Local Story > Berkshire
Moving on, but Proudly Staying Put
Berkshire’s Gypsy and Traveller community
Let’s be honest. To most people, the word Gypsy conjures up an image of wandering carefree people at best, or shifty immoral and dangerous people at worst.
But 500 years after Romany Gypsies first appeared in southern England these pictures prove that Gypsies and Travellers remain a strong if often hidden part of Berkshire. They are an inside view of a culture that is largely forgotten and invisible when it lives in harmony with its surroundings, but is often very badly represented when it doesn’t.
These snapshots of Gypsy and Traveller life reveal that while times have changed many things have stayed the same, proving that the only real hallmark of a traditionally nomadic culture is to move with the times. The black and white photographs reveal a culture that is close to the land, hardworking and family oriented. But while few of us now live in large family groups in bender tents, or pick hops for a living, the more recent photographs demonstrate that most Gypsies and Travellers cling tightly to our close relationship with the land, to movement and to each other.
The colour photographs of a modern roadside encampment and the inside of a modern Gypsy caravan reveal many things. Among them a stubborn refusal to abandon our ancestral way of life, but also the chintz and colour that once adorned colourful horse drawn wagons. The chrome caravan and voluptuous curtains say that an English Gypsy man’s home has always been his mobile castle.
The rows of dead rabbits and boys with the dogs that caught them may be offensive to those who eat no meat, but they are trophies to the boys themselves. Their catch is lean, green and not wanted by the average teen (or farmer!). Their sport has fed their families as their forefathers once did at a time when many children don’t even recognize good food, let alone possess the skill to go out and catch it.
The boxing photographs show that while our culture has always been around, it has also always needed to be defended. The need to stand squarely on your own two feet is drummed into every Gypsy child. British amateur boxing has long heavily relied upon English Gypsy boxing talent.
Then there is love. Gypsy weddings once started when a young couple “jumped the broomstick” and eloped from a hedgerow or horsefair. Nowadays, the weddings are far bigger, grander and more expensive than they used to be, reflecting the greater wealth there is in the community. But as ever the love for the families it creates remains and endures. These pictures prove that the Gypsies of Berkshire are moving on, but are proudly staying put.
Photographs used with kind permission of the James family.