CFHS code : PL264

Parish : St Paul

Inscription : In Loving Memory of ELIZA the beloved wife of Gypsy EZEKIEL SMITH who departed to be with the Lord April 12 1924 Gypsy EZEKIEL SMITH d Sept 25 1945 aged 89 he walked with God

Monument : Kerb stones

Above information from Cambridge Family History Society Survey



Eliza Smith (née Shaw) (c.1858 – 12 April 1924)

Eliza was born in Stratford in Essex, it is believed that she was a Romany gypsy, like her husband Ezekiel. They married in 1878 having been childhood sweethearts.  Eliza and Ezekiel had five children: Matilda (1879-), Elias (1881-1973), Ezekiel (1883-), Sophia Elizabeth (1884-) and Cornelius Lewis (1886-1965).  For the early years of their married life they lived a romany-life and in 1881 were living in a gypsy caravan in Wanstead.  Ezekiel was working as a tinman (a tinker selling/repairing items) and Eliza was working as a hawker.  The five children were born in different locations – Essex, Northampton and Norwich, which suggests that they moved around the country.

By 1891 the family had settled in Cambridge, and the census of that year shows them living at Malta Road, and Ezekiel working as a bricklayer.  They later moved to St Philip’s Road (at least 1901 onwards) and Ezekiel combined being a bricklayer with preaching.   Eliza died in 1924 aged around 66 years old.

Ezekiel Smith (18 June 1856 – 25 September 1945)

Ezekiel was born in a gypsy tent in Baldock.  He was the eldest son of Cornelius and Mary (née Welch) Smith.  Cornelius worked making baskets, clothes pegs, tin items and re-caning the bottoms of cane chairs – skills passed down from gypsy ancestors.  Ezekiel and his five siblings travelled throughout Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire with their parents.  In 1865 both Ezekiel and his eldest sister caught small-pox, and although they both recovered their mother Mary died of the disease.  The death of his wife was a major catalyst for Cornelius Smith – he became a reformed character and became deeply religious.  His two brothers also converted, and the three of them stopped travelling and became preachers.  Ezekiel and his brother Rodney also became preachers.  Rodney went by the name of Gypsy Smith and found world wide fame for his unique and passionate way of preaching the gospel.  He did several tours of America and drew crowds of thousands to hear him. He was a celebrity of the time, and newspapers of the time are full of reports of his sell-out events.

Ezekiel on right hand side, with Eliza centre

Ezekiel settled in Cambridge, although he appears to have given up his romany life reluctantly.  His brother Rodney noted in his autobiography ‘my brother Ezekiel works on the railway at Cambridge and is a leading spirit of of the Railway Mission there.  He was the last of the family to leave the gypsy tent and he did it after a deal of perusasion and with great reluctance. My father and I on visiting Cambridge got him to take up his quarters in a nice little cottage there.  When I returned to the town some months later and sought him in his cottage, I found that he was not there and that he had gone back to his tent. ‘Whatever made you leave the cottage Ezekiel?’ I asked. ‘It was so cold’ he replied’.

Ezekiel preached extensively locally, rather than on the national/international scale that his brother Rodney did.  He preached with his father and brother on many occasions. In May 1906 he visited Ipswich which was reported in the Cambridge Independent Press ‘there was a crowed attendance at the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Class ….the address was given by Gypsy Ezekiel Smith, brother of the well-known evangelist.  The Gypsy also sang solos.  The address was of a very telling character – full of ancedotes – and was very much appreciated by the crowded congregation’.

After being widowed Ezekiel continued to live at St Philip’s Road, but died at Mill Road Infirmary aged 89 years old.



Newspaper archives

Gypsy Smith – his life and work by Rodney Gypsy Smith

by Claire Martinsen

Many thanks to CS, descendant of Cornelius Smith for the family photo.

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Eliza Smith; Ezekiel Smith