THE BOSWELLS


  

Farnborough has a long association with Gypsy or Roamny families. 

The Boswells lived for many years at their house in Willow Walk, Tugmutton Common at Locksbottom, and four members of the family are buried in one grave in the churchyard at St. Giles.  Also buried there in 16 graves plus some burials of ashes in the garden of remembrance are no less than 35 people with the other well known Gypsy surname of Lee, dating from 1896 to 2017.  Not all of these may be former members of Romany families.

The following articles describe the funerals of Levi and Urania Boswell.  See also this
YouTube video

Levi Boswell

Levi Boswell was known as the "The Gypsy King" and his death in Farnborough in 1924 lead to an extraordinary gathering of thousands of mourners and hearse drawn by six horses. 'Boswell' is among the most common gypsy surnames in England. The Times of 8th May 1924 wrote:-

"The death has occurred at Farnborough, Kent, of Levi Boswell, the head of the Boswell tribe of Romanies, who have relatives in all parts of the world. His widow, Urania Boswell, known as the Gypsy Queen, is a descendent of the original Gypsy Lee. For 300 years the two great Romany tribes, the Boswells and Lees, have intermarried. Levi Boswell was formerly a widely known horse dealer, but for some years he had been living in retirement in a Farnborough cottage. The funeral at Farnborough this afternoon will be attended by Gypsies from all over the country."

The funeral was also reported in The District Times, on 9 May 1924:

"The passing of a Gipsy king – Death of Levi Boswell – Yesterday's funeral pageant The passing of a great Gypsy King, Levi Boswell (whose spouse is allied to the famous Lee family, and is popularly known as 'the Gypsy Queen') occurred on Thursday of last week, at the age of 77 years. The great Boswell was known to every horse fair and fete in the country. As a horse dealer he was without an equal, and his aid was sought by many in search of a horse if not a kingdom – and they could always rely upon Boswell for a square deal. Then, what of his herds of donkeys – and such donkeys they were. The young people tested their capabilities by the thousands in every quarter of the country at fetes, shows and fairs. Levi Boswell had acquired the property which he occupied at Willow Walk, Tugmutton Green, Farnborough, and here the family (and donkeys) thrived. Now, alas, there is a widowed Gypsy Queen, and all that remained of the famous Boswell was committed to mother earth at Farnborough churchyard yesterday (Thursday) afternoon. There was an attendance of nearly a thousand people, many of whom came from various parts of the country, and there was a large percentage of the Gypsy tribe amongst them…"

Urania Boswell

Urania Boswell died on 24 April 1933 aged 82 years at 7 Willow Walk, Farnborough. On the death certificate she was the "widow of Levi Boswell, horse dealer". The cause of death was "carcinoma of stomach and degenerative myocarditis". The informant was "Mary Ann Georgina Costin, daughter, 7 Willow Walk, Farnborough." This was her daughter, Georgina Boswell. A full report appeared in The Kentish Times, on 28 April 1933:

"Queen of the Gypsies dies – forecast her own passing – "Death bird" sign for Gypsy Lee Outside the tiny bungalow at Farnborough, where for the last 40 years she had spent nearly six months in every year and where now she lies in her coffin, 'Gypsy Lee's' brother told a Kentish Times representative of his sister's passing. Even while he was talking some of her relatives arrived and entered the door to gaze for the last time upon her, as she lay, framed in white, with a bunch of flowers on her breast, with the peaceful smile of death on her old, wrinkled face. It was a queen, lying in state, for Mrs. Urania Boswell, widow of the late Mr. Levi Boswell, had been, since her husband's death, the accepted leader of the great clan of Lees and Boswells, almost the last great families of the Romany tribe. It was like a scene from a Borrow novel, to stand within those walls, hung round with faded photographs of the late queen and her family, with the spotless, polished brass work round the fireplace, and to hear her brother, now the last remaining member of her many brothers and sisters, talking to another of her relatives in the quaint Gypsy tongue, unintelligible to all 'outsiders'. Outside was the group of cottages and bungalows that formed the encampment, an old caravan that still seemed to bear the dust of its many miles of travel, a battered old trap in which she once rode often, a few hens scratching in the dust, her favorite cat still as a statue. It was as though one had been transported back through the years. And her brother, Mr. Job Lee, "Joby Lee", well known to all the sporting fraternity throughout the country', as he described himself, a gnarled figure of a man, tough as oak, despite his 70 years, with knotted hands that spoke eloquently of many hard fights in his boxing booth, and mahogany face that told as no words could have done of years spent in the open air, told in simple words of days and nights spent in ceaseless watching at his sister's bedside during the last weeks of her life.

Gypsy Lee, who was 81 years of age, was the daughter of the equally famous Gypsy Lee of Brighton, and like her parent she had a nation wide reputation as a palmist and fortune teller. Among her patrons were people from all classes of society, from the poorest to the greatest in the land. Lords and dukes were not ashamed to listen to her advice, and throughout the district she was a familiar figure … She owned property in many places, and spent six months of the year at Ramsgate, where she had a home, Margate, and other resorts. The other six months were spent as a rule in her cottage at Willow Walk, Farnborough. Her husband, Mr. Levi Boswell, the king of his clan, died in 1924 and the magnificence of his funeral at Farnborough is still remembered. The traditional cortege with black horses and outriders, and the following of hundreds of his 'subjects' will be repeated today (Friday) at Mrs. Boswell's funeral. She leaves three sons, Herbert, Kenza, and Levi Boswell, and a daughter, who are also well known, though the daughter is at present lying ill in hospital. One of the sons is a well known figure at Blackheath with his donkeys.

Like all her family, Mrs. Boswell was an expert horsewoman, and she used to drive and break horses for her husband. She met with many accidents from time to time, and some 40 years ago when the wheel of a trap in which she was driving broke she fell and was dragged for a long distance by the runaway horse. Seven years later when driving a mule she was again thrown, and her face was badly cut, but she walked nearly half a mile to Farnborough hospital, bleeding profusely. Scarcely had she recovered from this accident when a branch of a tree under which she was sheltering fell on her. Three weeks ago she had a fall just outside her door, and when a milkman arrived to deliver there he found her lying unconscious. He roused the family, and she was got into bed, and she never got up again. For the last fortnight her brother was with her, and during the last few days of her life he sat by her side night and day, never sleeping and hardly moving away to change his clothes.


VILLAGE HISTORY



Boswell Family Grave

This is the gravestone for the grave in the churchyard in St. Giles church where four members of the Boswell Family are buried.



As well as Levi Boswell (1924) and Urania (1933)  this is also the final resting place of Percy Boswell (1947) and Kenzer Boswell (1949).

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