AN UNUSUAL biography has been published telling the story of Dorset's Catherine Grey, who was born the daughter of a gypsy and became a countess.

The Gypsy Countess by Anne-Marie Ford, tells how Catherine was born as the daughter of a gypsy, Jemima Fletcher, and an agricultural labourer, Henry Cox, in 1826, in Sturminster Marshall, near Blandford.

She was fortunate in being educated at a local charity school until she was 15, an exceptional opportunity for a girl from an impoverished background during the first half of the nineteenth century. It was to be merely the beginning.

At the age of 20, Catherine, determined to lift her family out of poverty, went to London, obtaining a job at a riding school off Oxford Street, run by the famous jockey, Jem Mason.

Here she learnt the skills of handling horses and performing tricks, before finding herself employment as an equestrienne, together with her sisters Susan and Mary, at the renowned Astley’s Amphitheatre, frequented by the aristocracy.

The sisters performed as Kitty, Sukey and Polly Fleming, and moved amongst the social elite of the day. Catherine arranged for lessons for herself, her sisters, and her niece, in reading, writing, French, music and drawing, in order to prepare all of them for advantageous marriages; it was a plan that was to be something of a success.

Catherine would eventually marry one of the richest young men in England, George Harry Grey, the Earl of Stamford and Warrington and became the Countess of Stamford and Warrington.

Her amazing and adventurous life is a fascinating and utterly compelling story.

*The Gypsy Countess by Anne-Marie Ford is published by the Romany & Traveller Family History Society, 2018