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Romany Gypsy Heritage

The British Romany Traveller Heritage

Presented in Songs and in Other Ways

in Schools

The Project:

To bring charismatic members of the Romany Gypsy community into schools so that pupils (and their teachers) can learn the value and importance of the Gypsy heritage to all of us in general and to Gypsies in particular. Their importance is of course especially to be noted in rural areas, where they have played so great a part in the agricultural economy.

The bulk of the presentation will consist of: Romany Songs and Music.

Romany songs in English, Anglo Romany or full Romany are a special repository of Gypsy history and life experience - and great to listen to and join in.

We also may well present Step Dancing, the Fiddle, the Bones, the Spoons:

Not exclusively Gypsy but they have made these things very much their own.

Romany Gypsy Songs

Jeremy Sandford

Herefordshire author (Cathy Come Home; Edna, the Inebriate Woman; Gypsies),

will perform Gypsy music on accordion and Irish whistle, setting the scene and presenting the performers.

Our Gypsies in Live Performance

may include:

Ted Atkinson

Wheelwright, founder of the Gypsy Museum at Axbridge, traditional Gypsy singer and genial host of many Gypsy sing-songs.


Ted can also bring a traditional Romany horsedrawn waggon in which he lives, and sets up a Romany Gypsy camp fire sing-song.

Wisdom (Wiggy) Smith

One of our own local Romany Gypsy singers from the great

Herefordshire/Gloucester Romany Smith family and one of the best

Mark O’Gallaidh

Of Irish Traditional Traveller (pavee) stock,

Vocalist, popular player on bones, bodhran, Irish whistle, at Stow Fair and many other Gypsy gatherings and weddings.

As required, our presentation can also include the following extra dimensions:

Old Anecdotes and Stories from the Old Days:

[possibly] Slides showing the Horsedrawn Tradition, from Ted’s Collection:

Romany Gypsy Moral Values:

Strong belief in traditional family values. The extended family. That girls should be virgins when they marry. Marriage is for life.

The Romany Language:

Not much spoken in Britain in its fully inflected form, it remains as Anglo Romani, English sentence structure with a liberal use of Romany words - “Mandy went to Poove the Grai, All along the Parni side” - and is a crucial aspect of Romany identity.


Where do Romanies come from? Of all the arrivals of folk from the East, they are perhaps the most mysterious.

The European and Worldwide Dimension:

Further information:

Jeremy Sandford, Hatfield Court, nr Leominster, HR6 0SD.

Phone: 01568 760333.


In the headlong speed of changing lifestyles of the twentieth century, few have travelled further than our Romany Gypsy population.

Unlike their counterparts in Eastern Europe (where communism put an end to all that), most of our Romany Gypsies over 40 do not read or write. The Gypsy students at our schools are the first generation whose culture and records will be written rather than remembered.

Experience of other cultures which have made this transition from oral to written shows that it is a crucial, and also inspiring, moment in the history of any people. Bringing many benefits, the transition will also result in the stored wisdom, song and myth of ages being lost if it is not recorded. Education, previously in the hands of Grandparents, is now imparted in schools. The non Gypsy culture can be to a degree taken for granted because it has for centuries been recorded. Not so the Romany culture which is in danger of being lost.

Our schools have a major responsibility to see that the Romany Gypsy traditions, so important a strand in the history of any rural area, should be honoured, recorded and taught to pupils.

Easily within living memory the great West Midland Gypsy families - the Smiths, Lockes, Johns, Whattons - whose direct descendants live all around us - were still living in tents and horsedrawn ‘vardas’.

Most Romany people over 50 were born in a tent because of the belief that such a birth gave you a better start in life, so that even if the family owned a varda, the mother would move into a tent to have her baby.

It is crucial that schools should be aware that they have taken over the role of the grandparents in Gypsy children’s education. As a result of going to school, many Gypsy children no longer honour their grandparents, the old stories, songs, and moral taboos, because grandparents appear old-fashioned and illiterate, at variance with the housedweller standards presented as the norm in schools.

It is crucial that Romany Gypsies with a charismatic approach, in touch with the old traditions, be asked into schools, especially those with a proportion of Gypsy students so that students can learn that the Gypsy traditions are important and worthy of honour, an important part of all our heritage which must not be allowed to fade from recollection.

[In parenthesis, I could mention that there are Europe financed schemes for students to make their own oral records. These must involve three countries and I have contacts in Hungary, Republic of Ireland, England or Scotland which could be used to activate these.]


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