UK.


[i] Welcome to St Chad’s Dunholme: A History of the Church Building. n.d, n.p., p.5

[ii] Pevsner, N., Harris, J. and Antram, N. The Buildings of England: Lincolnshire. Penguin, 1989, p.260.

[iii] Mahomet Thomas Phillips at (accessed 17 October 2022)

[iv] Mahomet Thomas Phillips at (accessed 17 October 2022)

[v] From the timeline in the Phillips family archive, with grateful thanks.

[vi] Richard Cobden Phillips letter to I.J. White, 9 July 1884, Letter Book (p.232), GB 0402 Richard Cobden Papers, Royal Geographical Society.

[vii] Obituary of Mahomet Thomas Phillips in Lincoln, Rutland & Stamford Mercury, 11 June 1943.

[viii] Harrison, E.J., A resume of my chequered career. In Journal of Combative Sport 1999, at Journal of Combative Sport: My Chequered Career (

[ix] Dennett, R. E. Seven Years among the Fjort: Being an English Trader’s Experiences in the Congo District. Hansebooks, 2020. Originally published in 1887 and available at the Internet Archive at See also Anstey, R. E., British trade and policy in West Central Africa between 1816 and the early 1880s. In Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana 3, 1, 1957, 47-71.

[x] See 15 Oct 2022

[xi] Obituary of Mahomet Thomas Phillips in Lincoln, Rutland & Stamford Mercury, 11 June 1943; Bowman Deposit, Lincolnshire County Archives.

[xii]  See National Portrait Gallery, 1877 entry on Stanley, at (accessed 15 October 2022).

[xiii] Information on the Franque family is from Martin, P. Family strategies in nineteenth-century Cabinda. In Journal of African History 28, 1, 1987, 65-86.

[xiv] Other than the letters in the Richard Cobden Papers, we have not yet found much information about this mission school.  See entry on Billington in Biographie Belge d’Outre-Mer T.VI. 1968 col.4, at (accessed 17 October 2022).

[xv] Richard Cobden Phillips letter to I.J. White, 9 July 1884, Letter Book (p.233), GB 0402 Richard Cobden Papers, Royal Geographical Society.

[xvi] Letters in Phillips family papers.

[xvii] Richard Cobden Phillips, The Lower Congo, a sociological study. Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 17, 1888 pp.213-237. See also Heather Hughes, (accessed 17 October 2022)

Gypsies in Lincolnshire, c. 1850-1939 (Part I)

Andrew Walker

Finding Gypsy Voices

In any project to expand and diversify Lincolnshire history, significant attention needs to be paid to exploring the past of one of the longest-established minority groups in Britain: the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller peoples. These two blogposts for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month 2022 indicate ways in which we can connect to their past in Lincolnshire, through readily available source materials.[1] The focus of the blogposts will be the Gypsy/Roma peoples; they are part of a broader category termed Travellers, which also includes itinerant groups such as showfolk and boaters, who also deserve more attention.[2]  This research takes its inspiration from influential social historians who have sought to rescue social minorities from the ‘enormous condescension of posterity’, to use E.P. Thompson’s memorable phrase.[3]

George Hall
Rev’d George Hall, the ‘Gypsy’s Parson’: An image from the exhibition in St Olave’s Church, Ruckland, July 2021.

Rev. George Hall (1863-1918), born in Lincoln and eventually rector of Ruckland, Louth, was known as the ’Gypsy’s Parson’. He spoke their language, had a deep knowledge of their history and advocated for their rights.[4] Like Hall, another regular Lincolnshire contributor to the early issues of the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society in the early twentieth century was William Cragg of Threckingham House, near Folkingham.[5] Unfortunately, the words and voices of the Gypsies themselves are heavily mediated in such accounts as these and others such as court reports; their own voices are conspicuously absent from the record.

Gypsy heritage and culture have always been predominantly oral; it is estimated that in Victorian England, the literacy rates of Gypsies were between 3 and 12 per cent.[6]  A notable exception is Gordon Silvester Boswell’s The Book of Boswell: Autobiography of a Gypsy.[7] Boswell (1895-1977) had strong links with Lincolnshire. His son Gordon (1940-2016) founded the Gordon Boswell Romany Museum at Spalding, which has one of the finest collections of Gypsy vardos, or caravans, in the country.[8]

Margaret and Gordon Boswell in their vardo , 1987
Gordon and Margaret Boswell on their way home to Spalding from Appleby Horse Fair, 1987. Reproduced by kind permission of Margaret Boswell.

The Gypsy Presence in the Census

A long-term Gypsy presence in Lincolnshire is suggested in place names. For example, census enumerators’ returns for the county record people living at Gipsy Bridge, Thornton le Fen; Gipsy Drove, Langriville, Boston; Gipsy Hall, Long Bennington; various Gipsy Lanes in Gedney, Quarrington, Swineshead and Wrangle; and at Gipsey Road, Algarkirk. It is highly likely that Gypsies would have been associated with these locations and have left their mark in this way.

Tracing individual Gypsies is more of a challenge. Until 1861, travelling people were not generally recorded in censuses.[9] This is partly because of their own agency: in 1854, for instance, the Grantham Journal referred to ‘the curious trait of gipsey feeling’ that they should pass into another parish to escape enumeration.[10] One group of 16 Gypsies who did provide details to a census enumerator in 1851 were probably persuaded to do so by their hosts, Rev. Henry and Jane Holdsworth. It seems that the Holdsworths had allowed them to pitch their tents in the grounds of Fishtoft Rectory.[11]

Just as some Gypsies were keen not to make contact with officialdom, some enumerators were also reluctant to engage with Gypsies themselves. It is not clear what prevented more detail being collected from an anonymous group of Gypsies at Northgate, Louth, in 1861, who were recorded as comprising two adult males and two adult females, all supposedly aged 40 years, together with two boys and two girls, all, (coincidentally again) aged ten years. In the census, Gypsies could sometimes be recorded in caravans, tents, at the side of the road, or on the highway heading to a particular settlement. In 1861, for example, 20-year-old Gypsy Joshua Boswell was recorded living in a stable between Main Street and South Street, Owston, near Gainsborough. Most Gypsies in Lincolnshire, as elsewhere, tended to be enumerated in family groups, usually nuclear in character, though occasionally with brothers or sisters of the household head in residence. It seemed rare to have Gypsy households containing more than two generations.

George Inn Horncastle
‘The George Inn, Horncastle’. Photo by Carlton in George Hall’s Gypsy’s Parson, p.232

As the Table below indicates, Gypsies pitched their caravans and tents in a wide variety of different locations within the county. Given that every decade the census tended to take place in Springtime, it might have been expected to find a number of recurring locations.[12] This did not seem to be the case, however, apart from a couple of inns’ yards, the Duke of York in Boston (1881 and 1911), and the Red Lion, Wainfleet All Saints (1901 and 1911). It is likely that some publicans saw the arrival of the Gypsies as an opportunity to increase their trade. Successful attempts by local sedentary residents to deter Gypsies from returning repeatedly to the same specific location may have been the cause of the diversity of sites listed.


Table 1: Location of some Gypsy caravans and tents in censuses, 1861-1911*[13]

Census Year Location
1861 Hensam, Aubourn; Back Street, Heckington; Northgate, Louth; Owston; Poke Row, Skillington.
1871 Grassby, Caistor; Queen’s Head Yard, Caistor; Barton St Peter, Glanford Brigg; Village Green, Ingham; Northern Terrace, Lincoln; Butt Road, Messingham; George Street, Market Rasen; Great Hale, Sleaford; Market Place, Wragby.
1881 Ashby; Duke of York Yard, Boston; Crown Inn Yard, Skidbrooke; Wilsford, Sleaford.
1891 Heighington Road, Branston; Bunkers Hill, Gainsborough; Dawson’s Court, Lincoln; Gainsborough Road, Saxilby; Ings Lane, Whitton.
1901 Aisthorpe; West Street, Boston; East Common, Brumby; Gainsborough Road, Glentham; Brackenborough Road, Louth; Hibaldstow; Normanby; Westholme Lane, South Kelsey; Spridlington; Red Lion Yard, Wainsfleet All Saints; Carr Lane, Wrawby.
1911 Duke of York Yard, Boston; Hope Street, Clee; Dembleby Pits, Folkingham; Gladstone Street, Gainsborough; Mill Lane, Market Rasen; Bourne Road, Morton; Northgate, Sleaford; Moulton, Spalding; Red Lion Yard, Wainsfleet All Saints.

*Travellers as per the broader meaning indicated above are excluded from this listing.

The occupations of Lincolnshire’s Gypsies listed in census records were in many ways what one might expect: horse dealing, hawking, chimney sweeping and, especially amongst women, peg making prevailed. The dependence of Gypsy families upon seasonal agricultural labour is inevitably understated, given the timing of enumeration.[14] Some Gypsy women’s involvement in fortune telling was not evident in the census returns, but was regularly reported, alongside their convictions, in the local press.[15]

‘Rest by the Way’. Photo by Fred Shaw in George Hall’s Gypsy’s Parson, p,62

To some degree, the travelling habits of Lincolnshire Gypsy families can also be discerned from census returns, especially for larger families, where the birthplaces of offspring provide an indicator of places visited. Most suggest that these circuits were not too extensive, with most Gypsy families appearing not to venture generally beyond a 30 or 40-mile radius of a given spot. In 1861, for instance, Clark Gray, a 23-year-old ‘gipsey horsedealer’, living at Hensam, Aubourn ‘on the highways’ was a head of a household with occupants born in Coleby, Sleaford, Horncastle, Navenby and Harmston. In 1901, Charles Mathieson, a 42-year-old Gypsy hawker, lived in a tent at Brumby with occupants born in Winteringham, Boston, Hook (Yorkshire), Boston, Lincoln, Gainsborough and Blythe, Nottinghamshire. It has been estimated that, on average, Gypsies would stop in a place for up to three or four weeks, after which the available wood, grazing and local trade would be exhausted. This suggested a round of about 12 stopping points a year.[16]

Analysis of recurring Gypsy family names is also possible from examining the census. Amongst the most common surnames in Lincolnshire during the Victorian and Edwardian periods were Booth, Boswell, Brown, Elliott, Gray, Lee, Mathieson and Smith. It was observed in the Grantham Journal in 1882 that although now not ‘every Smith is a gipsy, it was doubtless more likely that every gipsy was a Smith.’[17] Whilst many Gypsies’ forenames were not much different to the trends of the time, there are a number that stand out in the Lincolnshire records. Female names included Angulenay, Coriliander, Keytumas, Miseta and Senfie. Amongst males, Phoenix was a forename used across several generations in both the Boswell and Gray families. Other notable male names included Eldred, Mazerian, Mordecai, Taiso, and Teoben.

It was important to Gypsies to baptise their children. One notable Lincolnshire baptism took place in 1855, which was reported in the Stamford Mercury. Some Gypsies had encamped at Hagworthingham and presented a new-born infant to the rector for baptism. The clergyman’s wife and daughter, with the parish clerk, became sponsors or godparents, and the older godmother presented the baby girl with two dresses.[18] Before 1834 during the period of the old Poor Law,  proof of settlement through baptism could enable access to minimal support in times of distress.[19]

Andrew Walker is a historian of Lincolnshire. He worked at the University of Lincoln from 1992 to 2010, latterly as Head of the School of Humanities and Performing Arts.  Between 2010 and 2020, Andrew was Vice Principal of Rose Bruford College. He is an active volunteer researcher for Reimagining Lincolnshire.


[1] The modern spelling of ‘Gypsy’ is used throughout the text, although variants are retained in quotations. Other variants such as ‘gipsy’, ‘gipsey’ and ‘gypsey’ are often found within primary sources.

[2] Naming terminology is explored in the Travellers’ Times short video, [accessed 18 June 2022]. Roma people who originated in northern India were often called ‘Egyptians’ when they arrived in western Europe; in time this was shortened to ‘Gypsy’. Because the term ‘Gypsy’ is most common in the historical reports that these blogposts cover, that is the term used here – although more generally, our project respects and follows the Travellers’ Times usage.

[3] Historical works on Gypsies and Travellers include the following: David Cressy, Gypsies. An English History (Oxford, 2018); Jeremy Harte, ‘On the far side of the hedge’: Gypsies in local history’, The Local Historian 46, 1, January 2016, 27-46; David Mayle, Gypsy-Travellers in Nineteenth Century Society (Cambridge, 1988); Becky Taylor and John Hinks, ‘What field? Where? Bringing Gypsy, Roma and Traveller history into view’, Cultural and Social History, 18, 5, December 2021, 629-50; E.P. Thompson’s phrase can be found in his book, The Making of the English Working Class (London, 1963), 12.

[4] George Hall, The Gypsy’s Parson: His Experiences and Adventures (London, 1915). There is free access to this work at [accessed 18 June 2022]. Reimagining Lincolnshire researchers visited St Olave’s, Ruckland, in the summer of 2021; George Hall was well remembered there in an exhibition devoted to his life and work.

[5] See correspondence from William Cragg in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society in 1908 and 1909. William Cragg (1860-1950) was a Lincolnshire farmer and landowner, who had a longstanding interest in the county’s past. He was Treasurer of the Lincolnshire Archaeological Society for 30 years.

[6] Harte, ‘On the far side of the hedge’, 31.

[7] Silvester Gordon Boswell, The Book of Boswell: Autobiography of a Gypsy. Edited by John Seymour (London, 2012). This work was originally published in 1970.

[8] For details of the museum, see [accessed 14 June 2022].

[9] Harte, ‘On the far side of the hedge’, 36. Details of baptisms, marriages and burials relating to Lincolnshire Gypsies can be accessed via ‘The Lincolnshire Travellers Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates and Parish Register Collection’ section on the Romany and Traveller Family History Society website. See [accessed 15 June 2022].

[10] Grantham Journal, 1 May 1854.

[11] The 16 Gypsies, mainly born in Norfolk, appeared to comprise three household groups. See 1851 census return for Fishtoft Rectory (

[12] The census dates were as follows: 7 April 1861, 2 April 1871, 3 April 1881, 5 April 1891, 31 March 1901, and 2 April 1911.

[13] All census data extracted from

[14] The 1939 Register, conducted on 29 September, just after the start of the Second World War, provides some information about Gypsies’ seasonal farm work. At Luddington on the Isle of Axholme, for instance, 57 occupants are recorded in Gypsy caravans. Most of the adults listed were engaged in casual agricultural work.

[15] For instance, Mary Ann Sherriff was gaoled for deception following a fortune-telling episode in Skellingthorpe; and ‘a gipsey fortune teller’ known as the ‘Gipsy Queen’ was gaoled for a similar offence in Skegness. See respectively Lincolnshire Chronicle, 25 March 1864 and Spalding Guardian, 8 October 1881.

[16] Harte, ‘On the far side of the hedge’, 37.

[17] See Grantham Journal, 23 December 1882. The report noted that the most prevalent Lincolnshire Gypsy surnames besides Smith were Elliott and Gray.

[18] Stamford Mercury, 12 January 1855.

[19] Harte, ‘On the far side of the hedge’, 32.

Gypsies in Lincolnshire, c. 1850-1939 (Part II)

Andrew Walker

 Further Sources in the Historical Record

The previous post focused on traces of Gypsy history in census reports. This post focuses on what kinds of evidence of Gypsies’ lives can be gleaned from the pages of local newspapers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, though the reporting has to be treated with significant caution.  As before, Gypsy voices themselves are almost entirely absent; others always assumed the right to speak for them, thus frequently perpetuating stereotypes rather than understanding.  Also discussed are the emergence of cultural tropes associated with imagined ‘pure’ Gypsy life, and some of the unexpected places in which to find Gypsy history.

Gypsies and Courts in the Local Press

Much of the coverage of Gypsies was connected with their court appearances and was generally hostile. The law, then as now, was largely designed to deter Gypsies from pursuing their ways of life. For instance, swingeing fines were applied to Gypsies for camping on common land, in order to deter repeated visits. At Kirton, near Boston, it was reported in 1840 that Thomas Smith had pitched a tent near the highway, contrary to the provisions of the Highway Act and, since the parishioners had long been annoyed about Gypsies camping there, were keen to use this

Gypsy group camping in lane
‘Camp in Lane’. Photo by Fred Shaw in George Hall’s The Gypsy’s Parson, p.20

legislation to prevent them pitching tents, making fires or encamping on their highways. Smith was convicted and fined 1s. and 17s. costs.[1] Six Gypsies were fined £87.9s.  for unlawfully camping with seven vans on the highway in the hamlet of Kelstern near Louth in 1874: even the Lincoln Gazette was moved to comment that this was ‘a pretty expense for one night’s camp’.[2]

In some cases, it was not entirely clear why Gypsies were being punished. In 1846, for example, the Lincolnshire Chronicle reported tersely with no further details, that at the Sessions House in Boston, two Gypsies, John Horring and Newcomb Boswell, were convicted ‘as rogues and vagabonds and committed to prison to hard labour for a month.’[3]

It is possible from such court reports to gain additional information about Gypsy communities. For example, encampments generally seemed to consist of 50 or fewer people, with no more than seven vans and 20 horses.[4] In many reports of legal cases, witnesses refer to groups not exceeding two or three Gypsy caravans in convoy.[5]

Reinforcing the discriminatory language employed in newspaper reports of Gypsies’ activities in the county, the tone regularly adopted can be gauged from some of the following examples of the reporting style used, which had much in common with racist tropes describing other minority groups. In one report, Gypsies were defined as ‘a nomadic and dangerous people’;[6] in another, they were described as ‘smoking their black pipes and using language not fit for ears polite’.[7] Elsewhere, Gypsies were accused of talking ‘so fast and in such a confused and ignorant manner that it was difficult to make out…’[8] The Louth Standard noted of a group of Gypsy men outside court, that magistrates ‘would have known how difficult and impossible it was to identify one from another …’[9] In 1889, following an outbreak of typhoid near Heckington allegedly associated with a recent visit of Gypsies, the Lincolnshire Free Press declared that ‘These nomads have very little regard for the public’ and they ‘disseminate disease and devastate families.’[10] In dealing with the outcome of a mass Gypsy fight at Haxey on the Isle of Axholme in which Riley Smith was seriously assaulted,  Mr Justice Cave observed at the Lincoln Assizes in November 1883 that this was ‘an extraordinary case and certainly showed what very strange people there were living up and down in out of the way parts of Lincolnshire.’[11]

House-dwelling Gypsies
‘House-dwelling Gypsies’. Photo by Fred Shaw in George Hall’s The Gypsy’s Parson, p. 172.

On occasion, when Gypsy families chose a more sedentary lifestyle, newspapers reported on such developments very positively. In 1857, the Stamford Mercury included a report of a group of Gypsy families deciding to settle down in homes in Nettleham, where men and women took up agricultural work locally. This article was reprinted in numerous papers across the country, including the Illustrated London News. As the report declared: ‘At last, even gipsies are melting into civilisation, the green and gorse-covered roadside spots where they used to camp in security being enclosed… At first the villagers did not take to their new neighbours very willingly but by degrees distaste died away.’[12]


Romantic and Exotic Representations of Gypsies

Whilst in most news reports, especially accounts of court proceedings, Gypsies were represented extremely negatively, the same newspapers carried stories that cast them in a very different light. Stuart Baker wrote a lengthy piece, ‘Lincolnshire Reminiscence’, for the Grantham Journal in 1922. It was based on a meeting between Baker and a long-term acquaintance, ‘Jasper, a Romany’. The Gypsies’ distinctive culture was described almost nostalgically, with references to Jasper’s ‘rickety caravan’ and ‘round-roofed tent’. The Gypsies’ fondness for the pied wagtail, their lucky bird, was also mentioned. A liberal sprinkling of Romany terms adorned the article – including ‘chals’ (children), ‘gorgio’ (non-Gypsy), ‘lavengro’ (collector of Gypsy words), and, perhaps inevitably, ‘hotchi witchu’ (hedgehog). The article went to describe in detail how Gypsies cooked hedgehogs, baking them in clay, which, when broken, brought with it the prickles and the skin. As Baker observed, ‘The flesh is beautifully white, fine and tender and resembles that of chicken.’[13]

Another country-based columnist, this time in the Sleaford Gazette, made much of the Gypsies’ use of hedgehogs. In an article entitled ‘November weather’, Rev. A.R. Tucker recounted his meeting with a Gypsy who told him that hedgehog oil – obtained after lightly baking the creature and straining the resulting liquids into a jar – was good for deafness and for applying to the head, which was ‘the reason why gipsies have such wonderful hair’.[14]

This type of somewhat nostalgic reporting, seeking to highlight supposedly ‘pure’ Gypsy culture and language, echoes early articles published in the journal of the Gypsy Lore Society and the mid-nineteenth-century work of George Borrow. His close affinity with Gypsy people prompted his writing of works such as Lavengro, published in 1851, and Romany Rye, which first appeared in 1857.[15] By the 1870s, there seemed to be a belief that Gypsies in England were ‘fast dying out’, the result of mixed marriages and other social and economic factors, such as the rise of high (improved and intensive) farming and the increasing value of the land which ‘interfered with them sorely’. The increasing presence of the rural police, it was suggested, ‘is likely to sweep them out of the country’.[16] It was against this background of a perceived endangering of the culture of the ‘pure’ Gypsy that the Gypsy Lore Society was established to record and celebrate Gypsy culture.[17]

Gypsy child
‘Child of the Caravan’. Photo by Fred Shaw in George Hall’s The Gypsy’s Parson, p.48

In this perspective, Gypsies were evoked as romantic, ‘pure’, even exotic, but certainly unthreatening, in marked contrast to the court reports.  The ‘pure Gypsy’ was a recurring cultural motif through the second half of the nineteenth century, and was evidently extant in Lincolnshire. In addition to the examples cited above, its appeal seemed especially prevalent amongst women. Gypsy-inspired clothing appeared to be in demand at certain times. The Grantham Journal noted in August 1855 that the ‘new gipsy hat is so fashionable among the ladies’.[18] In the 1890s, no fund-raising bazaar was complete without a stall or a tent in which middle-class women could dress as Romantic-inspired, often mainland European, Gypsies. In the Gypsy tent at a grand bazaar at Woodhall Spa in 1893, six ‘ladies officiated, attired in the picturesque dress of the Spanish gipsy’.[19] In aid of Grantham’s St Peter Hill Congregational Church, an ‘Eiffel Tower’ Bazaar was held, with a model of the newly-constructed Parisian building at its centre, and a band played, with a ‘gipsy chorus’, alongside the staging of a ‘gipsy wedding beneath the greenwood tree’.[20]

Real Gypsy weddings were reported in the Lincolnshire press fairly regularly, though often the marriages occurred beyond the county borders. In one account, a Gypsy wedding at Billingborough was described as a ‘spirited affair’, which ‘passed off with eclat.’[21] In another more detailed report of 1864, the Louth and North Lincolnshire Advertiser described the coming together of two Gypsy families, the Browns and Grays, at Ulceby, which it described as ‘the metropolis of the two tribes, which are offshoots of the Boswell tribe’. The bride wore a muslin dress, a loose light-coloured robe and a pair of farmyard half boots; the groom wore corduroy fustian. One of the party was dressed in an infantry coat of brilliant scarlet with white facings.[22]

The size of some of these events was made clear in an account in the Stamford Mercury of a wedding of a 21- and 22-year-old at Fletton Church, just outside Peterborough, near the recent Bridge Fair. This attracted between 200 and 300 people. The bride’s dowry was reported as being the very substantial sum of £500, together with a furnished caravan.[23] Such large weddings tended to occur where substantial Gypsy gatherings were already taking place, for instance coinciding with horse fairs or race meetings.[24] A slightly more low-key event was reported at Bourne, where a Gypsy wedding took place in 1853 between two parties who were ‘advanced in years’. This was ‘kept in the usual manner with fiddling, dancing etc.’.[25]

Gypsies in Unexpected Places: Towns and War

The evocation of bucolic roaming in the picturesque countryside did not capture the complexity of the lives of Lincolnshire’s Gypsies. Nor did the popular image associate them with towns and cities, yet they did engage with urban life.

George Hall recounts an early childhood memory of Lincoln, in the shadow of the Cathedral:

Not far from my father’s doorstep, as you looked towards the common, lay a narrow court lined with poor tenements, and terminating in a bare yard bounded by a squat wall … somewhere in the fifties of the last century [ie in the 1850s] several families of dark-featured “travellers” had pitched upon the court for their Gypsyry, a proceeding at which our quiet lane first shrugged its shoulders, then focussed an interested gaze upon the intruders and their ways, and finally lapsed into an indulgent toleration of them. Thus from day to day throughout my early years, there might have been seen emerging from the recesses of Gypsy Court swarthy men in twos and threes accompanied by the poacher’s useful lurcher… [26]

Gypsy horse dealers played a prominent part in the county’s horse fairs, especially at the annual events at Lincoln in April and at Horncastle in August. In April 1864, for instance, the Stamford Mercury observed that at Lincoln, in advance of the fair, there were pitched tents and ‘many

Horncastle Horse Fair
‘Horncastle Horse Fair’. Photo by Carlton in George Hall’s The Gypsy’s Parson, p. 230

caravans belonging to the wandering Bohemians’.[27] In August 1885, the Lincolnshire Chronicle reported that at Horncastle horse fair ‘the gipsy fraternity was largely represented’.[28] In most years, the Gypsies’ presence at fair time was evidenced through later court appearances, often for drunkenness, fighting and cruelty to horses. Many other residents and visitors engaged in such activities, but care was taken in the newspaper reports to highlight which defendants were Gypsies.

In addition to Gypsies’ periodic harassment from residents as they travelled their regular circuits, they were also exposed to unwelcome officialdom in towns, as urban spaces  became increasingly regulated by the end of the nineteenth century. In 1899, for instance, it was reported that in Lincoln, where there were ‘occasional encampments of gipsies on vacant ground on Monks Road’, the city’s Inspector of Nuisances was ‘to inspect the gipsies and their caravans’.[29]

Thousands of men from the UK’s Gypsy communities served their country in the two world wars (contrary to the stereotype that they evaded conscription by fleeing to Ireland).  Nineteen-year-old Gypsy John Cunningham of Scunthorpe won the Victoria Cross in 1916 for his bravery at the Battle of the Somme, for example; a stone was laid in his memory at the Remembrance Day service in 2016.[30]

This brief account has sought to demonstrate that Gypsy people do inhabit the many documentary sources of Lincolnshire’s past, although not in their own words.  However, if treated carefully, these sources can be read against the grain to understand both the ways in which Gypsies were perceived and treated and to some extent also their own agency and attitudes.  The point is that  there are considerable challenges in retrieving and understanding the past lives of the county’s Gypsy communities, but these are by no means insuperable.[31]

Andrew Walker is a historian of Lincolnshire. He worked at the University of Lincoln from 1992 to 2010, latterly as Head of the School of Humanities and Performing Arts.  Between 2010 and 2020, Andrew was Vice Principal of Rose Bruford College. He is an active volunteer researcher for Reimagining Lincolnshire.


[1] Lincolnshire Chronicle, 3 July 1840.

[2] Lincoln Gazette, 27 June 1874.

[3] Lincolnshire Chronicle, 22 May 1846.

[4] See for instance reports in Lincoln Gazette, 27 June 1874 and Lincolnshire Free Press, 8 February 1876.

[5] Louth & North Lincolnshire Advertiser, 26 October 1861.

[6] Lincolnshire Free Press, 8 February 1876.

[7] Lincolnshire Chronicle, 23 June 1854.

[8] Lincolnshire Chronicle, 16 November 1883.

[9] Louth Standard, 30 June 1928.

[10] Lincolnshire Free Press, 9 April 1889.

[11] Lincolnshire Chronicle, 16 November 1883.

[12] Stamford Mercury, 29 May 1857. This report was widely reprinted in papers ranging from the Edinburgh Evening Courant, 4 June 1857 to the Dover Telegraph, 6 June 1857. See also the Illustrated London News, 6 June 1857.

[13] Grantham Journal, 13 May 1922.

[14] Sleaford Gazette, 8 December 1939.

[15] Searchable online copies of the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society can be found at [accessed 13 June 2022].

[16] Stamford Mercury, 1 May 1874. The report was extracted from the Saturday Review.

[17] For more information on the Gypsy Lore Society, see Harte, ‘”On the far side of the hedge”’, 31-2 and, for a more critical interpretation, see Becky Taylor and John Hinks, ‘What field?’, 632.

[18] Grantham Journal, 18 August 1855.

[19] Lincolnshire Chronicle, 11 August 1893.

[20] Grantham Journal, 1 March 1890.

[21] Grantham Journal, 6 September 1856.

[22] Louth & North Lincolnshire Advertiser, 28 May 1864.

[23] Stamford Mercury, 12 October 1888.

[24] Grantham Journal, 17 June 1882.

[25] Lincolnshire Chronicle, 9 September 1853.

[26] George Hall, The Gypsy’s Parson: His Experiences and Adventures. (London, 1915), 2.

[27] Stamford Mercury, 29 April 1864.

[28] Lincolnshire Chronicle, 14 August 1885. For more information on Horncastle Fair and Lincoln’s April Fair, see respectively B.J. Davey, Lawless and Immoral: Policing a Country Town, 1838-57 (Leicester, 1983) and Andrew Walker, ‘Fairs and markets: challenging encounters between the urban and rural in Lincolnshire, c.1840-1920’, in Shirley Brook et al., eds, Lincoln Connections: Aspects of City and County Since 1700. A Tribute to Dennis Mills (Lincoln, 2011), 107-23.

[29] Lincolnshire Echo, 29 July 1899.

[30] Cunningham’s story is at [accessed 18 June 2022].

[31] A number of holdings can be found relating to British gypsy, traveller and Roma heritage, for instance, at the University of Liverpool, where the archive of the Gypsy Lore Society is stored. See [accessed 15 June 2022]. Extensive Gypsy, Traveller and Roma Collections are available at the University of Leeds. See [accessed 15 June 2022]. See also the Robert Dawson Romany Collection at the Museum of English Rural Life, Reading at [accessed 15 June 2022]

Albert West: Gandhi’s Lincolnshire connection (Part 1)

Heather Hughes


This is the story of how a vegetarian printer from Louth in Lincolnshire played a central role in Mahatma Gandhi’s early experiments with passive resistance against colonial oppression.

Albert Henry West was born in the market town of Louth in the Lincolnshire Wolds in 1879, the fourth child of Frederick and Betsy West. Frederick’s family had long farmed the Lincolnshire fens, around the small settlement of Wrangle. Frederick  was born in 1837 and learned land surveying from his father (Albert’s grandfather) John, but did not stay on the land. Instead, he was apprenticed to his brother-in-law as a net and rope maker. A relative recalled of Frederick that ‘he was of medium stature and weight, very nimble and very neat in all his work and conduct.’ [i]

By the time of the 1881 census, Frederick was an independent rope maker in Louth and the family was living at 53 Aswell Lane in the town.[ii]   Caitlin Green tells us that Aswell Lane formed the upper section of what is now Aswell Street; in the 1880s, there were inns and factories along the Lane, suggesting a working-class neighbourhood.[iii]

The Louth Museum holds a fragment of Albert West’s autobiography, written when he was in his ninetieth year.[iv] He recorded in it that school was never to his liking and he had left as soon as he could. He worked for his father for a while, and then accepted a position as printer’s apprentice in the town. He also attended art classes and must often have visited his country relatives; he later recalled in a different memoir that ‘I loved to be on the farms when I was a lad, although I did not become a farm worker myself.’[v] His father’s letters to him many years later were filled with reminders of old country traditions.[vi]

Albert West as young man
Albert West as a young man. Courtesy Uma Mesthrie-Dhupelia


On completion of his apprenticeship, West spent eighteen months in Leicester, where he had been offered a job. Thereafter he moved to London, where he secured work as a printer for a shipping company. This enabled him to try life on board an ocean liner, which is how he came to arrive in South Africa.[vii]  The South African War (1899-1902) had brought the whole of South Africa into the British empire, leading to a huge influx of white settlers, most of whom were British.[viii] By now in his mid-20s, Albert West decided to try life in Johannesburg and with a business partner, set up a printing press. Although he found this brash new mining town distasteful, there were evidently some compensations, such as Ziegler’s vegetarian restaurant. It was there that he met Mohandas K. Gandhi, according to his memoir:

“Around a large table sat a mixed company of men comprising a stockbroker from the United States who operated on the Exchange in gold and diamond shares, an accountant from Natal, a machinery agent, a young Jewish member of the Theosophical Society, a working tailor from Russia, Gandhi the lawyer, and me a printer. Everybody in Johannesburg talked about the share market, but these men were food reformers interested in vegetarian diet, Kuhne baths, earth poultices, fasting, etc.” [ix]

Gandhi was born in India in 1869 and trained as a lawyer in London. He had arrived in the Colony of Natal in 1893 to assist a wealthy Durban merchant, Dada Abdulla, in a legal case. Since 1860, Britain had transported some 40,000 Indians to the colony under conditions of indenture – one of many

Indian fresh fruit and vegetable sellers in the town of Verulam
Indian market gardeners selling supplies in the Natal town of Verulam, early twentieth century.

such instances of moving unfree labour around the world to assist in the establishment of white settler economies.[x] In Natal, they were put to work on sugar, tea

and tobacco plantations, the railways and coal mines.[xi] On completion of their indenture, many had become successful small-scale fruit and vegetable producers, supplying Natal’s urban markets. Their relations with the African majority, as well as with white settlers, were fraught and complex. They had been brought to Natal precisely because white colonists had been unable to undermine Africans’ subsistence production, yet Indians’ agricultural success caused widespread resentment among many Africans.[xii]  So-called ‘passenger Indians’, like Dada Abdulla, who had travelled to Natal on their own account, similarly faced enormous hostility.

A young Mohandas Gandhi
Mohandas Gandhi at the time of his arrival in Durban. Durban Local History Museum.

Gandhi had not intended to stay long in Natal, but widespread anti-Indian sentiment, as well as his own experiences of racism, convinced him otherwise.[xiii]  In 1894, he helped to found the Natal Indian Congress, specifically to look after ‘passenger’ interests, although it also addressed the broader issue of rights for all Indians as British subjects in Natal.[xiv] Two years later, he fetched his wife Kasturba and their sons from India; their lives were threatened by a white mob on the dockside as they disembarked.[xv]

Undeterred, Gandhi set up a legal practice in Durban and over the next few years, in addition to his political work, he began to elaborate his philosophy of satyagraha, involving passive or nonviolent resistance to injustice. As a pacifist, he helped to organise a stretcher corps during the South African War.[xvi]  At the end of the conflict, with the Transvaal now under British imperial control, he moved to Johannesburg.

That is how Albert West and Gandhi came to meet. Several researchers have reminded us that vegetarianism was one practice within a wider progressive commitment to temperance, pacifism and often anti-colonialism.[xvii] Gandhi had long promoted vegetarianism and had had several articles published in The Vegetarian, published in London.[xviii] His and West’s common interests led to a firm friendship. They took frequent long walks together and joined mutual friends at out-of-town picnics, where spirituality and the meaning of life dominated conversation. As this description indicates, West had already been drawn to Gandhi’s politics:

“One evening I attended an Indian meeting addressed by him in the Indian Location, Johannesburg. Gandhi was the only speaker. The language was Hindi, which was understood by the large audience and listened to with rapt attention. The speaker stood erect and spoke quietly, without gesture or raising of the voice. As I looked upon that dark face in the dim light I felt that here was a leader of great power, but I could not foresee how great a national figure he was to become or how far and wide would be his influence throughout the world.”[xix]

An outbreak of pneumonic plague in Johannesburg in 1904 changed West’s life. Gandhi was closely involved in nursing the sick in the Indian Location, as was Viyavarik Madanjit, proprietor of Indian Opinion, the newspaper which Gandhi had recently founded in Durban. One of South Africa’s oldest anti-establishment newspapers, it has received the detailed attention it deserves in Isabel Hofmeyr’s fine study.[xx]  Madanjit was just visiting Johannesburg but Gandhi considered his presence vital in dealing with the epidemic.

Gandhi therefore asked Albert West to take over the management of Indian Opinion. West readily agreed, made the necessary arrangements for his business in Johannesburg and set off for Durban – and a central role in shaping the profile of one of the best-known figures of the twentieth century. Gandhi came to rely on West as a close and trusted supporter. In turn, through Gandhi, West was drawn into an international British-Indian network of leading anticolonial politicians, writers and philosophers.

Grey Street Durban early 20th century
Grey Street in the early twentieth century. Durban Local History Museum

Indian Opinion was printed weekly in four languages (English, Hindi, Gujarati and Tamil) on a press in the Grey Street area of Durban, where most Indian businesses were located. West was to preside over a small staff of compositors, machinists and printers from India, Mauritius, St Helena and Natal – as a port city, Durban was widely connected to the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds. He soon discovered that profits were non-existent and agreed to work for a modest salary. As with all the other costs of the paper, this was provided by Gandhi, who was also overall editor.

Shortly after West’s arrival in Durban in 1904, Gandhi paid a visit to assess the paper’s financial situation. Another close friend, Henry Polak (later an editor of Indian Opinion and attorney in Gandhi’s practice), gave him a copy of John Ruskin’s Unto This Last to read on the train. It consolidated Gandhi’s thinking that worldly goods were a distraction and that asceticism, abstinence and self-reliance should take their place.

Preparations were begun at once for the founding of his first ashram. Gandhi purchased twenty acres of land on a former farm called Phoenix, some 14 miles inland from Durban. Though very rural, this was an area that was already, in Hofmeyr’s evocative description, ‘a brave new world of evangelical experiment comprising proselytising Trappists, mid-Western protestants, Zulu internationalists, Bombay Muslim holy men and Punjabi Arya Samajists.’[xxi]

Madanjit and several Indian Opinion co-workers thought the entire notion foolhardy and left; others among Gandhi’s associates wanted nothing to do with it. So West and the few remainers oversaw the founding of this historic site, including the relocation of press equipment:

“Type and machinery being very heavy and the road rough, with three rivers to cross, over which there were no bridges, we engaged four large farm wagons, with spans of sixteen bullocks each, and by this means we managed to remove the whole of the plant and stock in a day. It took a good deal longer than that to get it all sorted out and put in place.” [xxii]

Printing press shed Phoenix
The shed housing the printing press in the early days of Phoenix Settlement. Courtesy Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie.

It was a matter of some pride to them all that there was no interruption in publication. The first edition of Indian Opinion to be produced at Phoenix rolled off the press on Christmas Eve, 1904.

The ashram regime was demanding. Each of the Phoenix settlers had a simple cottage and a plot of land on which to grow food; each was also granted a monthly allowance of £3. Everyone was expected to participate in production, both on the paper and on the land, as well as in the daily tasks of reproduction: cooking, cleaning and maintenance. All this was achieved without electricity and only the most basic of tools. Not only was this to be a model of ascetic, communal living – ‘midway between a village and a joint family’, as one writer put it [xxiii] – but it was also preparation for satyagraha and likely periods in gaol. Simplicity, service, reflection, prayer: these became hallmarks of the communal outlook. Gandhi’s family moved to a wood and iron cottage at Phoenix, while he continued to oscillate between his legal work in Johannesburg and the new settlement. This caused him much anxiety but without the former, the latter would have been unthinkable.

Residents were soon drawn into community and political action beyond their farm. In 1905, for example, Natal was struck by devastating floods;[xxiv] according to West’s account,

“A relief fund was at once started and a large sum raised. A committee was appointed to administer the funds and this sat weekly in the office of the Protector of Indian Immigrants. I was asked to join this committee and in the absence of Gandhi, I was glad to be able to assist in granting compensation to the poor Indians who had suffered so heavily in the death toll and so badly by the destruction of their market gardens.”[xxv]

Here then, on the south-eastern African coastal strip, a bold experiment in self-help and resistance against imperial injustice developed. Albert West, one of Gandhi’s earliest disciples, was central to its foundation and growth. Yet it was also an enclave located in, and focused almost entirely on, a South Asian world in South Africa. Apart from a few individual sympathisers who crossed boundaries (and as we shall see, West’s family were among them), there was simply no basis, and too much ‘othering’,  to make common cause with Africans at that time.

[Part 2 to follow]

*Thanks to Dr Victoria Araj for very helpful feedback and Prof. Uma Mesthrie-Dhupelia for support and permission to use family images.

[i] Information about the West family from and (accessed 8 April 2022)

[ii] 1881 Census entry for Frederick and Betsy West family, at (accessed 5 March 2022)

[iii] Caitlin Green, The Streets of Louth: An A-Z History. Louth, The Lindes Press, 2012, pp. 7-13.

[iv] Albert West, Autobiography of an Octogenarian. The Lifestory of One in his Ninetieth Year. Typescript fragment, PDF format. Thanks to Dr R Gatenby, Museum Archivist, for access to this source.

[v] Albert West, ‘In the early days with Gandhi’, at (accessed 5 March 2022) This memoir was first published in The Illustrated Weekly of India in 1965.

[vi] See (accessed 8 April 2022)

[vii] Albert West, Autobiography of an Octogenarian.

[viii] This war, by far Britain’s most expensive and extensive imperial war of expansion, is more popularly known as the Anglo-Boer War, although this name excludes the countless black and brown people in the region who were caught up in it – from scouts and suppliers on both sides to those incarcerated in British concentration camps. See Peter Warwick, The South African War: Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902. London, Longman, 1980.

[ix] West, ‘In the early days with Gandhi’.

[x] Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, Inside Indenture: A South African Story, 1860-1914. Durban. Madiba Publishers, 2007.

[xi] Uma Mesthrie-Dhupelia, From Cane Fields to Freedom: A Chronicle of Indian South African Life. Cape Town, Kwela Books, 2000.

[xii] Heather Hughes, ‘We will be elbowed out the country’: African responses to Indian indentured immigration to Natal, 1860-1910. Labour History Review 72, 2, 2007, pp. 155-168.

[xiii] The best-known example, which was to be transformative for Gandhi, was being thrown out of the first class carriage at the Pietermaritzburg train station in 1893. M.K. Gandhi, An Autobiography, pp. 93-4. In 1997, Nelson Mandela and Gopal Krishna Gandhi, Gandhi’s grandson and at the time India’s High Commissioner to South Africa, re-enacted the journey. Dhupelia-Mesthrie, From Cane Fields to Freedom.

[xiv] Surendra Bhana, Gandhi’s Legacy The Natal Indian Congress 1894-1994. Pietermaritzburg, University of Natal Press, 1997.

[xv] Gandhi, An Autobiography, pp. 160-163.

[xvi] Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire. Redwood City, Stanford University Press, 2013. This work explores Gandhi’s complex relationship not only with British authority but also with the African majority in South Africa.

[xvii] Elsa Richardson, Cranks, clerks and suffragettes: the vegetarian restaurant in British culture and fiction 1880-1914. Literature and Medicine 3, 1, 2021, pp. 133-153; Haejoo Kim, Vegetarian evolution in nineteenth century Britain. Journal of Victorian Culture 26, 4, 2021, pp. 519-533.

[xviii] For a link to his articles, see (accessed 13 April 2022)

[xix] Albert West, ‘In the early days with Gandhi’.

[xx] Isabel Hofmeyr, Gandhi’s Printing Press: Experiments in Slow Reading. Cambridge, MA and London, Harvard University Press, 2013.

[xxi] Hofmeyr, Gandhi’s Printing Press, p. 59.

[xxii] West, ‘In the early days with Gandhi’.

[xxiii] James Hunt, cited in Hofmeyr, Gandhi’s Printing Press, p. 63.

[xxiv] Laljeeth Ramdhani, Natal: The Great Storm and the Floods of 1905. Durban, University of KwaZulu-Natal Gandhi Documentation Centre, 1984. Available at

[xxv] West, ‘In the early days with Gandhi’.

Edith Smith: The First Woman Police Officer in the UK

Edith Smith in uniform. Source:

Olivia Hennessy

To wrap up Women’s History Month, I would like to discuss a woman with a close-to-home connection. Grantham is my home town, with many recognised heritage sites and connections to well-known individuals. But has anyone heard of Edith Smith? She was the first woman police constable to gain the full powers of arrest in the UK, for her work in Grantham.

It’s worth pausing to consider the implications for women who came into contact with the law at a time when there were no female officers. Through the Victorian and Edwardian periods, women were cleared from court rooms during sexual assault cases, there was an extremely low conviction rate for sexual offenders and women convicted of crimes were treated extremely harshly.  Organisations such as the British Women’s Temperance Association began to agitate for an improvement, including the need for women police ‘matrons’ to protect women accused and convicted of crimes.

As with so many other aspects of women’s struggle for social equality, the First World War proved important: in return for their participation in the war effort, they won concessions. One of these was the foundation in 1914 of the Women’s Police Service in London – to fill the roles of men who were away at the front. This gave Edith Smith the opportunity to take on a full-time policing role.  Born in Birkenhead in 1876,  she married in 1897 but a decade later was already widowed with four children to support. She moved to London and trained as a nurse and midwife. She joined the WPS and was posted to Grantham, the first county town to form a branch of the WPS.

In 1915, Smith’s post became an official, paid one, at  £1.40 per week. For the remainder of the war, she served in Grantham. A substantial part of her job involved visiting families of girls considered to be at risk of prostitution and ensuring compliance with a wartime curfew imposed on women. Both duties were related to the fact that there were significant numbers of army recruits being trained near the town.  How to regulate relations between them and Grantham women became a huge issue locally. In 1917 Smith was granted powers of arrest – the first woman Police Constable to gain this power.  One researcher has remarked, ‘whether female police officers were there to protect women from men, or vice versa, is a moot point’. However, what is beyond doubt is that Grantham was the site of a key contest over rights of association between army men and civilian women, and women like Smith were mobilised to regulate these rights.

After the war, Smith returned to Halton, near Liverpool, and nursing. Her life could not have been easy and she took her own life in 1923. She was buried in an unmarked grave. In more recent years, as part of the centenary commemorations of the First World War, she has found renewed recognition. Merseyside police erected a proper headstone on her grave in 2018, and there are plaques dedicated to her memory on the Lincolnshire Police Headquarters at Nettleham, at Halton and in Grantham. There is also a street called Edith Smith way in Grantham, and the Grantham Museum mounted an exhibition on her life and career in 2018.


Alison Woodeson, The first women police: a force for equality or infringement? Women’s History Review, 2, 2, 1993, pp 217-232.

Grantham Civic Society. ‘PC Edith Smith’. Accessed 25th March 2021.

BBC. ‘World War One at Home’ (4th February 2014). Accessed 25th March 2021.


Stained glass?

Heather Hughes

We mark International Women’s Day 2022 with an account of the representations of Matoaka, better known as Pocahontas, in St Helen’s Church in Willoughby, Lincolnshire.  Her story is intimately bound up in United States foundational myths, which explains why there have been so many portrayals (and fabrications) of her in art, literature and film.[1]

The connection to Willoughby is through John Smith, who was born there and baptised in St Helen’s in early January 1580. In his mid-teens, he went to sea and in that age of exploration, soldiering, piracy and adventure, fought as a mercenary in various dynastic struggles in Europe as well as against the Ottoman empire in the eastern Mediterranean.   He became involved in the Virginia Company in London. Despite being accused of mutiny on the voyage (he was always a controversial character), he was a leading figure in founding the first permanent European settlement in North America, at Jamestown, in 1607.[2]

The settlement was not a happy one; apart from serious internal difficulties, relations with surrounding Native American polities were poor.  By Smith’s own account, he was captured by members of the Powhatan polity and threatened with execution. Chief Powhatan’s young daughter, Matoaka, intervened to save his life. Thus arose the myth that the new country was founded on love and intercultural harmony.[3]

As many scholars have pointed out, ‘the story of Pocahontas and John Smith tells of an “original” encounter of which no even passably “immediate” account exists’.[4]  Nevertheless, it has been endlessly embroidered to suit the needs of white Americans, in part by denying the violence and dispossession of colonial expansion. (By the same token, some Native Americans have regarded her as a traitor figure.)

Matoaka herself was captured in hostilities between the Powhatan and colonists in 1613 and converted to Christianity, taking the name Rebecca. She married colonist John Rolfe the following year; in 1615, she gave birth to a son and in 1616 the family travelled to London. She was feted in polite society as an example of ‘what a savage could become’; as they were preparing to return to Virginia, she became ill and died at Gravesend in Kent in 1617. She was only 20 or 21.

Her portrayal in St Helen’s thus arises from a claimed and very brief childhood association with John Smith, who had left Virginia in 1609, never to return. There are in fact three different portrayals, all from her young adult life. Two are in stained glass and another appears in an interpretive panel.

Pocahontas receiving instruction (H. Hughes)

One stained glass scene depicts her receiving Christian instruction, presumably before her conversion, from Alexander Whitaker, ‘the Apostle of Virginia’. The image is, by any measure, deeply problematic, partly because it is a relatively recent addition in the church (1985). She is the only dark-skinned figure in the window, and she is semi-naked. Tattoos are visible on her arms. She is bare-breasted and seems to be demurely trying to hide her nakedness in the presence of the heavily-clad apostle, but only half succeeds.  Her gaze is directed at the tall figure looking down on her, yet her facial expression is hard to interpret: is she interested, or is she ungrateful? Yet the gazes to which she, in her vulnerability, are subjected in turn are more powerful than her own, and they are all white (and in the artwork, male): that of the apostle, of the benefactor who paid for the glazing, Philip Barbour of Louisville, Kentucky; and those of the congregations and visitors, not all make of course, who have looked on the window since it was installed. It is hard to escape the demeaning othering.

Pocahontas, after van de Passe engraving (H. Hughes)

This is in sharp contrast to her portrayal in another window on the south side of the nave. Here she is profusely clothed in fine garments, as she would have worn during her London visit. It is based on the only likeness made during her lifetime, an engraving by Simon van de Passe. This image was meant to show how very well integrated into settler society she had become. So integrated, in fact, that she is not obviously a person of colour; we know that from the elaborate surrounding scroll that bears the name ‘Pocahontas’. This time, her gaze is directed outwards to us, the viewers: she holds her own and relates as ‘one of us’. She looks far older than her 21 years.

East Lindsey History Matters Panel (H. Hughes)

The portrayal in the interpretive panel is an image of the famous statue that stands in historic Jamestown. Cast in bronze to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Virginia colony (but only completed in 1922), we see a young woman with open arms, modestly clothed in a westernised imagining of Native American fringed garments, with neat shoes on her feet. The statue’s hands, we are told,  have become shiny from all those who have held them to have their photos taken. A reproduction of this friendly, welcoming figure stands in the graveyard in Gravesend where she is buried.

Taken together, these images, as well as the context of their creation, underline the continuing complexities of Matoaka/Pocahontas, not only in US national myth but in the backstory of other key figures in the making of that myth. Their siting in a Lincolnshire parish church should also mean that they are acknowledged as difficult and contested heritage, which could open the way to meaningful dialogue about how we make our places of worship more inclusive.


[1] Monika Siebert, Pocahontas looks back and then looks elsewhere: the entangled gaze in contemporary indigenous art.. ab-Original: Journal of Indigenous Studies and First Nations and First Peoples’ Cultures 2, 2 (2018), pp. 207-226.

[2] For an overview, see Robert Appelbaum and John Wood Sweet (eds), Envisioning an English Empire: Jamestown and the Making of the North Atlantic World. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

[3] Derek Buescher and Kent Ono, Civilised colonialism: Pocahontas as neocolonial rhetoric. Women’s Studies in Communication 19, 2, 1996, 127-153.

[4] Peter Hulme, cited in Heike Paul, The Myths that Made America. Bielefeld, Transcript, 2014, p. 94.






Remembering Richard Hill

To mark International Abolition of Slavery Day on 2 December, this post features a prominent abolitionist with strong links to Lincolnshire, Richard Hill – someone who deserves to be far better known in this region.

The Hon Richard Hill. From

Richard Hill was born in Jamaica on 1 May 1795. His father, also Richard, came from a well-established family in the Horncastle area and  emigrated to Jamaica in 1779, with his brothers George Edward, Charles and Robert.[1]

Richard senior settled in Montego Bay, became a successful merchant and married a woman of colour. They had three children, Richard, Ann and Jane. In the pernicious race classifications of the time (how much ‘black’ blood was there?), Richard and Ann were registered as ‘quadroon’, while Jane was registered as ‘mestee’.[2]

When he was still very young, Richard junior was sent to live with relatives in England and attended the Elizabethan Grammar School in Horncastle. On his father’s death in 1818, he returned to Jamaica as the head of the household and to sort out inheritance matters. His father had already made him ‘pledge himself to devote his energies to the cause of freedom, and never to rest until those civil disabilities, under which the Negroes were labouring, had been entirely removed; and, further, until slavery itself had received its death-blow’.[3]

In pursuit of this end, Hill travelled widely in the Caribbean, the United States and Canada,  and returned to England in 1827 to secure the assistance of the Anti-Slavery Society and its leading figures including Wilberforce, Buxton, Clarkson, Babington, Lushington and Zachary Macaulay. He delivered a petition to the House of Commons and remained in England for some time, writing and lecturing.[4]

It is of note that his sister Jane accompanied him to London; she remained in the UK until the early 1830s. Like her brother, she was active in the anti-slavery movement  although frustratingly little is known of her role.  According to Ryan Hanley’s Beyond Slavery and Abolition: Black British Writing c.1770- 1830,  they seem to have been on good terms with Thomas Pringle, secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, who was well connected to a network of black women in London. It is likely that the Anti-Slavery Society supported both siblings financially.

The Society sent Hill to San Domingo in 1830 to investigate social and political conditions there. His visit lasted nearly two years. Back in Jamaica, he was witness to the formal ending of slavery, for which he gave credit to the struggles of both enslaved and free black people:

Slave uprising on Roehampton Estate.

‘The year 1830 saw the fires of rebellion lighted on the very mountains where the Maroon negroes had sounded the signal of insurrection thirty-five years before. The neighbouring valleys that had remained tranquil under the shock, were now the scene of general havoc and disorder. “Physical strength is with the governed.” That strength was felt, and roused into action … The struggle brought to a rapid close the question of colonial slavery. Two years after these events, in the month of July, 1834, I visited these very scenes in the quality of a magistrate specially commissioned to prepare both masters and slaves for the general emancipation’.[5]

Abolition was to be followed by a so-called apprenticeship phase, during which plantation workforces were to transition from slavery to wage labour. Hill was intimately involved in this process, having been appointed a magistrate to adjudicate cases between formerly enslaved apprentices and their employers.   Although highly regarded by British officials, Hill found himself criticised for his perceived  leniency towards apprentices; this led to him to resign his position.[6] He subsequently accepted the post of  Secretary to the Special Magistrates Department at Spanish Town – a sort of ‘deanship’ of all the stipendiary magistrates [7] and a position he held until 1871.

James Thome and J. H. Kimball, the authors of an anti-slavery study of 1837, wrote of him,

‘We spent nearly a day with Richard Hill, Esq., the secretary of the special magistrates’ departments … He is a colored gentleman, and in every respect the noblest man, white or black, whom we met in the West Indies. He is highly intelligent and of fine moral feelings. His manners are free and unassuming, and his language in conversation fluent and well chosen…. He is at the head of the special magistrates (of whom there are sixty in this island) and all the correspondence between them and the governor is carried on through him. The station he holds is a very important one, and the business connected with it is of a character and extent that, were he not a man of superior abilities, he could not sustain. He is highly respected by the government in the island and at home, and possesses the esteem of his fellow citizens of all colors. He associates with persons of the highest rank, dining and attending parties at the government house with all the aristocracy of Jamaica.’[8]

He held many leading civic and political roles through his long career. These included Agent General of Immigration, and serving on the Privy Council, Board of Education and the Royal Society of Arts and Agriculture.

The last-mentioned is a hint of his greatest love: nature and the natural history of Jamaica, on which he published many scientific papers. He corresponded with Charles Darwin and the curators at the Smithsonian and advised the famous naturalist Philip Henry Gosse on his Jamaican research. His contribution to natural history is slowly being recognised – for example, Sessions’ recent study argues that Hill influenced Gosse to treat nature and emancipation as intimately linked.[9]

Hill also wrote extensively, and eloquently, on Jamaican history: A Week at Port Royal (1858), Lights and Shadows of Jamaica History (1859), Eight Chapters in the History of Jamaica, 1508-1680 (1868), and The Picaroons of One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago 1869). He died in 1872.

In very recent times, there have been attempts to remember Richard Hill in Lincolnshire. The Horncastle History and Heritage Society ran an event with students from the grammar school, which knew nothing of him until said event. The Society also discovered that Hill had corresponded with Horncastle historian, printer and auctioneer George Weir; letters between them are held in the National Library of Jamaica.[10]

There is a way to go before this crusading emancipationist and naturalist occupies a proper place in a reimagined Lincolnshire.

Heather Hughes

[1] F.J. DuQuesnay, Richard Hill – Son of Jamaica at  draws on family letters to shed light on his early life. [Accessed 1 December 2021].

[2] Elisabeth Griffith-Hughes, A Mighty Experiment: The Transition from Slavery to Freedom in Jamaica, 1834-1838. PhD Thesis, University of Georgia, 2003, p. 75.

[3] Frank Cundell, Richard Hill. The Journal of Negro History 5, 1, 1920, p.37

[4] Frank Cundell, Richard Hill, p.38.

[5] Richard Hill, Lights and Shadows of Jamaica History; Being Three Lectures Delivered in Aid of the Mission Schools of the Colony. Kingston, Ford and Gall, 1859, p. 93. Available at Lights and Shadows of Jamaica History: Being Three Lectures, Delivered in … – Richard Hill – Google Books [accessed 1 December 2021]

[6] Griffith-Hughes, A Mighty Experiment, p.75

[7] Monica Schuler, Coloured civil servants in post-emancipation Jamaica: two case studies. Caribbbean Quarterly 30, 3/4,  1984, p.95

[8] Jas A. Thome and J. Horace Kimball, Emancipation in the West Indies. A Six Months’ Tour in Antigua, Barbadoes and Jamaica in the Year 1837. New York, The American Anti-Slavery Society, 1838, p. 425-6.

[9] Emily Sessions, Anti-picturesque landscapes, entangled fauna, and interracial collaboration in post-emancipation Jamaica in the work of Philip Henry Gosse and Richard Hill.  Terrae Incognitae, 53, 1, 2021, 26-47.

[10] Email Ian Marshman to Heather Hughes 22 July 2021. Many thanks to Ian Marshman, Chair of the Horncastle History and Heritage Society, for this information.