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Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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   Inside Out - North West: Monday February 28, 2005


Sarah Petulengro reading a palm
Sarah has worked on the North Pier for over 20 years

It should come as no surprise to fortune tellers who possess the gift of foresight, that more than 40 years after their arrival in Blackpool, the Petulengro Gypsies are still predicting the future for hundreds of holidaymakers.

Inside Out crosses Sarah Petulengros' palm with silver to find out what lies in store for the next generation of Romany fortune tellers.

Sarah has been telling fortunes on Blackpool's North pier for the last 20 years.

She's following a strong family tradition, like her mother, grandmother and great grandmother before her - reading palms is how she makes her living.

"I inherited the gift of clairvoyancy, it's been passed down 100 years," explains Sarah.

"Everyone has clairvoyancy in them, it's just realising you've got it and understanding it."


Like other Romany families, the Petulengros originally came from Egypt.

Sarah Petulengro
"Everyone has clairvoyancy in them, it's just realising you've got it and understanding it."
Sarah Petulengro

Is it thought that this is where the name Gypsy originated - Egyptians was shortened to 'gyptians which eventually became Gypsies.

Petulengros means blacksmith and they are seen as Romany royalty.

Their gift for fortune telling stems many generations when they would travel the country in bow top wagons, erecting willow tents on common land.

This nomadic way of life still exists for thousands of Gypsies today.

"They're used to the open space," explains Sarah.

"Some people can't understand that, but when it's been born and bred into you it's something you're used to - it's a very simple way of life."

Romany Gypsies

Romanies come with a rich cultural heritage, and with a language of their own.

The language stems from Sanskrit, an Indian language spoken on the Indian subcontinent in the 9th Century.

Anglo-Roma Gypsies are now recognised as an ethnic minority under the Race Relations Act.

The traveller identity centres on the nomadic lifestyle, living on traveller sites around the country.

Traditionally, Gypsies worked at seasonal farm work, picking fruit, flowers or hops.

They also worked as knife-sharpeners, pot-menders and basket-makers.

Blackpool Tower and donkeys
The Petulengros are as much a part of Blackpool as the tower

They followed a well-established route, returning at regular intervals depending on the kind of service they provided.

Blackpool is home

In the 1960s, changes in the law made it harder for Romanies to gain access to sites and the Petulengros made Blackpool their permanent home.

Although Sarah was born in a caravan, the family soon moved into a house.

"When I got the house I didn't like it to start off with because you feel like you've brick walls around you and you can't see, whereas in a caravan the windows are all around," she says.

"So the first thing we did was to take out the little windows and put great big windows in and we put all the rooms into one so it was like the plan of a caravan.

"I think it's what's in your blood, it wouldn't suit me to have a living room separate."

Home schooling

Sarah and daughter Julie in the  kitchen
Sarah's children are all home-schooled from the age of 11

Sarah's four children are home schooled from the age of 11.

Alongside their academic studies, which includes all National Curriculum subjects, the children receive a Romany education.

"They don't go to secondary school because when they get to that age that's when we take them travelling," explains Sarah.

"They miss a lot of schoolwork anyway, but they need to learn our way of life - how they earn a living the Romany way.

"I've done it with Sarah Jane and William and they've done well. I think it's really important that they're educated in this day and age."

One element of Romany education centres on teaching the girls palmistry and fortune telling.

When she is 16 Julie will follow in her ancestors' footsteps, working in the booths that both her grandmother and great grandmother worked in.

To gain valuable experience and help perfect her art, Julie will spend the next two years observing her mum at work.

"Through experience you can give advice, you hear people's problems," says Sarah.

While fortune telling will be the girls' destiny, William's future lies in music.

William Petulengro
Accomplished accordionist - music is in William's blood

Musical interlude

The seven times UK accordion champion is carrying on a family tradition.

"Every Romany has an instrument either violins, tambourines or accordions - they're small and compact for the caravan when you're travelling up and down," she explains.

"In the olden days when they'd pull up with the caravans and the gypsy ladies would put the boards out, the men would play the accordions.

"With them playing all day they'd get really good at it and would earn money - it's gone down from generation to generation."

Close knit

According to Sarah the Romany community is extremely close knit.

And although they are no longer living on the same site, the Petulengros are still literally living on each other's doorsteps.

Members of Sarah's immediate and extended family all live in walking distance of each other - parents next door on her left, cousin to her right and the in-laws across the road.

"Romanies are very close, they're always there for each other," she says.

"Also it's very rare for a divorce - it's something they never do."

But despite embracing many aspects of her Romany heritage, there's one element that Sarah insists will happily remain in the past.

"I wouldn't like to go back to the olden days, I couldn't do with running for water - having to get washed outside - I couldn't go back to that."

See also ...

On the rest of Inside Out
Life on the road again
Unrest on council Gypsy sites
Bare knuckle fighting

Kent - Romany roots
Birmingham - My Romany life

On the rest of the web
Roma News Network
History of the Roma

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Its a pity that the Romas get tarred with the same brush as the wave of irish travellers who have been so much in the news lately. One is a cultural tradition going back decades, and the other is group who have caused resentment whereever they pitch up, with no real understanding of the real travelling lifestyle, and that doesn't create problems for the non travellers.

tina stockton on tees
im from a very large travelling family you may have heard of us, my granny was a lee and my grandda a francis im also related to the tyreses had to drop you a line sarah i know of your lot and whilst looking in a old book shop one day i came across an old book written by one of your relations its called romany remedies and recipes by gipsy petulengro like you i used to live in a trailer but now im a house dweller i still carry the old ways taught to me by my kin folk used to sew the bunks up in living wagons my mother no doubt like yours made and selt flowers this book i bought was wrote a long time ago i tell you if any of the gorgers got it and red it they would think us divvys its been a while since i was at blackpool last time i was there i noticed you had a photo of one of my relations blondie and nancy on the living wagon nancy is my mother margerites cousin anyway sarah sorry to keep going of the subject next time i come to blackpool i will pop in to see you i will bring the book you can have it i belive it belongs in the travelling community and especilly with you and yours im sure you will find some of the old remedies interesting.

Sharon Floate
It's lovely to see Sarah Petulengro carrying on a great tradition, following in a long and illustrious line of Romany Gypsies who have made Blackpool their home since at least the 1840s - the time when Blackpool first began to attract visitors in large numbers. Throughout the 19th century and into the first decade of the 20th century, the Gypsies could be found in a semi-permanent encampment at South Shore (the site where the Pleasure Beach now stands) – a recognised landmark on the coast as important as the piers and the Tower iself and as big a tourist attraction for the millions who visited the resort each summer. Being the descendant of another Smith/Petulengro fortune-teller who practised her craft on the South Shore sands in the 19th century, I have made a major study of the families who made up the South Shore community and would be pleased to share my research, family trees and images with those who would like to know more about this key aspect of Blackpool's social and economic history - and I would of course welcome any information they can add to the pool of knowledge.

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