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Travelling People

The Romany family who live on the fringes of Elsfield are descended from the people who figure in people’s accounts of the ‘gypsies’. The mother was born in Somerset and met her husband, who was born in the fields near Mill Lane, and who died recently, when they were both picking peas at Drayton St Leonard. Like most travellers, they had a set routine for travelling, visiting Alton to pick hops, Oxford for potato picking and Cambridgeshire for the strawberries.

As children, they lived in horse-drawn vans with the cooking done in the open air, much as Mrs Hambidge at Post Box Cottage did. "We would look for a stream to camp by but if we could not do that, people would supply us with buckets of water. We got very dirty from all the work in the fields and had baths, me and my sister used a long tin bath and the boys used the wash tub" she said.

She explained that she and her husband had married at the registry office in Banbury Road so the children have his name, but his parents didn’t get married because they could not afford to, so he took his mother’s name. It was the same for her. She took her mother’s name because her parents were not married.

She likes the convenience of living in a mobile home as she does now.

"These mobile homes have running water, calor gas heaters and bathrooms. We generate our own electricity though it’s not enough for our needs. It is very different from the times when we lived in trailers. When I was a girl, my family had two caravans. There was one van with two beds in it for my parents and me and my sister and the sleeping area was shut off from the living area by sliding doors. The boys had a separate van called an open lot, which was square. Our mother went out selling pegs and flowers to earn some money, and the whole family went potato picking, so there was no opportunity to go to school or learn to read. Though I can’t read, I can deal with numbers and if I’m stuck, the children help me. When my older brothers were working, the family had more money and my father got a lorry. He collected scrap, did landscape gardening, sold wood – anything to make money. We got a caravan, in place of the horse-drawn van."

Because they can no longer make a living in agricultural work, which is now often undertaken by European immigrants, they make money as and where they can. On the run up to Christmas, they make between 800 and 1000 wreaths and sell them to garden centres. They also sell Christmas trees and buy all the greenery at Christmas Common at the end of November.

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