LIFE ON THE ROAD
|ROMANY RAMBLES | George and Frank are proud Romany
There is a group of people living in the south
east who have a unique history. Unfortunately this also includes
discrimination and persecution. Inside Out's Paul Ross joins a modern-day
Romany Gypsy family as they go on the road.
Frank and Prissy Ball are Romany Gypsies.
They have lived on and off the roads most of their lives,
ending up in a chalet on a Gypsy site in Gravesend.
When their home burned down, they reluctantly moved into
a council house eight years ago, even though they aren't very happy here.
settled in a house, the Gypsy way of life beckons|
Frank says "It's got comforts
but I'd rather be back to my old life. It seems strange to say it but,
sometimes it feels like a prison."
Simon Evans is a Gypsy historian. He says that nowadays
the majority of Gypsies are settled, living in houses rather than caravans.
"People who have been sheltered by brick and mortar
find it hard to understand how travellers growing up in a small caravan
would feel claustrophobic in a bigger house."
Gypsies and travellers
There is an important distinction between travellers
There are the Romany travellers, the Gypsies, and then
there are the Travellers, who are either traditional or new. The New Travellers
are those who chose the nomadic lifestyle.
to road means taking everything - even the goat!|
Romany travellers come with a rich cultural heritage,
and with a language of their own, the Romas are an acknowledged ethnic
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.
They followed a well-established route, returning at
regular intervals depending on the kind of service they provided. A peg-maker
might return sooner than a knife-sharpener as the knives outlived the
Frank's cousin George Harber lives with his family in
West Kingsdown in East Kent.
Like Frank, the Harber family are now settled and live
in a house, but the Romany heritage is important to George.
"My parents were brought up in a caravan, or wagon,
called vardos in Romany."
Frank owns two vardos and has been working on restoring
them for the last year or so. It's been hard work.
is a traditional Gypsy occupation|
Like every summer, Frank and George are taking their
families, wagons and horses and going on the road.
This time they are all heading for the village of Shipbourne,
just north of Tonbridge in Kent. Here they set camp on a large common,
perfect for Frank and George's purposes.
Problem is though that the common, although called so,
is privately owned, so they are in fact trespassing.
Frank and George are used to getting visits from the
police wherever they go.
"It don't normally take long until the police turn
up and say you're not welcome. We tend to beg for an extra day or two
and then we move somewhere else."
Part of the Kentish heritage
Discrimination and persecution has followed Gypsies since
time began. The first written record of Gypsies in this country was in
Their exotic appearance - with dark skin and colourful
clothes - it was believed they came from Egypt.
Is it thought that's where the name Gypsies come from,
Egyptians was shortened to 'gyptians which eventually became Gypsies.
Evidence show that Gypsies probably came to the British
Isles from Asia and the Middle East via Europe.
has restored this 107-year-old vardo|
The Romany language stems from Sanskrit, an Indian language
spoken on the Indian subcontinent in the ninth century.
Anglo-Roma Gypsies are now recognised as an ethnic minority
under the Race Relation Act.
Simon Evans tells us about the history of the Gypsies
in the area.
"The Romany Gypsies represent the largest ethnic
minority in Kent and the South East counties.
"The Romany culture is intrinsically part of the
Kentish culture, it's one of the things that define the place."
Centuries in the area - still not part of society
Despite being a great asset to the region, travellers
and Gypsies are still persecuted and the camp set up on the common in
Shipbourne is soon visited by the local police again.
"They come to send us a message that they are watching
Travellers have always been on the fringes of society.
Most villagers in Shipbrough aren't that bothered with
the travellers' visit to the common, although some tell us privately that
they've always hated the Gypsies.
"Do you understand why people object to you",
|"The best thing about this life is,
you wake up in the morning and you feel free - you've only got one
door and you've only got one way to walk and that's outside."|
George can't understand it.
"Thing is, we've been doing this all our lives,
and if people aren't used to us now, that's their hardship."
For Frank and George and their families this is more
than just a way of life, this is their heritage.