This GRTHM website supported GRTHM between 2008 and 2011. It is no longer maintained and is hosted by the National Association of Teachers of Travellers and Other Professionals (NATT+) for interest only. Some out-of-date has been removed, but be aware that remaining pages may reference old events.

Act of Compassion

Not all legislation has been designed to wipe out Gypsies and Travellers. Forty years ago, the Caravan Sites Act made sites for Gypsies a legal duty. Damian Le Bas meets the man behind it, the campaigning Lord Avebury.

An eviction in the 1960s

An eviction in Birmingham in the 1960s

In Britain, like the rest of Europe, laws affecting Travellers have almost always been designed to destroy their way of life.

In the 20th Century it can sometimes look like not much has changed. But we should also remember the people who have fought for Gypsies and Travellers. Eric Lubbock was MP for Orpington in Kent in the 1960s. Life was hard for Travellers then, but Eric Lubbock worked tirelessly to help Travellers help themselves.

In the mid-1960s there were only ten council sites in the whole country. You could only live in a caravan, even on private land, if you held a site license. This meant that only 4% of Gypsies and Travellers had somewhere legal to stop. Violent evictions, which even led to the death of Gypsy and Traveller children, were resisted by Gypsy and Traveller families. It led to the formation of Gypsy and Traveller civil rights groups like the Gypsy Council, but it was Eric Lubbock who fought to change the law.

Lord Avebury at the launch of the National and Regional poster Competition, part of last year's GRTHMRight: Lord Avebury at the Launch of the National and Regional poster competition for GRTHM. Here he is in discussion with Delaine Le Bas

His work paid off in 1968, when the Caravan Sites Act came into force. For the first time in British history, local councils had to provide sites for Gypsies and Travellers.

“In 1968, I introduced a law to prevent Gypsies and Travellers from being evicted from their sites and to compel authorities to build sites for Gypsies and Travellers,” says Eric.

But two years later he lost his seat in parliament.

“In 1962 the wise, far-seeing people of Orpington elected me as their Member; in 1970 the fools threw me out”. Says Eric.

A year later his cousin died and he succeeded to the peerage, becoming Lord Avebury. And he’s used the past 37 years he has been the House of Lords to support Gypsies and Travellers. But his great work was scrapped by the Conservatives in 1994 as part of the Criminal Justice Act. This has meant that for a lot of Gypsies and Travellers things are as bad today as they were in the early 1960s. But Lord Avebury is still campaigning for human rights today. He has supported Gypsy History Month from the beginning and is still dedicated to improving life for Gypsies and Travellers in Britain.

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