Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month at the Canons

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Merton Heritage Center in the Canons at Mitcham Green has been running an exhibition entitles “Celebrating Gypsy Traveller Culture and Traditions” from the 4th to the 28th of June 2008, and unfortunately it was only on June 25 that I was actually able to get there.

Was the trip worth it? The answer to this must be a yes and a no. The no simply because the museum is way too tiny to do justice to an exhibition about the Romani in the Mitcham area of London, let alone of much further afield. Obviously there was a yes in my answer and from that point, considering that it is such a tiny venue the exhibition is well laid out and tries to present a lot of things to the visitor. What it could have done with though is a booklet with some pictures and a good deal of information for visitors to take away with them. Maybe for the next time the Gypsy Union and Tatchipen Media could be asked to get involved and we could indeed produce a small booklet that could go, free, or against a donation, to visitors. In addition to that it would also be nice to be able to let visitors take home say a small clothes peg as used to be made and the making of which was also shown in one of the exhibits. The problem is with the peg that was on show: my grandfather would have killed us had we produced something like that. It looked like basically two “boards” having been clamped together in the tin sleeve and then the “beak” carved out.

Having said that, the exhibition, as I indicated, was interesting and was dealing, as it should, basically and primarily with the Romani-Gypsy only, as Mitcham Common was an old stopping place for the Romani in England.

A great number of the photos on display were taken by Simon Evans many years who, due to his attitude, was always welcome amongst the Romani, which presented a great insight into Romani life in England.

What must be done though, maybe in the years to come for this month of Gypsy History is – one – for bona-fide Romani organizations to do it, and I mean bona-fide Romani ones, and – two – for the months to be exclusively for the Romani-Gypsy People only, even if that would mean that it is, as it has always been advocated, for years now already by this writer, organized and funded and operated by us, the Romani only. When this is done we must also and especially include information, including pictures, stories, etc., on the Rom in this country who now live settled, which is the great majority, whether they live on permanent sites in trailers or chalets or in bricks and mortar houses.

Also included must be the jobs that are done today, including the “ordinary” jobs in “mainstream” employment, whether those that are Gypsy Liaison Officers, those that are cops, or whatever. The majority of Romani in this country are no longer travelling and many their neighbors would not even know that they are Romani.

Others, while still known to be Romani by others, and especially those that know the names, have build up great businesses for themselves, like the Sparrowhawk family in Surrey, which must the greatest number of scrap metal yards and are deeply in the recycling business.

There are also those that have the great fruit and vegetable empires, so to speak, on the various South London markets, such as the Kent and the Barnes families.

It is a great shame to see that other local authorities whose areas have a long standing connection with the Gypsy People, such as the area of Epsom and Surrey County as a whole, could not be bothered to do anything at all as regards this month.

As far as I am concerned we must do things for ourselves also in this respect. Ourselves Alone!

© M Smith (Veshengro), June 2008