When the members of the Somerset Archaeological Society visited Norton Fitzwarren Church in 1872, the President pointed out to them in the south-west corner of the Churchyard a spot which was used as a great burying-place for gipsies, who were brought from all parts of the country to be buried there. Mr. Edward Jeboult, writing in 1873, said;
Norton has the honour of being a Royal burial-place, for here are interred 'The King and Queen of the Gipsies'. There are no less than five headstones to the Royal family of the Stanleys.
In October 1919, I visited Norton Fitzwarren Churchyard and copied the following inscriptions from the stones erected to the memory of the members of this family;
Thomas Stanley, who died July 16th, 1843, aged 14.
Dear friends forbear to moun and weep,
While in the dust I sweetly sleep.
This frailsome world I've left behind,
A crown of glory in hope to find.
William Stanley, who died January 27th, 1846, aged 39.
Here lies the only comfort of my life,
Who was the best of husbands to a wife.
The best of fathers to his children dear,
Such was the man that lies reposing here.
This stone is erected by his widow as a testimony of her cherished remembrance of an affectionate husband, tender father and kind friend.
James Stanley, who died August 31st, 1852, aged 52;
Grave! the guardian of our dust
Grave, the treasuary of the skies
Every atom of thy trust
Rests in hope again to rise
Hark! the judgement trumpet calls
Soul, rebuild thy house of clay
Immortality thy walls
And eternity thy day.
For a long time Norton Fitzwarren was chosen by the gipsies as their camping place, and christenings and burials took place in the church and churchyard. On August 16th, 1879, the Rev. J. P. Hewett wrote to the Standard from Norton Fitzwarren Rectory;
On Sunday, April 16th, 1871, I publicly baptised in the Parish Church two gipsy children, son and daughter of William and Fanny Stanley. On the same day I read the Burial Service over Thomas Stanley, aged 64, who, having died in another part of the county, had been brought hither to be buried, this churchyard having been for many years past the burial place of the Stanley tribe.
At both services and on other such occasions when I have had opportunities of observing them, the gipsies, plain and neat in their dress and attire, always appeared to realise the sacred character of the occasions; they were very anxious that their children should be baptised.
A correspondent wrote in Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries for September, 1931;
It is a known fact that in addition to Norton Fitzwarren, the churches of Somerset have often been chosen by wandering Gypsies for their baptisms, marriages, and burials.
The Boswells, as well as the Stanleys claimed to be a royal family, and James Boswell, who was generally known as the King of the Gipsies, was a familiar figure in Taunton, about the middle of the last century. I have heard it said that he used to wear half-crowns on the front of his coat, and shillings as buttons on his sleeves, and that he was buried either at Bishops Hull or Norton. I believe some of the members of his family are buried in the graveyard of the Congregational Chapel, at Bishops Hull.
In the Somerset Year Book for 1922, Mrs. Deshormes wrote;
Those who journey to Yatton should not fail to visit the corner of the Churchyard locally known as the 'Gipsies Graves'. Here low mounds, each with its rather primitive headstone, mark the last caravanserai of some of the members of the Joules family - the celebrated Somersetshire gipsies.
The best known of these stones bears the following inscription;
Here lie Merily Joules
A beauty bright
Who left Isaac Joules her
Isaac Joules, died April 10, 1844, aged 70.
The late Mr. H. C. Barnard of The Grey House, Yatton, told me that in the burial register the name "Merily" is entered as "Morella". Mr. Edward Hutton says perhaps the loveliest thing in Yatton lies hidden in this epitaph.
Mr. P. E. Barnes quoted this epitaph in his 'Unbeaten Tracks of the West', where (speaking of Yatton) he said;
Here the Romany kind have come to bury their dead for generations past. The heads of the families of the royal gipsies of this district lie in the spacious churchyard here.
A famous gipsy king and queen - Harry and Dove Burton - were buried in Wincanton Churchyard, the former in 1847, and the latter in 1846. The aged couple were well known in that part of Somerset for Harry Burton was celebrated far and wide as the King of the Gipsies. Dove was his faithful partner, and they lived their Bohemian life together till they were both well over ninety years of age. Then having no home but the tent, and being too aged and infirm to continue their life of wandering up and down the country, they wisely sought the asylum of the Wincanton Union. With all the kind treatment they received there, they pined for the green lanes and the blue skies, to which they had been so long accustomed, and poor Dove passed peacefully away on February 23rd, 1846, at the age of 95.
The funeral took place on February 27th, and attracted a great concourse of spectators. The 'King' followed in the mournful procession, and a large number of faithful gipsies were present. They were respectably dressed and their behaviour was all that could be desired. They seemed to feel deeply the loss of their Queen, and they bore the whole cost of the funeral. The bereaved husband also died in the Union, and was buried in Wincanton Churchyard in the year following that in which his wife died.
I believe there is no stone to mark their last resting-place.
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Taunton Courier & Western Advertiser - Saturday, 2nd April 1938
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