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The Story Brought Up to Date

Now, in the late nineties, there are large numbers of Gypsies living in trailer caravans on council sites. Most of these sites also have a small building on each pitch containing a kitchen and toilet. These sites give security but charge high rents and forbid many of the traditional features of Gypsy culture such as the keeping of horses, open fires, the sorting of scrap metal or other traditional Traveller occupations, or even leaving the site to travel, for more than a few weeks.

There are now far fewer Gypsies illegally camped beside the roadside. A new law, the Criminal Justice Act, has brought in draconian measures against Gypsies who try to do this and has also relieved councils of their statutory duty to provide sites for Gypsies.

Many Gypsy families have moved into houses. Many others have bought plots of land on which they live in their caravans. A large number of other Gypsies have bought a plot of land and then found that the council forbid them to live on it. Most Gypsy children are now going to school.

A new phenomenon is the arrival of the ‘New Travellers’, of whom there are now thousands. They do not have Romany or Pavee blood but are Gorjios who have taken up many aspects of the traditional Gypsy way of life.

The two groups also have many differences. The traditional Travellers live in modern trailer caravans, or houses, with a few still horse-drawn or in tents. More of the New Travellers are horse-drawn but they mainly live in converted lorries and horse-boxes with some caravans and bender tents, yurts or tipis. Most of them have had a Gorjio education. They stand up for their rights and have on occasion been treated with extreme violence by the authorities. The traditional Traveller strategy is to fade into the background where possible but the New Travellers are more into confrontation and have been known to travel in convoys of over a hundred vehicles, for safety.

Traditional Travellers say that the New Travellers do not adhere to high standards of cleanliness, are drugs based rather than alcohol based, and by confronting authority rather than bending in the wind have polarised relationships between all Travellers and the Gorjio community.

Others admire the New Travellers for keeping alive some of the old traditions.

For a formerly nomadic people who have now been settled down, the great annual get-togethers are most important as a place to renew old contacts, meet relatives or find a bride.

The most prestigious of these traditional meeting places are probably now at Appleby and at Stow-on-the-Wold horse fairs. But there are other horse fairs which are also of great importance. Unfortunately strong forces are being deployed to bring these colourful events to a close.

Awakening Gypsy consciousness throughout Europe is an important new element on the Gypsy scene although most British Gypsies are probably still fairly unaware of the new European dimension to their culture and its importance for that culture’s survival.

Now, as then, a small but energetic Gypsy Council fights to achieve a better deal for Britain’s Gypsies. Their patron is nationally renowned Gypsy singer David Essex and their chairman is Charlie Smith. Their address is 8 Hall Road, Romford, Essex, RM15 4HD.


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