The Gypsy

This is one of my Fathers stories of one of those larger than life characters; One that Mother Nature “throws up” occasionally.

He was simply known as “The Gypsy”. His base was on North Kyme Common at the side of the A153. This area is now a picnic ground. He is buried in Billinghay Old Church Yard, which is unique, as it is the only consecrated ground in Lincolnshire with a Gypsy interned there and this is a very unusual occurance for gypsies to be interned on consecrated ground.

This was the nearest church to his base on North Kyme Common though most of the time he spent travelling the lanes and fens of Lincolnshire buying and selling horses.

He was buried with almost full military honours along with his expensive English shot guns, although this was in an unmarked grave. It was certainly the biggest funeral Billinghay had ever seen, with all his friends, colleagues, customers and clients there to pay their last respects. As a little boy, I thought it was a tremendous waste of shotguns! Most gypsies when they died were put in their wagons which would then be set fire too. But because this gypsy was so popular and well- loved, this was considered not good enough for him.

He was a horse dealer extraordinaire, a showman, a crack shot and above all a market maker. A contemporary of my Granddad and Great Granddad, and so well known in the fair county of Lincolnshire, he was known simply as “The Gypsy”.

This was in the days when everything was done by horse power. An eminently popular man, he was a cash buyer of horses, always paying in gold sovereigns and because of that he was invited to lots of events – especially a great deal of shoots. A crack shot was always put between two poorer shots on either side, because the shoot organiser knew that if they missed, “The Gypsy” wouldn’t. He paid more for horses than any man in the country and he was by far the biggest buyer of them.

The secret of his success was that he had the three biggest contracts. These were to supply horses for the Army, the Post Office and the Co-op. He “made” the market and what he said a horse was worth became the going rate.

He was very much “a hail well met”. A sight to see, “The Gypsy” on horseback with his sons and a string of horses tearing down one of the fenland roads. He always attended Horncastle horse fair, a four day event which was the largest in Europe, so much so that it took 29 pubs to furnish the punters with liquid refreshment!

He never went until mid-morning on the second day of the fair and would arrive at full gallop with at least 70 horses. The big estates sent their surplus horses to Horncastle with the provision that they were not to be sold until “The Gypsy” arrived. He lived for his horse dealing and shooting; made a fortune and was generous with it. He was a good living and God fearing man, but when he was 55 he started with a cough and could not swallow very well. He went to the local Billinghay Doctor who said to him:-

“Gypsy, you can afford the best medical attention science has to offer”.

So, he put him on a train and sent him to Harley Street, London.

“The Gypsy” had never met a Harley Street specialist before and the Harley Street Consultant had never treated a gypsy before, but they got on like a “house on fire”!

After about a couple of hours of talking and examining the Gypsy said:-

“Well Doctor, what’s the verdict”?

The Doctor would not look him in the eye, but told him to go home and put his affairs in order. When it had sunk in what he was saying the Gypsy dropped to his knees in front of the Doctor and fervently thanked God for the blessings of his life, his Wife, his Sons, horses, dealings, friends and good fortune, and last but not least his shooting. He had only one request; that he would live long enough to enjoy another shooting season.

God was gracious, and he did.

The Chronicles of the Tonge Family


  • Northborough
  • Braceborough
  • Billingborough
  • Garrick
  • Walcott
  • Lynwood
  • Washingborough
  • West Lode
  • Hammond Beck