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South East of England > Kent
Old Ways, New Days
A Family History of Gypsy Life in South London and Kent
By Rosie Smith and Lindsey Marsh
Gypsy woman Rosie Smith and her second cousin Lindsey Marsh, who has been researching her own Gypsy roots have written a new book looking at the history of their community in the south-east of England.
In this extract she remembers how how family were often cruelly treated by the gavvers (the police).
Back when me dad was a small boy (maybe six or seven), there was a farmer and old gavver who hated Gypsies and made it their life’s work to prosecute them. It was the farmer who would go out of his way to find where the Gypsies were stopping, then he would go get the gavver and together they would move the family involved on, but not only would the gavver move them on, but he would also kick pots of food off the yog, much to the distress of the hungry children and rip down the bender tents, or if he came in the middle of the night, come up into the wagon where they were sleeping, shouting and ripping the blankets off them. One time when he came me granddad was sitting around the yog and the gavver run there and kicked the fire so the fire brands went all over me granddad Frank and burnt him. Me granddad jumped up, even though he was in pain he had it in he’s mind to hit the gavver so rushed at the gavver, but me granny jumped in front of him and so did a couple of the older boys (me dad’s brothers), as they were holding him the gavver was tormenting me granddad saying “come on gypo hit me, then you will go down for a very long time” to which me granddad shouted back “I’d do life for you, you mothers c**t”, me granny was screaming and the chavvys was crying, and me granny was begging to me granddad to stop cus he would be took away. I’m not sure if it was me granny’s begging or the chavvys crying, but me granddad backed down and packed up and they moved on. Me granddad was burnt badly on his chest and suffered a lot of pain because of it, but in them days there was no one to go to for help and Gypsies just had to suffer whatever the gavvers dished out if they didn’t wonna go to prison, but saying all this there was the odd good gavver that would turn a blind eye to them stopping (living with their wagons) in their district, as long as ya never left no mess or caused any trouble. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I heard a story that the same gavver raped a young Gypsy girl from another Gypsy family and then went missing and was never seen again. It was rumoured among the Gypsies that the brother of the girl killed him, for you could rip down our tents, burn our chests, kick our pots of stew off the fire and get away with it, but touch our women and that’s a different matter.