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Who Touched the World!
By Mary Ray
G ipsy and Tilly knocked on the doors and asked the people
if they knew which one was Mother’s grave. The grave was
pointed out to them, and they stood over it, weeping for a long
time. Groby is a nice quiet village on the outskirts of the city of Leicester in
England. My husband and I lived there for five years and consider it a
special time in our lives. The houses in the village and the surrounding
area were neat and tidy, and the gardens (as the British call their yards) were
well kept. Because of the cool, wet summers, the grass was always green,
and the flowers bloomed beautifully throughout the summer months. The
people were reserved but always kind and polite.
About three or four times a year something happened that seemed to
disrupt the peaceful flow of the village. THE GYPSIES ARRIVED. There
was a huge open field a short distance from our house, and it proved to
be the perfect place for them to call “home” for a few weeks. They set up
“camp” overnight and by morning, the once open field was full of caravans.
There was no running water, no electricity, and
no sanitation facilities. With the frequent rainfall
in England, the “camp” soon became a very
unpleasant sight. Most private landowners knew
that by the time they could obtain an eviction
notice, the travelers would have moved on to
In spite of the unpleasantness of the “Gypsy
Camp,” I could not look on the Gypsies with
contempt as some of our neighbors did because I
knew that they were souls for whom Christ died.
Also, I knew the story of Gipsy Smith.
Rodney (Gipsy) Smith was born March
31, 1860, in Epping Forest near London. His
10 MARY RAY
birthplace was not a hospital, a
clinic, or a house but a Gypsy tent
because his parents Cornelius Smith
and Mary Polly Welch Smith were
Gypsies. Even though the Gypsies
were not religious and knew little
about God and the Bible, they had
their children christened because
at the christening their births were
registered at the parish church.
Cornelius Smith supported his
family by making baskets, clothes
pegs, and tin ware and by repairing
cane chairs. Gipsy reported that
before his father’s conversion he
“found” the willows for the baskets
and the wood for the clothes pegs.
He said, “Gypsies only buy what
they cannot ‘find.’” 1
The Gypsy women and children
sold what the men made, but the
women also were fortune tellers.
In his autobiography Gipsy Smith
Gypsy Smith, An Autobiography. (Belfast,
Ireland: Ambassador Productions, 1901). 23.
While they were traveling in Hertfordshire, Gipsy’s
sister became ill. His father quickly headed for the
nearest town to find a doctor. Gipsy wrote, “The
doctor mounted the steps of the wagon and leaning
over the door called my sister to him and examined
her. He did not enter our poor wagon. We were only
Gypsies.” 4 The doctor informed Cornelius that his
daughter had small pox and that they had to leave
town immediately. He sent them to Norton Lane,
which was about one and a half miles away. The father
left his wife and four children in the tent while he took
wrote, “The Gypsies themselves do not believe this; they the sick child to the wagon to care for her. Within a
know that fortune-telling is a mere cheat, but they are not short time, another child had small pox, so now there
averse to making profit out of the folly and superstition of were two patients to care for.
gorgios.” 2 Gorgios is what Gypsies called people who were
olly prepared food and put it on the ground
between the tent and the wagon. Her husband
A s Gypsies, the Smith family was always on the move.
They traveled in the counties of Essex, Suffolk,
Norfolk, Cambridge, Bedford, and Hertford. Gipsy said, “I
had no education and no knowledge of Gorgio civilization,
and I grew up as wild as the birds, frolicsome as the lambs
and as difficult to catch as the rabbits. All the grasses and
collected it and took it to the sick children. Polly’s
heart was breaking for her children. She feared that
they would die and she would not even be with them.
Every day when she delivered the food, she got a little
closer to the wagon until one day she came too close,
and she became sick. The doctor told Cornelius the
Albert Anker’s “Fortune Teller” via Wikimedia Commons
The gypsy caravan, by Thomas Corsan Morton, 1904. Public Domain
flowers and trees of the field and all living things were
my friends and companions.” 3