Teamwork pieces together more tales of local Gypsies

ONE of the most enjoyable aspects of local history research is collaborating with others – and this week’s Peeps into the Past is a prime example of teamwork.

It concerns the Spanish flu pandemic and a grim report in the News & Mail of local people who had died from it.

Edith Wilson, a friend to the Gypsies

Mark Coxhead found the report in the edition of 8 November 1918 on microfilm copies at the Surrey History Centre in Woking. He sent me a copy.

When I read it, there were two names I recognized as a result of research by my friend Geoff Burch. Geoff’s mother, Rose Baker, was born into a large Gypsy family who lived at Sundridge Camp in Kingfield. Peeps featured their story in April 2019.

The camp was established in about 1913 by Edith Wilson, wife of the Rev Francis Wilson. The Wilsons lived at The Grange in Old Woking. In the early 1900s there were a number of Gypsy families mostly living in tents in the area. Geoff’s grandfather, James Baker, worked on a farm owned by a Mr Carter.

Life was hard for the Gypsies and the Wilson family gave them a good deal of support. This included rehousing them in wooden huts at Sundridge Camp, on land that is now is the area around Sundridge Road.

There appears to have been about eight huts by 1919. The adult occupants were: No 1 – James and Clara Baker (Geoff’s grandparents); No 2 – Adam and Emily Harris; No 3 – Eli and Sophia Baker; No 4 – George Baker; No 5 – George Smith; No 6 – Patience and Walter Baker; No 7 – Ernest and Amy Baker; No  8 – Moses and Rose Williams. The Bakers appear to be all related, and George Baker was Geoff’s great uncle. There was no mention of George’s wife.

George Baker with his daughter Selina and grandson Derek in a picture that sadly does not include the top of Selina’s head

Under the heading “Deaths at the gypsy camps”, a News & Mail report stated: “At the Sundridge Gypsy Camp, Kingfield, the wife of a man named Baker, passed away as a result of influenza.

“The funeral was on Saturday and was on a most imposing scale, the coffin being carried to Old Woking Churchyard by a car and pair. The Rev George Askwith officiated and present at the interment was Mrs Wilson, wife of the Rev F Wilson, The Grange, Old Woking, who takes a great interest in the Gypsy fraternity.

 “The death occurred at the Gypsy encampment at Arthur’s Bridge, of Mary Gregory, a girl of 10. Her father is a Silver War Badge man, and has been gassed.”

The Silver War Badge was issued to service personnel who had been honourably discharged due to wounds or sickness during the First World War.

From Geoff’s research we know “the man named Baker” was George Baker, and his wife who died of influenza was Alice (nee Gregory). She died on 30 October 1918, aged 31. Although they may have had their own Romany-style wedding, they were officially married on 11 December 1906 at St Peter’s Church, Old Woking, with Edith (who died in 1945) being one of their witnesses. 

The wedding was one of 10 involving local Gypsies at St Peter’s Church, and all within the space of a few days.

It made headlines in local and national newspapers, with one report stating: “The Gypsies have been encamped in the parish for a considerable period, and they have been induced to take this step by the vicar and a lady worker, who have actively interested themselves in the little community.”

George and Alice had six children: George (born 1903), Annie (1904), Rose (1907), Alice (1909), Selina (1912), William (1915, died 1926).

George enlisted on 24 June 1916 to serve in the armed forces in the First World War.

His military records reveal he was called up on 26 March 1917, aged 39 years and 11 months – he gave his occupation as labourer – and served with the Royal Garrison Artillery. He did not serve overseas and was discharged on 26 November 1917, suffering from chronic rheumatism. He died in 1944.

If you have some memories or old pictures relating to the Woking area, call David Rose on 01483 838960, or drop a line to the News & Mail.

David Rose is a local historian and writer who specialises in what he calls “the history within living memory” of people, places and events in the west Surrey area covering towns such as Woking and Guildford. He collects old photos and memorabilia relating to the area and the subject, and regularly gives illustrated local history talks to groups and societies. For enquiries and bookings please phone or email him at: davidrosemedia@gmail.com

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