In spite of being billed as “Gypsy Jem Mace” and “The Swaffham Gypsy”, Jem always claimed he “didn’t have a drop of Gypsy blood”. His mother’s name was Ann Rudd (b.1805), which is a very Anglo-Saxon English name and his immediate family led a settled lifestyle. Gypsies were despised and were strongly legally coerced into “English” lifestyles. Many chose to emphasise their Englishness. Some of Jem’s family members even took to calling themselves “Huttson” (Jem’s grandmother’s maiden name) or “Rudd” (Jem’s mother’s maiden name) in order to avoid the possible Gypsy connotations of the name “Mace”. It is one of life’s ironies that today many people called Mace research their family histories trying to find a connection to Jem!
In the 1830’s there was a significant population of Gypsies in Norfolk. “Mace” was a common Gypsy name. Jem’s father William and all his uncles earned a living in Gypsy fashion as blacksmiths. Jem had lots of Gypsy relatives and he spent much of his life in the company of Gypsies. He had a large number of Gypsy friends. He engaged in the Gypsy pastime of violin playing. He was involved in the Gypsy entertainment of fairs and circuses. He empathised with their problems. He died on a Gypsy campsite. He was definitely a Gypsy by inclination if not by birth. Today, Jem’s Gypsy ancestry (or lack of it) is of little consequence, but in the 1830’s and 1840’s when Jem was growing up, Gypsies were a despised minority. Jem had very good reason to deny Gypsy blood if he wanted to progress in Victorian English society.
This is a picture of Gypsies living in a bender tent made from canvas stretched over freshly cut flexible poles. When time came to move on, all belongings were packed on to a wagon and covered with the canvas. “Gypsy caravans” did not come into widespread use until later in the century. (The picture was actually taken in Hampshire)
Below is a scan of the 1861 census showing Barney’s family. Note the “Not living in houses” on the top line and the “Tents” at the bottom of the residence column. They are living on Kettlestone Common (near Fakenham, Norfolk). The census enumerator takes care on the following page to make the point that this is outside the parish boundary. This is significant because it meant that they would not be entitled to any parish services such as schooling and poor relief. The “English” community generally tolerated the travelling community as long as they made no claims on “their” services. If travellers could not make a living, they starved.
Barney’s family were truly remarkable. In spite of these incredibly humble and impoverished beginnings all the children went on to live impressive lives. Their children were:
Leopoldius (Pooley) b 30 Jan 1839, he was Jem’s cousin, and travelled the world with him as his companion and sparring partner. He was a horse trader and a boxer in his own right. He emigrated to the USA with his Gypsy wife, Delia and their four children, arriving in New York on the 21 Aug 1891. He died in Cumberland, North Carolina on 31 Oct 1912.
In 1875 he camped on the banks of the Dee opposite Balmoral. His wife Delia and her sister Bidi were invited to the castle by Queen Victoria to read her fortune.
Walter 1842-1895, was a horse trader
Leondra 1844 and
Madonna 1846-1896, together became lodging house proprietors in Hunstanton
Augustus 1848-1898, became famous as a pioneer photographer with premises in Hunstanton and Cromer. He took pictures of aristocracy and royalty. Some of his pictures survive in the National Archives.
Tiras (Tiny) 1850-1887
Zeblira 1852-1928, lacking basic education and seeing Gypsy children around her in the same position, she set up her own school and became a headmistress.
Robina (Nelly) 1854
Herbert 1856,Owned and operated a “Camera Obscura” at Cromer and later was an Art Dealer.
Bosvannah (Bowey) 1858-1908, was a furniture dealer then art dealer in Birmingham
Trafalgar (Algar) 1860-1914, was a photographer
In 1838, Jem’s 23 year old uncle Barney (Barnabas Mace) married Lurina Baker (aka Heron) a 15 year old girl from a high ranking Gypsy family. They then lived a “Gypsy lifestyle”. He earned his living as a mobile blacksmith, shoeing horses and making iron components for farmers on outlying farms. He and his wife brought up twelve children in “bender” tents. These children were companions of Jem throughout his childhood, and the oldest was his closest friend through most of his adult life.
The following basic paternal family tree (taken from parish records by the Norfolk Family History Society) seems to lend some credence to Jem’s (and Lord William Frederick Windham’s) statement that there was no Gypsy blood in Jem’s family, or at least not after 1720 ish.
William Mace (d. 1739 Marham, Norfolk) = Mary
William Mace , blacksmith (b. 1724 Marham, m. 6 Feb 1750 Lyng, Norfolk) = Elizabeth Frost
Thomas Mace (b. 1760 Lyng) = Maria Johnson
William Mace, blacksmith (b. 1785 Lyng, m. 1804 Norwich, d. 24 Apr 1835 Great Frensham) = Ann Hudson
William Mace, blacksmith (b. 1804, m. 9 Dec 1823 Beeston) = Ann Rudd
James (Jem) Mace (b. 8 Apr 1831 Beeston, d. 30 Nov 1910 Jarrow)