Banburyshire Family History

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go back to the last page you were on On Gypsies and Hawkers

Muriel Wells

I can relate to the general distrust that gypsies and certain hawkers faced when I was a child in the 1930s. We weren't rushed away and hidden---but we all knew and chanted the rhyme:

"My mother said, I never should,
Play with the gypsies in the wood,
And if I did she would say,
You naughty girl to disobey!"

It was mainly women with their shawls wrapped around babies and a small child or two clutching their skirts that we encountered in the city. They sold wooden pegs at the door and sometimes wheedled for cast-offs or spare food, too. At the time wooden dolly pegs were all that were to be had, and those at the door would be cheaper than pegs sold in the shops.

Did the people who tended the fairground amusements and stalls belong to the gipsy clans? They were very dark and swarthy and none too clean! I didn't need urgings from Mum to keep my distance. But the fairground atmosphere could be exciting at night, (although tatty and sad in bright sunlight), with its bright lights, fairground noises of laughter and shrieks, and thumping of diesels ---- and their smell.

Nowadays I just dismiss it as tawdry, and keep well away --- but nevertheless fairgrounds have provided age-old entertainment and fun for the young, and the courting couples. So, long may they continue!

Some hawkers were welcome. I remember everyone looking out for the knife sharpener and the one who mended pots and pans, before we became a throwaway society and our kitchens filled with utensils, both needed, or lying forgotten in the drawer!

The rag and bone man was the forerunner of modern recycling. His periodic appearance had housewives running out with old clothes that they could no longer refurbish or cut down for the children, eager to gain a penny or two. The children bearing an item or two usually gained a goldfish that was destined to have an all too short life!

There were others no doubt, but those are the ones clear in my memory. Frances, be proud of your origins! Yes they looked and seemed dirty and shifty by our present day standards, but the general populace weren't much cleaner! Some children were sewn into their winter underclothes, even into the 20th century! Most folk took a bath very infrequently.

The stenches from even a wealthy person would be offensive to our modern noses, but being amongst it they wouldn't be aware of it!

I am aware that I am of dubious descent in more than one line and generation. What do I care --- I am me, the sum total of the whole, and pleased to be here researching into the past.

I am proud of my humble origins and admire their ingenuity and hardiness needed to survive the harsh conditions of living and working. And what of the soap and water issue? How clean would you be if you faced a long walk to the well for water, or freezing conditions at the outdoor pump in winter?

Written by Muriel Wells