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24 September 2014

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Making a living
Click for bigger picture.Kent, The Garden of England, with its concentration of fruit and vegetable farms relied on the Travellers to provide temporary seasonal labour. They were an essential part of the local agricultural workforce.
The Smith Family, hop picking in the 1950s

The annual round of farm work began in late spring with hop training and throughout the summer and autumn Gypsy Travellers moved from farm to farm as each crop needed harvesting.

Cherries, strawberries, blackcurrants during high summer as well as peas, beans and other vegetables were needed to be quickly gathered in as they ripened.

The hops were ready in September followed by apples and pears in the autumn and potato picking up in early winter.

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Yalding Lees

They might stay on for a while after picking finished on one farm before moving on to the next, perhaps breaking their journey with overnight stops on commons.

Places like Yalding Lees or Hothfield Common near Ashford were traditional stopping places where Gypsy families might stop for a day or two before moving on.

During the winter months most local Travellers would find a place to stop on the edge of the larger towns or the urban fringes of south east London where there were large traditional stopping places that had been used by Travellers for generations.

Ash Tree Lane in Chatham was one such place, as were the marshes along the Thames at Erith, the disused chalk pit at Ruxley near Sidcup and Corke's Meadow in St Mary Cray.

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Corke's Meadow

Winter money could be earned by making and selling wooden clothes pegs, primrose baskets or decorative wooden flowers from door to door. Men could find casual labouring work or offer services such as knife grinding, woven cane chair repairing or tree pruning.

Other Travellers made a living as hawkers or general dealers. In past centuries most country towns and villages were too small to support permanent traders, apart from perhaps a black smith and a few other specialist craftsmen.

They mainly relied instead on travelling pedlars and hawkers to come to them to supply their needs for the few material possessions that they needed.

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A family of basket sellers in Halstead near Sevenoaks

These itinerant salesman would trade as they travelled, dealing in all manner of essential domestic goods and other less important but nevertheless desirable items like ornaments, trinkets and finery.

As well as hawking their wares as they passed through towns and villages, there were the annual fair days when large numbers of travelling salesman would arrive and set up shop.

Most villages and towns had at least one or two fair days a year, but they were very different occasions to the fun fairs of today.

Originally they were simply the days when farmers would bring their produce to town or when livestock was traded, such as the annual Goose Fair at Challock near Ashford.

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Sevenoaks Fair

Over the centuries the fairs evolved, eventually becoming as much a social event as an opportunity for business.

By Victorian times in addition to the traders were all manner of travelling showmen were on the circuit, actors playing on temporary stages, fighters sparring in boxing booths, dancing bears, acrobats, freak shows, musicians, quack doctors with dubious remedies all jostled for position to relieve the crowds of their money.

Horse drawn days
Settling down
Modern times

Gypsy Travellers
Friends, Families & Travellers
More from Romany Roots
Setting the scene
Early history

Making a living
Horse drawn days

Settling down
Modern times

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