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.
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.
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.
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.
|A family of basket
sellers in Halstead near Sevenoaks|
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.
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.
Over the centuries
the fairs evolved, eventually becoming as much a social event as an opportunity
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