by Louise Fiske
The Norwood gypsies lived in the area now known as Gypsy Hill. So famous were they that a pantomime called ‘The Norwood Gypsies’ was staged in Covent Garden in 1777. The most famous of the gypsies was Margaret Finch [d.1740]. A report published a few years after her death states that the ‘oddness of her figure and ye fame of her fortune-telling drew a vast concourse of spectators from ye highest rank of quality, even to those of ye lower class of life’. She lived in a conical hut built of branches, at the base of an ancient tree, and it was there that great numbers of people visited her.
The New Norwood Gipsy includes many ways to tell the future, least which is revealing a future husband! A “Dumb Cake” was a traditional way to find the name of your true love, and required more than one hand to do it~
Miss Arabella Whimsey recalled in the ‘Leeds Mercury’ (Thursday 29 September 1870); “I shall never forget what I did last Midsummer-eve. I and my two sisters tried the dumb-cake together: you must know, two must make it, two bake it, two break it, and the third put it under each of their pillows, but you must not speak a word all the time, then you will dream of the man you are to have. This we did; and to be sure I did nothing all night but dream of Mr. Blossom. The same night, exactly at twelve o’ clock, I sowed hemp-seed in our backyard, and said to myself: “Hemp-seed I sow, hemp-seed I lies, and he that is my true love come after me and mow!” Will you believe me? I looked back and saw him behind me, as plain as eyes could see him.”