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The Gypsy Shaw Family

Some account of the "Shaws", a noted gipsey (sic) family of Cambridgeshire. The historian, George Nathan Maynard, wrote about the Shaw family from Cambridgeshire in the 1860's and this is a transcript.

Moses Shaw - This man was a chief among that strange commonwealth of wanderers called Gipsey's (sic), and of a tribe of them that infected this part of the country (Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire).  He was a descendant as appears of Old Moses Shaw - see the accompanying document by which it appears that one of his children was born in the parish of Whittlesford, during his itinerancy (both Esther and Jasper were born in Whittlesford in 1779 and 1781 respectively)

He was looked upon by his tribe of adherants as a reliable and wealthy man.  In token of his worldly substance, he prided himself in wearing upon his garments large and massive silver buttons, to the admiration of all his followers.  His professed occupation was seive making and rat catching; but playing upon the violin at feasts and fairs; this latter being more lucrative he preferred; and on our annual feast - the 12th June, at the time he lived was not considered complete without his able display of his abilities upon the violin that universal accompaniment for the lads and lasses of the dancing booth. 

And I have no doubt but that himself and his tribe managed to make a very lucrative calling when these festivals were more countenanced than they now are.

His wife "Old Mimy Shaw", as she was called, was a strange character.  While her husband Moses was engaged with his violin in his booth among the merry and noisy dancers - the principal accomplishment of which dancing consisted in drowning what little harmony the violin produced by the noise and uproar made by their heavy nailed boots - Old Mimy, the wife, was occupied with her stall, selling her small wares and her gingerbread to the young folks of the feast; or opening the mysteries of the future to the wondering damsels with their "lucky eyes", that might be induced to "cross" her hand with the "charm of a small piece of silver", assuring them, through the all powerful influence of this silver charm, that a young gentleman of fortune with dark complexion was deeply in love with them, and that a repetition of such a charm would influence the planets to reveal to her the period of their marriage; the prospect of which revelation would be sure to induce her second investment from the credulous victim: but the principle or main calling of this old lady consisted of a lottery bag.  Upon this part of her institution she used all her persuasive eloquence to entice the visitors of the feast to invest their coppers and, at the same time, assuring them that this wonderful lottery bag contained "all prizes and no blanks".  I think I see her now, with her ancient visage and dark olive complexion of the true gipsey cast, surrounded by her wares, calling at the top of her harsh cracked voice, "Now my little dear's, come and try your luck.  Faint heart never won a fair lady" and, again "all prizes and no blanks. Ah !! My dear young lady, you have a lovely face.  A prize is waiting for you !" and, with other such assurances, she would tempt the wondering spectators to invest their coppers.  This done, the wonderful lucky bag was produced, and into which the unsuspecting victim's dived their hands and drew forth a slip of paper upon which there was inscribed something in hyrogliphics understood by no-one other than the person who wrote it and, most probably, that was herself.  And consequently the holder of the ticket handed it over for her to read, and I need not say, the old lady would translate it as best suited her end, perhaps the prize would be a gold breast pin, value one fourth the investment, or at the most it might be a pennyworth of gingerbread.  Sometimes the spectator would be induced to return the prize, with half the so-called value of investment and try their luck again with about the same result; and at the end that they had paid about six times the value for the article they had become possessed of.

(ADDENDUM - my further attitudes to her thus in his diary "old Mother Shaw, I have known this old woman ever since I can remember - she always used to stand in our feast when I was a child with a lucky bag".

This old lady betrayed a great veneration for her children and especially one of her sons, a fine brave fellow upwards of six foot high was a private in the "Guards" and fought under Wellington against the French at the battle of Waterloo in which engagement he was killed, but not before he had displayed some acts of great bravery.  This old lady used to carry with her some parts of the garments that he wore at his death, and took great pride in showing them, at the same time remarking that "she should keep them in remembrance of her son as long as she lived and at her death she hoped to be buried in them."  But whether her wish was carried out, I am unable to say. 

A writer says "amongst the slain on the sanguinary field of Waterloo was Shaw, the Life-guardsman; he was a native of Wollaton near Nottingham.  This man's name and exploits are known almost universally." 

An eminent tourist remarks "At La Haye Saint, I saw the grave of Shaw, the Life-guardsman, who with his single arm, destroyed eight of the enemy. The guide informed me that he beheld the body of this brave soldier after the breath was out of it and was struck with the muscular development and appearance of vast strength which it exhibited.  His heart was as big and as strong as his body.  He rushed headlong into the hostile masses, and woe to the man who had the temerity to measure swords with him.  Before him fell the curiassurs (?) like children; he laughed at their defensive armour. their breast plates of steel, their helmets of brass.  In the battle he received no wound of any consequence, but died from the loss of blood occasioned by a multitude of small ones.  He was several times commanded by his officers to retire and have his wounds dressed but preferring glory to safety he neglected the advice and continued fighting until he bled to death.  Had this gallant soldier been in the French Army and survived the scene of his exploits he would have risen to the rank of a General; had he lived at the time of the Crusades he would have proved a second Richard or Rinaldo. 

Shaw's talents were not confined to the sword; he was a tremendous pugilist, fought several times in the ring and never was beaten.  Such was the great confidence he possessed himself that he challenged all England at a time when the ring was in its high and palmy state, nor from what was known of his capabilities was it doubted that he would have proved at least an equal match for any man who could have been brought against him.  Peace to the name of Corporal Shaw! "

What relation this Shaw was to the Moses Shaw alluded to in the following manuscript (see right) I am unable to determine but I believe him to be the son of this Moses who as will be seen had one of his children in 1779 born in the parish of Whittlesford.  At which time it was the business of the overseer of the parish to lay the information before the magistrate of the district so that ultimately a proper settlement can be made for this daughter of Moses Shaw.  He and his wife were both natives of Stotfold in Bedfordshire; he professing the trade of a sieve maker and rat catcher.  In the parish register of Whittlesford in the following entry "AD 1779 his Esther Shaw, the daughter of Moses Shaw and Susannah, his wife, travellers - inhabitants of Stotfold in Bedfordshire and was married in the parish church of Hornsea, Middlesex - baptized the 13th of June 1779."                           




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