Ordinary Stories: Granny Boswell ‘The Romani Queen’
At The Maker, we are always fascinated by so-called ‘ordinary’ stories. The tales and experiences of local people who do not make the news and do not become fodder for blockbuster films are our favourites to hear and to read. To celebrate these stories, then, we’d like to share some ‘ordinary’ people’s histories from our own native Cornwall. We wanted to focus on Ann Boswell, more lovingly known as ‘Granny Boswell,’ who hailed from Helston, Cornwall.
Of Romani descent, Granny Boswell was born in Ireland. Here, she married Ephraim Boswell, the known ‘King of the Gypsies.’ The pair emigrated to Helston together in the 1960s. They had six children together, and were said to have been happy. Ephraim worked as a labourer, cane worker and cabinet maker, and Granny Boswell made her money through more mysterious means. Gaining a reputation as a wise woman and healer, she would sell healing charms, tell young girls their fortunes and heal sick cattle. She was famously known for prescribing a bag of blag spiders on a patient’s bedpost to heal certain ailments.
Often pictured smoking on her pipe, Granny Boswell was known for her feisty nature, despite her 5’1” stature. She was even imprisoned for 3 years due to her status as a drunk. When placed in the workhouse for her drinking habits when she was 96, Granny Boswell passed away. She was buried in the Tregerest Methodist Chapel where her funeral was widely attended by members of the Romani community, with people camping either side of the road in preparation
for her funeral.
One story I found online about Granny Boswell was extremely amusing. In 1906, she was leaving a pub in Helston town when a car came hurtling down the Highstreet. This likely being the first car the woman ever saw, she was fascinated. She stepped out onto the street to look. The driver, angry at her interference, sounded his horn. Granny was furious, raining abuse down onto the man and the car, vowing they would not make it out of Helston. The car ended up breaking down before it even reached the end of the road, needing to be towed.
The Boswells have in recent history been featured on the hit TV series Peaky Blinders, depicting the family as the larger-than-life travelling family that they were, showing how their legacy lives on into our culture today. By learning about the lives of everyday people such as Granny Boswell, we complicate our understanding of local heritage and how people experienced the past. Granny’s Boswell’s legacy helps us identify the voices of certain communities that are rarely present in the historical record. Narratives of women and especially of Romani peoples are a rarity within archives, so by analysing specific microhistories, such as the experiences of Granny Boswell, we can start unpicking what life was like for real people across history.
Written by The Maker’s digital intern, Anna Craig