Gypsy Day at Bourne Hall

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Epsom, 28 June 2008: A Gypsy Day was held on Saturday, June 28, 2008, at Bourne Hall Museum, Bourne Hall, Spring Street, Ewell, KT17 1UP from 09.30 – 17.30pm, which was Epsom and Ewell's effort of honoring the national Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month.

“Find out the fascinating history, culture, food and music of these people,” said the advert on the EEBC website. “Traditional wagons will be parked on the lawn at Bourne Hall Park, where you will be able to sit around the camp fire and hear stories of the old days while you watch demonstrations of cooking and crafts like peg and flower making, or try your hand at setting up a bender tent.
There will be an exhibition on the national and local history of the Gypsies, who have so many connections with Epsom.
The Romany and Traveller Family History Society will also be present along with other researchers to help people trace their Gypsy roots.”

Well, so much for the advertisement by the Council. The reality was rather a little different, to say the least, although I got there only at about 3.30pm, and many people may have been there much earlier.

There was one small vardo parked on the green in front of Bourne Hall in the Park and an even small flatbed trailer (for a Shetland pony) next to it. Those exhibits were from the South East Romany Museum in Marden, Kent, and brought there by the Brazil Brothers.

There was no campfire proper and had not been one, it would appear but then again, fires in a public park are not a good idea. I saw nothing of a bender tent though there was a bell tent that had been set up not far from the vardo. The Brazil Brothers were not very talkative so as to stories of the old day... well, I don't know. And there was not a sign of peg making or the making of wooden flowers.

I must say that there is one thing that I object to, when I am talking to Gypsy People and I have introduced myself and identified myself as a Gypsy and that is being talked to like as if I was a Gohja, and the attempt being made to bullshit me. Tatchipen was the rule as regards Rom to Rom but, alas, that is something that seems to have gone out of the windows with the Romani in England nowadays, and some of them are about my age who talk like that.

I also wonder why some of ours believe that they have to live the image of the Gyppo; namely wear stained shirts and such to such an event, and really make every effort to look the part, the very sterotype that we should try to get rid off.

In addition to that, if someone want to proselytize people kindly do that at church or at a tent mission; do not try to do that to other Rom, and continue doing so when told that the person talked to follows a different belief, in fact the old belief of our People. Some people do object to being preached at and especially as a Rom being preached at by a Romni several decades younger than oneself.

All in all I have to say that there was more to see of real interest in the small museum in the Canon at Mitcham than there was here at this event in Ewell. While the Canons has a very small museum in the basement of the building there was, in my opinion, more to be seen there than, I am afraid to say, at this event here at Ewell.

I assume Jeremy Harte of Bourne Hall tried to do his very best but, once again, this proves that some proper Gypsy organization, and especially local Romani-Gypsy need to be involved in the organization of such an event.

All we basically had here was an exhibition by the Romany and Traveller Family History Society who, so it would appear, brought in people that they have on their open day events elsewhere.

What was missing altogether was an involvement of the Gypsies resident on sites and in houses in the Epsom and Ewell area. There are two official Gypsy Caravan Sites in the borough of Epsom & Ewell and, as far as I saw, not a single member of those sites, or those Romani that are living in houses in and around the borough were anywhere to be seen. Where were the Sparrowhawks – the scrap yard people? Where were those of that family and others who own, breed and train horses on the Downs? Entirely absent. Where were the young Romani boxers and footballers? Also nowhere to be seen.

Maybe the Epsom & Ewell Council, as well as others, such as Merton, would like to get in touch with this publication and the Gypsy Union for some suggestions as to how we can make this a real event that will really inform outsides, as much as the Gypsy themselves will permit to inform outsiders, of what a Gypsy is. For one, we, the Romani, the Gypsy, are a Race and not JUST an ethnic group and secondly one cannot become a Gypsy by wanting to live the life. Also, I have to say, talking about that one would rather live in a wooden wagon than in a house, etc., while being Romani does not make much in as far as projecting the truth over to people. We must stop pandering to the non-Romani's beliefs of how a Gypsy should look, act, and so on.

© M Smith (Veshengro), June 2008