Queen of the Gypsies, Romany Persecution and Gypsies Today
Traditional gypsy woman
Modern gypsy woman
Maggie Finch Queen of the Gypsies.
Maggie Finch was well known in Norwood Surrey as Queen of the Gypsies back in the 18th century. She was born in Kent and travelled the country until she settled in Norwood. Some say she lived until she was 108.
What made her so special or stand out from the other gypsies was her strange way of sitting still for so long, her body got stuck in one position. It was the constant way she sat on the ground with her knees drawn up to her chin that caused the trouble. Her sinews became so stiff she couldn't straighten them out.
She was seen this way every day by folks, sitting on the ground smoking her pipe and attended by her faithful hound.
When she eventually departed this world her whole body was so stiff its said that she was crammed into a box and buried in this strange position!
The whole village knew her and many a maid crept up to have her Tarot Cards read by Maggie. Hoping that they would tell of great fortune.
Maggie stayed in the same area for many a year. And in fact it was the famous Diarist Samuel Pepys who brought her to the public's attention. He wrote:
: 'This afternoon my wife, and Mercer, and Deb went with Pelling to see the gypsies at Lambeth and have their fortunes told;
but what they did I did not enquire.'
The area where the gypsies congregated was called Gypsy Hill. Originally it was named beggars hill but soon changed due to the influx of Romany Gypsies.
Maggie Finch Queen of the Gypsies
Gypsy Hill Norwood Surrey
A lonely old crow, see someone you know,
Fly to your right, sure to be right,
And if you are hawking, money before night.— Gypsy Proverbs
Appleby Horse Fair
Appleby horse fair
By the 17th century there were many Romanichals, as the English Gypsies were known. They had arrived in Britain in the early 1500's and were welcomed in some towns, but barely tolerated in others.
But soon the Crown brought out a law calling for an anti-gypsy act. It was Henry VIII who passed the law 25 years after their arrival.
The act was to get rid of all gypsies. They wanted them to leave, or suffer execution. But Britain wasn't the only country who passed those cruel laws.
Denmark in the 17th century had a brand new sport. It was called 'gypsy hunts'. They were organized by the Danish King, the exact one is not mentioned.
One hunter told of the animals that he had killed so far that year. It chillingly included this line:
'A gypsy woman and a suckling child'.
Other punishments were just as terrible. All across Europe gypsies were exposed to flogging, torture, mutilation, branding, shooting and hanging.
Then along came one of the most notorious of 17th century bad guys.
I have two masters, God and the devil.
I work for the devil until lunch then I follow the Lord.— Gypsy proverbs
Oliver Cromwell 'Old Ironsides'
For anybody who knows even a smidgen of English history, they will know the evil that was Cromwell. In 1649 he arrested and killed King Charles 1. From 1649 - 1658 at his death he was lord Protectorate of England.
With the king dead, and his rules so strict that you couldn't even sing, dance, play an instrument or go to a normal church, it was easier that sneezing to get arrested! Under his rule many gypsies were shipped as slaves to America, and the rest were executed.
In fact the only good thing about Cromwell was his change of parliament and royalty rules. In other words royalty could no longer be part of the running of the country and the courts.
But where gypsies were concerned he treated them appallingly. In fact he wasn't much better with anyone who went against his policies!
The last execution of gypsies in England was in Suffolk near the end of Cromwell's 'reign'.
Gypsy gold does not chink and glitter,
It gleams in the sun and neighs in the dark
.— Gypsy Proverbs
King of the Gypsies Petulengro and a Romany Wedding
In the Romany language the word Rom literally means travelling folk or traveller folk, but it can also just mean gypsy man.
Most people use it today, believing that the word gypsy is an insulting racial slur. But not necessarily so. I know many gypsies and they are proud to use the word. The only time they hate it is when it is used in a derogatory manner.
However back in the seventeenth century the word gypsy was always used.
For many years it was believed that gypsies came from Egypt. In fact that is not true. They originated in India. Most come from the Dalit community which was also known as the 'Untouchables'.
They were treated like dirt, and many were sold as slaves.
So you can understand why they escaped slavery and came to the west. Their language was a mixture of at least seven different dialects along with the language of the country they adopted.
Gypsy hand cart
Appleby Horse Fair - Boy and trap
Tinkers and Handcarts
As a race of nomads, the gypsies have always travelled about the countryside carrying their belongings in a Vardo (gypsy caravan) or pushing a hand cart.
They also used canvas covered wagons, or even tents to sleep in. The Vardo or wooden caravan didn't appear until the 19th century.
They made their living by hawking (selling) and tinkering, which was repairing pots and pans.
The best time of year that they enjoyed the most was in the summer when they could all meet up and go hop picking and fruit collecting.
Back in the 17th century a lot of gypsies were animal trainers, others were musicians and entertainers.
But the most skilled were metal workers. As a side line the women would tell fortunes, as they still do today.
Fortune telling was only a woman's job. Men were not allowed to even touch the cards. A drabadi, or fortune teller would read the tea leaves, read palms, look in a crystal ball or read the Tarot cards to a wide eyed punter.
Of course their were a lot of imposters, but most of the female gypsies really did believe in their own powers to see the future.
They also had a huge belief in charms and talismans. Such as bracelets, wooden toys in the shape of animals which the men had carved from their sacred trees, and other hand made charms.
A quick note about Tinkers:
Irish travellers were called Tinkers for many years, as they tended to earn their money only mending pots and pans. They become renowned for this, but these days as political correctness takes a tighter grip they have sadly dropped the word and now they are just called Travellers. I personally think its a shame, as the word Tinkers to me, has a mysterious ring to it.
Appleby Horse fair with bow top vardo's and Vanner horses - Cumbria
Vans and Vardo's
Modern gypsies travel around in modern caravans. Which is a shame. Why?
Because I believe psychologically, if we see the old colorful Vardo's with their amazing gypsy vanner horses arriving in our towns and cities, we always see the glamorous side of gypsy life.
The only time you tend to see the old Vardo caravans is at Appleby Horse Fair which is held every year in June. Appleby is in Cumbria England.
But to see them appear in modern caravans doesn't have the same effect. In fact there is a lot of anger around gypsies when they take over a field or park then leave lots of rubbish behind.
Trouble is most people do not differentiate between Irish travellers and Romany gypsies. Romany gypsies are very clean and tidy people. And I am sure most of the Irish Traveller community is too.
But a small group of either will give them all a bad name, sadly.
The one thing that makes me smile is when I see the young gypsy guy on his horse and trap clip clopping round the town. Everybody stops to watch him. And they always have a look on their faces as if to say, 'ah the good old days'.
And that's the magic of gypsies. The color the mystery, the horses and vardo's, and of course the incredible music that they play on their violins and guitars while sitting around the campfire in the twilight.
With a girl dancing to the gypsy music, and the flickering fire light, you can't get more mysterious than that.
Gypsy girl in modern caravan
Modern Day Gypsies
With all the changes over the last few years gypsies have had to make a great leap of culture. No longer are they welcomed onto private fields or parks, fruit picking has been taken over by young people or visitors from abroad, and the law has clamped down on gypsies parking at the side of the road.
It seems that tolerance, where the Romanies are concerned has got worse instead of better.
Many have given up the road and settled into houses. And have become 'house dwellers'. But they still retain their culture in other ways.
Appleby fair for example is a yearly meet up of all the gypsies in England. Where horse sales, racing and so on helps to keep the culture alive.
Its a shame that the old ways have gone and we no longer see the old caravans appearing in our towns, but thanks to a few trouble makers the rest have had to suffer.
My husbands family are gypsies. To walk into their house is a revelation. Gypsies are collectors, and boy do they collect!
Loads of ornaments adorn small coffee tables, miniature Vardo's dot around the room and on the wall photo's and paintings of the old caravans and people. Its rather like stepping into living history.
When I married into the family the first thing they said to me was 'You are now one of us!'
And that is the heart and generous soul of the gypsy.
Washing the horses - Appleby
The Gypsy Crown - Kate Forsyth published 2008 children's stories
The Romani People - Wikipedia
And of course family stories and tales from my gypsy family in laws.
Photos - public domain and pixabay
© 2018 Nell Rose