Farnborough has a long association with Gypsy or Traveller families.  The churchyard at St. Giles has many graves marking the burials of members of Gypsy families, in particular the 'Boswells' and 'Patemans'. There are also no less than 33 burials recorded with another Gypsy surname 'Lee'.

Even today when further Gypsy burials take place a large number of family members travel from far and wide to attend the funeral at St. Giles.

In the past the open land of Tugmutton or 'Leg Of Mutton' Common, a short distance from Farnborough at Locksbottom,  was also where the Gypsies lived.  The map above is an OS map dated 1895 and shows Tugmutton Common at the centre. Click to enlarge

Below are some extracts from the forward of Tugmutton Common - the life and times of William Pateman, written by John Pateman a member of one of these families, and reproduced here with the permission of the author.

The book contains the biographies of no less the 26 members of the Pateman family, all living in Locksbottom and Farnborough Village. It also documents other families, including the Boswells.

The Tugmutton Gypsies were not the largest or best known Traveller community in south east England, this accolade belongs to the Gypsies of Star Lane, St. Mary Cray, which is believed to have been the biggest Travaller community in England,

Why Farnborough?

There are three main reasons why Gypsies settled in Farnborough: it was well known for its Horse Fairs, it was noted for its osier beds. and It was a good location for a winter base. Osier is a small Eurasian willow which grows mostly in wet habitats. It is usually coppiced, being a major source of the long flexible shoots (withies) used in basketwork.
Farnborough was one of many Gypsy communities which established themselves on the fringes of Kent at the end of the nineteenth century.  Locations such as Farmborough provided a good base from which they could travel down into Kent to work on the land picking fruit, vegetables and hops. They would then return to Farnborough to winter over on the fringes of London where there were more opportunities to sell their goods such as pegs, skewers and baskets.

Gypsies from all over Kent would bring their horses to buy and sell. They would run their horses up and down the High Street so that would-be buyers could see their performance. Apparently this was a very popular spectacle for the villagers to watch. 

Tugmutton Common

For many years they lived at Tugmutton, or Leg of Mutton Common, a large field on the edge of Farnborough shaped like a leg of lamb. During the summer they travelled around Kent picking hops, fruit and vegetables, and in the winter they would return to their tents and cottages at Tugmutton and earn their living as pedlars and hawkers.
We do not know when Gypsies first started living on the Farnborough Commons, including Tugmutton, but it could have been one of the traditional stopping places Travellers have been using for centuries,  What we do know is that the enclosure movement in the nineteenth century made it more difficult for the Gypsies to live on the common lands, and aventually they were evicted..

Locksbottom today, Tugmutton Common is the triangular green space in the centre

Bastard Green

Walter Pateman's book also records some members of the Pateman family living at 'Bastard Green'.  This spelling of the name is different from the historical map below dating from 1801, which shows a 'Brasted' Green on the opposite side of the Orpington road from Tugmutton Common.

An online search today does not bring up a match for a settlament at this location with either spelling, apart from the book and map refered to above.  But there are many refernces to the village called Brasted, with a green, near Westerham further south in Kent.

On the later map at the top of this page the name is different again - Broadstreet Green.

Clearly this is the same field, and is now the location of the Farnborough Park estate.

Farnborough Commons Protection Committee

Once the Metropolitan Commons Act  was passed in 1866 it was only a matter of time before most of the common land within Metropolitan areas - which included London and its environs such as Farnborough - were subject to enclosure. This made it easier to move non-parishioners and itinerants such as Gypsies off the Common.

The Commons Protection Committee was formed on 17th June 1887, six years after James and William Pateman arrived in Farnborough. The Committee contained local business men and farmers such as J.F. and W. Fox, members of the Fox family which owned a brewery business in Green Street Green, and J.W. Stow, fruit grower. Interestingly, one of the committee members, H.N Penfold, beer retailer, had a Gypsy surname.

It is clear from the minutes of their very first meeting that the Committee's main target was the Gypsies, 'and the debris left by a succession of Gypsy encampments'. The Committee was concerned about  'the indecency occuring in the Gypsy camp'. Mr Penfold 'spoke in favour of forming a ditch and bank around the frontage of the common with gates etc. so that no vans could be drawn upon it'.

Notices were put up on the Common saying that 'if any persons were found camping on the same after 12 noon on the following Monday they would be forcibly removed by the overseers and the police.' Letters were written to the Chief Commissioners of Police and to a solicitor - Mr. Birkett - seeking advice on 'the shortest and best mode of procedure to eject these trespassers'.

Mr Birkett was engaged by the Committee to prepare a 'memorial' (a statement of facts, especially as the basis of a petition) which was signed by Farnborough gentry and businessmen in favour of enclosing the commons. The memorial was sent to the Land Commissioners with the appropriate fee and, in return, a draft scheme of enclosure was produced for advertisement in the local area. Some objections were received but the scheme was introduced into the Commons via a Bill on 26th March 1888 and by 12th June the Bill had passed through all stages and was ready for Royal Assent. 

The first meeting of the Farnborough Commons Committee was held at the Board School on 9th June 1888. At their meeting on 9th April 1889 the Clerk reported that he had 'banked up the commons at the place where vans were drawn on and had also begun to take off the flints and make the Commons tidy.'

The Committee continued to meet until 1904.  During the sixteen years of its existence it exercised its full and petty powers over the Commons which they were entrusted with by Act of Parliament. These self selected guardians of the Commons made life difficult not only for the Gypsies, but also anyone else who had previously made use of the Commons. The placing or storage of hop poles, flints and manure on the Common was prohibited, and gravel could not be extracted without the Board's permission. A Ranger was appointed and given a note book to record infringements of the bye laws and any actions he had taken. 

Everything was reported to regular meetings of the Conservators - they met 30 times between 1889 and 1904. Notices were put up on the Commons telling people what they could (or mostly could not) do and legal action was threatened (and taken) against offenders. The planting and pruning of trees was regulated, and people were not able to ride carts or vehicles of any kind across the Commons.

The core of the Conservators - Messrs Stow, Fox and Wilson were at the first meeting in 1888 and the last meeting in 1904 - re-electing themselves back onto the Board. This small group of rich and powerful men had total control over the Commons and the only people with any rights were those who owned land around the Commons before the Enclosure Scheme was agreed. Banks were dug to prevent vans from pulling onto the Commons and gates were put around the gravel pit.

The Commons Act 1876 and local bye laws gave wide ranging powers to Boards of Conservators, who could prevent local Councils from taking gravel to build highways. Not content with owning the cottages where William Pateman lived (and some of his children were born), Mr. Stow also wanted to control the Commons where James Pateman lived (until he and the rest of the Gypsy community were forced into cottages on the edge of the Common at Willow Walk).

But there was one law for the Conservators and another for the rest of the community - people could not dump rubbish on the Common, but Mr. Stow did; people could not build roadways on the Common, but Mr. Fox did; people could not put fences on the Common, but Mr/ Wilson did. Mr. Fox was also able to put a gate in his fence on the Common andlay a waste pipe from his brewery to the gravel pit - privileges which were not afforded to the rest of the community.

The Conservators spent much of their time enforcing peffy restrictions which they did not apply to themselves. At least one Conservator could not live with these double standards and resigned saying that the Board were a "mean spirited body".

Eventually the Board collapsed as a result of its own contradictions. It became like King Canute, trying to hold back the forces of progress in the shape of the Gas Co., the Water Co., the Telegraph Co., the railways and the road builders, all of whom needed access to the Commons for one reason or another.

When they took a resident to court in 1904 for removing gravel from the Commons, the Board won the case but bankrupted themselves in the process. As a result, their powers were transferred to the Parish Council. The Farnborough Commons Conservators first met in 1888 (seven years after James Pateman arrived on Tugmutton) and their last meeting was in March 1904 (just five months before the birth of James Pateman's last child, William, in August 1904). 

It is a misconception to believe that the Commons were available for the use of all. Unless otherwise specified in some sort of charter, which is rare, commons were only available for the use of the commoners of the Manorial Landowner, and then quite often constrained by open/closed periods that reflected their particular use. Commons could only be closed by Act of Parliament, such as the Metropolitan Commons Act referred to above.


Farnborough and the Gypsys

Farnborough has a long association with the Gypsy community. This article written in 1977 gives a brief history of the Gypsies and how they lived.  

H.G. Wells in his ‘Outline of History’ says that gipsies were refugee Eastern people who appeared about the end of the 14th and early 15th centuries in Greece and were believed to be Egyptians, (hence Gipsy). They have also been known by other names, such as Romanies, Hungarians, Tartars and Bohemians.

They had probably been drifting about Western Asia for some centuries before the massacres of Timurlane in the fifteenth century drove them to the west. They may have been dislodged from their original homeland much earlier by the great cataclysm of Jenghiz Khan and his Mongols in the early part of the 13th century. They spread slowly westward across Europe, strange parts of nomadism in a world consisting mostly of towns and farmland, driven from their ancient habitat to find resting places on commons, woodlands, roadsides and any neglected patches. They have not kept the true tradition of their origin but many have retained their distinctive language which it is thought, indicates their lost history. They are found in all European countries today.

They are tinkers, pedlars, horse-dealers, showmen, wood-carvers, artificial flower makers, fortune tellers and beggars. To some imaginative minds their wayside encampments with smoking fires, their hobbled horses, their brawl of sunburnt children, their apparent freedom and their lack of responsibilities, have a strong appeal.

Gipsies always become more or less mixed with the inhabitants of the countries in which they travel. Didicois are of this mixed blood. It is known that in the Orpington area they mixed with the Irish workers who first came to the area in the 1800s during the Irish potato famine, to work in the local paper mills. Never-the-less the gipsies were here before the present population.

For generations they wintered in Corke’s meadow, a large field in St. Mary Cray, near Orpington, which was eventually developed as an industrial site. During the summer they used to travel around the countryside doing potato, hop and fruit picking, and in the winter they settled in the Bromley area and lived by repairing pots and pans sharpening knives, making pegs etc., and hawking them around the houses. Machines and local labour are now used in the potato, hop and fruit fields and no one has pans repaired or knives sharpened by gipsies any more.

During the war when the Government asked that scrap metal should be collected for the war effort, the gipsies turned to this trade, which now relies very much on their work, which is why their sites are so often an unsightly mess of old cars and scrap metal.

One of the most remarkable people buried in Beckenham churchyard was probably Margaret Finch, a queen of the gipsies. She was a person of great notoriety and was said to have been 109 years old when she died in 1740. She had been accustomed to sitting on the ground with her chin on her knees and a pipe in her mouth. Eventually she could not rise from this position and when she died an ordinary coffin was of no use, and a deep square box was made in which she was placed and buried. A big crowd gathered in Beckenham on the occasion of her funeral and all the gipsies for miles around attended.

A well-known family of gipsies, reputed to be true bred Romanies, was the Boswells, who lived in a little bungalow at Willow Walk, Tugmutton Green, which is at the back of Farnborough Hospital. For over 200 years the family carried on the business of providing “ fairtackle” to county families in connection with private sports gatherings. Levi Boswell was known at every horse fair and fete in the county and was reported to be without equal as a horse dealer. He had a herd of donkeys and for over 70 years the family had a stand for donkeys on Blackheath, just opposite the main gates of Greenwich Park. Kanza Boswell was 8 years old when he first helped his father Levi, with the donkeys, and every morning they were driven to Blackheath and in the evening back to Farnborough.

Levi Boswell died in 1924 at the age of 77 and the local newspaper reported that there was an attendance of over a thousand at his funeral, 'which took place at St. Giles’ church, Farnborough. But his funeral was surpassed by that of his widow who died nine years later, when she was 81 years of age. She was Mrs. Urania Boswell and was generally known as Gipsy Lee and although she resided at Farnborough, normally spent about six months of each year travelling with fairs and circuses as a palmist and fortune teller. It was said that she forecaste her own end, and it was estimated that there were 15,000 present at her funeral, for Gipsy Lee was the queen of all the Kent gipsies YouTube video

See also Corke's Meadow St. Mary Cray

Reproduced with permission from the December 1977  magazine of the
Bromley Borough Local History Society

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