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Travelling People

In the 1990s, the threat of ‘New Age Travellers’ was used as a warning to the residents of Elsfield in their battle to close the road. There were already and still are travellers in the parish, as can be seen by the field name ‘Gypsy Corner’ given to a field alongside the Islip road. ‘Gypsies’ feature in accounts of Elsfield life in the 1950s. Jill Dewhurst remembers the gypsies camping beside the road near the junction with what is now the A40, the ring road, and Michael Clarke, grandson of Dorothy Chaulk, whose family lived in Elsfield in the 1930s, recalls that when he saw the gypsies camped alongside the road he, along with the other local children, was frightened of them. He later came to know the Romanies Arthur Bowers and his father Alford well and played darts with Arthur and his father in the pub at Old Marston.

There are about 7000 Traveller families in Britain – about 40,000 people in all and because they have had a different lifestyle from the majority of the population, they have often been perceived as a threat. They are the epitome of the ‘other’, belonging nowhere, and moving from village to village to find work. Historically, they have played a valuable economic role, doing seasonal work, disposing of scrap metal and supplying goods and products to fill gaps in the market. Because of the changes in farming and land use, their traditional way of life has had to change and many now would like to stop travelling or have already done so.

There is one such family in the parish. Their preferred term for themselves is ‘travelling people’ though they no longer travel. They guard their privacy fiercely but are integrated into mainstream society in many ways. The children go to local schools and the baby was born at the local hospital. They now live in mobile homes, rather than trailers, but all the family lives on one site on land bought by them in 1996. Each adult has his or her own mobile home and one has an extra unit used as a play room for the children. While this family is thought of by some Elsfield people as not belonging, they have in fact been in the area for at least sixty years and probably considerably longer.

There are still patterns of behaviour which can be identified as specifically Romany. Tea towels are not washed with the rest of the washing, as this is seen as dirty. They are washed in the sink in the kitchen. The baby clothes are washed separately and all the washing is done outside. Although there is a bathroom, the lavatory is not used but there is an outside toilet which is preferred. This drains into a cess pit dug by the father of the family and his eldest son when they settled there.

Some parts of the Romany language are still preserved but it is mixed in with a great deal of English so is really more dialect than a separate language. Many of the words used by the mother of the Romany family were of European Romany origin, words such as 'bawlo'  for pig, 'baram' for sheep, 'jukkel' meaning dog and 'dai' meaning father. 'Mush' for man, 'sloppi' for drink, 'pobus' for apples, 'rakli' for woman and 'yowri' for eggs were also from the same source. Other words, however, showed a different origin. The word she used for horse was 'grai', which came possibly from Armenian, while 'ranee', which she said meant a woman from the outside world, is a Sanskrit word meaning queen. 'Yarg', meaning fire has come from the Hindi 'yag', as does the ward for water, 'pani'. Some words such as 'chavi' meaning boy and 'cosh' meaning stick have been adopted into English slang, as has 'mush'.


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