Born in 1854, Esmeralda Lock was Noah and Delaia’s most vivacious and beautiful daughter. In Shropshire the family regularly pitched their tents on the banks of the Severn at Bridgnorth on property owned by local solicitor Hubert Smith, who was the Town Clerk of Bridgnorth between 1873 and 1887
The Locks were remembered as being good musicians and playing violins whilst dressed in top hats. At 16 years old Esmeralda and her brothers Noah and Zachariah were invited by Smith to spend the summers with him in Norway. Subsequently, he published a book, Tent Life with English Gypsies in Norway, in which dark-eyed Esmeralda danced across the white page.
Smith was in his fifties at the time and became infatuated by Esmeralda. She didn’t feel the same, but gave in to pressure and married him in 1874.
They lived in St Leonard Close, over looking the church, the house still exists today known as the Mundens.
Esmeralda didn’t give up her footloose life easily. She tried running away from her husband but was returned by her father; another time she made her escape by knocking Smith out with a silver candlestick.
Salvation arrived in a visit from Francis Hindes Groome, a young scholar interested in Gypsies with whom Esmeralda fell in love. When Groome left, she told her husband that she was bewitched and must see a gozvalo gajo (wise man). But the wise man was Groome, and the lovers were reunited in Bristol. Eventually, they ran away to Germany, where Groome worked as a translator whilst Esmeralda sang and danced. On returning to England, she found similar work in London theatres. Then Groome moved up to work in Edinburgh, and Esmeralda went with him.
Hubert Smith filed for divorce but attempted one last reconciliation. He met with his wife at an hotel in Scotland, and they spent the night together. In the morning she declared a desperate dream foretelling her lover’s suicide unless she said a final goodbye. Smith agreed to her going to see Groome for two hours. Esmeralda went … and never returned.
After a sensational divorce case, the lovers married and settled down. Gradually, they made their way into literary and artistic circles, and pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti portrayed Esmeralda as one of his erotic idealised women, a dancing gypsy girl and most famously as Victor Hugos Esmeralda.
Esmeralda often returned to travel with her parents, and her wayward spirit became too much for Groome. The couple separated. A few years before he died in 1902, Groome wrote to her: “We must never meet again on this side of the grave”, and they never did.
After travelling around Cheshire and North Wales in a green and yellow caravan, Esmeralda finally drew up at Prestatyn during the First World War. She remained there for the rest of her life, the centre of much attention, until she was felled by a bus in 1939 and duly buried in Rhyl.
There are a number of books referring to Esmeralda including “The Scholar Gypsy” by Anthony Sampson, published by John Murray, and “Songs From The Roadside” by Jeremy Sandford, published by The Redlake Press.