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Anne-Marie Ford    -    3 August 2011

On 23rd March 1852, in the village of Longstowe, in Cambridgeshire, a baby girl was baptised Cinderella. If it was her first baptism, it was certainly not her last; there are three known baptisms for little Cinderella: one in Cambridgeshire and two in Hertfordshire. The Cambridgeshire cleric had commented, beneath the record of her baptism, “this was the child of a travelling Gypsy and brought to me to be baptised.”

Cinderella was the daughter of Alfred Shaw, a basket maker of Buntingford, and his wife Susan, formerly Smith. Alfred, son of Aaron, also a basket maker, had married Susan Smith, the daughter of Christopher, a tinman and brazier, on 15th August 1842, at Cambridge Holy Trinity. Alfred’s parents, Aaron and his wife, Sophia, had baptised two of their children, Larry and Elijah, in Cambridgeshire, and in Barley, Hertfordshire, Joseph and William, whilst Charles, Alfred, Sophia, Emily and Sarah were all baptised in Layston, Hertfordshire, with Arthurin Potton, Bedfordshire; Aaron being variously described at these baptisms as a Traveller of Stotfold, a hawker of Buntingford, and a sieve bottomer.

Since the Shaw family were often to be found travelling between Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, it isn’t surprising to find Cinderella’s baptism in Cambridgeshire, nor perhaps her subsequent baptism in Great Munden, Hertfordshire, on 13th April 1852, where Alfred is recorded as “a nomadic vagabond, living in a tent, a Gypsy.” To this was added, “the child was baptised, but I think had been baptised before by the Roman Catholics.”

At Watton-at-Stone, Hertfordshire, on 30th April 1852 Cinderella was baptised once more, privately, as the daughter of Alfred and Lucy Shaw, “travellers,” and with Alfred’s occupation as “sieve bottomer.” The error in the mother’s name can be simply explained as a mis-hearing of Susie, or, perhaps indicates forgetfulness! The entry for this baptism was clearly added some time after the event, as it is recorded in the register between the May and June baptisms for that year.

Multiple baptisms were not particularly unusual amongst Gypsies, whose anxiety regarding settlement may have influenced such choices. Perhaps, too, was the fact that gifts, especially of clothing, were often donated to the parents of such Traveller children. How regularly such baptisms took place is hard to estimate, but greater access to online records has revealed that it was probably far more common than originally thought. Whatever the case, the much baptised Cinderella was born into a significant Gypsy family, who were particularly well-known for their musical contributions at feasts and fairs.

The Christopher Smith whose daughter, Susan, married Alfred Shaw, also seems to have had a Cinderella – or at least a Sinfoy, sometimes used as a shortened form of the name, along with ‘Relley’ and ‘Cinnie.’ Sinfoy was baptised on 17th October 1824 at Codicote, Hertfordshire, the daughter of Christopher, a travelling tinker, and Priscilla Smith, who was probably a Shaw before her marriage, the daughter of Moses and Jemima. It would not be at all surprising if Susan had chosen to use her sister’s name for her child; it was a common practice amongst these close-knit, and often inter-marrying, family groups.

In Cambridgeshire, Moses and Jemima Shaw occupied an important place in the local culture. The historian, George Nathan Maynard (MS at the archives of the Cambridgeshire Record Office), had written of Moses Shaw, probably the son of Moses and Susannah Shaw, who, “in token of his worldly substance prided himself in wearing upon his garments large and massive silver buttons to the admiration of all his followers.” This snapshot is further elaborated on by a reference to Moses’ occupations as both a sieve maker and a rat-catcher, although “his greatest skill was at playing the fiddle at feasts and fairs, while his wife, Jemima, ‘Old Mimy,’ ran a stall selling small wares and gingerbread and telling fortunes.”

It was not at all unusual to find brothers christened Aaron and Moses, following the Biblical story of the Old Testament, but who was the Aaron Shaw, father of Alfred, who had married Sophia Sly on 1st September 1814, at Ardeley, in Hertfordshire?Was he a brother of Moses, who was married to Jemima, and therefore a son of Moses and Susannah? Sophia was the daughter of James Sly and Sophia Grey, both noted Gypsy families, and was baptised on 23rd March 1794 at Babraham, Cambridgeshire, her parents having married on 4th January 1785 at Oakington, in the same county. She was only 20 at the time of the marriage, but if this Aaron, as has been claimed, was the son of Moses and Susannah Shaw, this would make him 41 years of age at the time of the wedding. Of course, this is not impossible, but it is unlikely.

TheAaron who was the son of Moses and Susannah ismentioned in the Settlement Examination of his father, Moses, who had himself been baptised in Stotfold, Bedfordshire, on 6th September 1741, althoughhis family, at least the previous generation, hailed from ChilversCoton, in Warwickshire. Aaron, who was 18 at the time of the Settlement hearing, and who had been baptised at Shillington, Bedfordshire in 1773, was invariably to record it as his place of settlement.

Aaron’s parents, Moses Shaw and Susannah Dimmock, had married in Middlesex on 21st June 1764.Subject to removal from Stotfold to ChilversCoton at the close of the eighteenth century, the recordstates that Moses, his wife Susannah, and their five children had removed from Sandon in Hertfordshire to Stotfold, Bedfordshire; there they added more children to their family, and there they remained, although Moses’ father, John, had returned to Warwickshire, and died there about 1771. As a result, the family had come to regard Bedfordshire as ‘home,’

In 1802, on 28th December, when Aaron, the son of Moses and Susannah, would have been 29 years old, there was a marriage between an Aaron Shaw and a Mary Brinkley, at Ayot St Peter, Hertfordshire. The next known appearance of this couple is a baptism on 10th February 1809, at Sunderland Holy Trinity, Durham, where a Henry Moses Shaw was baptised. It was noted that he was “the second son of Aaron Shaw of Shillington, Bedfordshire and Mary Brinkley of ?Harding, Hertfordshire.” This must surely be the Aaron who was the son of Moses and Susannah. In addition, the burial of an Aaron Shaw, at Watton-at-Stone, Hertfordshire, on 5th April 1843, is that of a man of 71 years of age – this would make his date of birth identical to that of Moses’ son, Aaron.

There is, however, a better candidate for the Aaron who married Sophia Sly, who appears in the census records in 1841 in Ware, with his wife, Sophia, and their family, and in 1851, after he has been widowed, with some of his children, and in 1861, with his married daughter, Emily, and her family. Each time he offers an age that would indicate birth towards the end of the eighteenth century. After that he disappears from the census records, but there is a death for an Aaron Shaw in Hertfordshire in 1868, where his age is given as 77 years of age.

Alfred’s father, I suggest, is not Aaron, son of Moses and Susannah, but, instead, the Aaron baptised on 12th July 1795, at the Church of Saint Mary, in Luton, Bedfordshire. He was the son of Elisha/Elijah and Sarah Shaw, nee Arnold, who had married on 18th February 1787, at St Peter’s in St Albans, Hertfordshire. And Elijah is possibly the Elijah Shaw who was buried in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, aged 80, on 18th March 1844, where one of his known children had been baptised.

The dates accord more nearly than those of Aaron, son of Moses and Susannah, who, if he had lived, would have been 95 years old by 1868! Furthermore, Aaron and Sophia Shaw have children who are named ‘Elijah’ and ‘Sarah,’ likely to have been named after his parents, but none called ‘Moses’ or ‘Susannah.’ This seems to be yet another indication that the Aaron Shaw who married Sophia was not the son of Moses and Susannah.

And what of little Cinderella Shaw, daughter of Alfred and Susan, and grand-daughter of Aaron and Sophia? By the time of the 1861 census she has wandered, with her family, as far as Kingscliffe, Northamptonshire. Alfred, “a traveller from Buntingford, Hertfordshire,” is with his wife, Susan, and children, Relley, Christopher and Walter, and they are to be found sleeping “in a caravan in the Wheatsheaf public house yard.”The Wheatsheaf still stands and is now, perhaps rather ironically, a listed building.

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Copyright © 2011 Anne-Marie Ford