Plenty of oral information has been forthcoming from descendants of the Black Patch community but very little written evidence. The latest arrived in 2011 from a reporter attached to a national newspaper. It came with the discovery of a letter written by a Romany Gypsy, who was born on the Black Patch, addressed to Charlie Chaplin in 1970. Jack Hill the letter writer stated “you were born in a caravan so was I. It was a good one it belonged to the gipsy Queen who was my auntie you was born on the Black Patch in Smethwick near B’ham so was I ... Charlie this is not someone trying to blackmail or extort money from you I have no use for money I think I am the only one alive who can tell you what you have been wondering about for so many years ...” The letter containing Jack Hills Tamworh address and phone number went on detailing how he found out about Charlie Chaplin’s birth and other family details. After Charlie Chaplins death and later his wife Oona in 1991 one of their daughters Victoria inherited the bureau that belonged to Charlie Chaplin. One draw in the bureau was locked and a locksmith was called to open it revealing the letter from Jack Hill. Speculation why Charlie had kept this letter will go on for ever. Charlie was born 1889 but there is no known birth certificate recording the birth, registering births of gypsy children was of low priority. Charlie’s mother was Hannah Hill a music hall singer she belonged to a travelling family. Census evidence recorded a family named Hill were on the Black Patch at this time. Was Hannah visiting relatives on the Black Patch prior to Charlie’s birth? Did the Hills live in a tent and the generosity of the Queen allow her caravan to be the birth place? Speculation abounds.
ROMANY ROUTES www.rtfhs.org.uk wrote
Charlie Chaplin’s link with the park emerged in 1991 after his daughter found a secret letter in his desk. Written by a man called Jack Hill, from Tamworth, the note called Chaplin a “littler liar” for claiming in his autobiography that he was born in London in 1889. The letter stated that Chaplin was born in a caravan belonging to a Gypsy on Black Patch. The fact that Chaplin had kept this letter locked away, and that he did not destroy it showed that it was important to him. Mr Hill said he was also born on the Black Patch, two years after Chaplin, and that he was the only man alive who knew of his true roots. Because Mr Hill did not threaten to reveal Chaplin's Gypsy links or try to blackmail him suggests that he was telling the truth. There was a family with the name Hill camping on Black Patch on the night of the 1901 Census. Chaplin’s mother was Hannah Harriet Hill, the daughter of Charles Hill and Mary Ann Smith. Hannah married Charles Chaplin, a professional singer, on 22 June 1885 in St John’s Church, Walworth.
Michael Chaplin has shown great interest in the stories about his father hailing from the Black Country and said it was a great honour to be invited by the Birmingham Romany Memorial Review group. He flew in from his home in the south of France especially for the unveiling ceremony. His father often said he was a Gypsy and it was known that his maternal grandmother was a Gypsy. Although no documentary evidence has been found Michael thought that it was very likely that his father was born there.
Photos from Michael Chaplin's first visit to the Black Patch to discover more about the letter 12/07/2011.
EDDIE ELLIS, Mrs CHAPLIN, MATHEW STREET(REPORTER), MICHAEL CHAPLIN
AND GERRY (Jack Hill's grandson) 12/07/2011
MICHAEL AND HIS WIFE IN THE GARDEN AT THE SOHO FOUNDRY TAVERN
JACK HILL'S DAUGHTER IN THE WHEELCHAIR IN BLACK PATCH PARK
MICHAEL CHAPLIN ON THE BRIDGE IN BLACK PATCH PARK, 12/07/2011