During the heyday of Caravan living it is important to remember that these were rarely the dwelling of a loner. The Caravan was the hub of the nuclear family and groups of wagons represented larger, extended family groups and allies.
Scenes of life on the road and around the campsites.
October 1951: Mrs Robert Matthew, an MP’s wife, campaigning at a gypsy encampment.
Kids at the campsite.
A classic image of Traveller children.
Modern gypsies (Romany) in their simple accommodation.
I really love these little bender tents.
A fine caravan for a successful traveller.
This is part of a series of images, mostly Romany, Irish, and Scottish Travellers collected from around the internet. Many of these historic images found on the web are without citation. When a clear link to a source is found, I try to include it. If a source is known, please pass it on and I will gladly include it or remove it if necessary.
I really love these family photos generally taken in front of the wagon.
Scottish Travellers is a loose term that covers many diverse peoples in Scotland and even beyond. Here, I’m primarily looking at the indigenous folk who seem to be descend from an in situ population of itinerant craftsmen and laborers.
Scottish Travellers, or the people termed loosely Gypsies and Tinkers in Scotland, consist of a number of diverse, unrelated communities, with groups speaking a variety of different languages and holding to distinct customs, histories, and traditions. There are three distinct communities that identify themselves as Gypsies or Travellers in Scotland: Indigenous Highland Travellers; Funfair Travellers, or Showmen; Romanichals (a subgroup of the Romani people) and Lowland Gypsies.
Indigenous Highland Travellers –In Scottish Gaelic they are known as the “Ceàrdannan” (the Craftsmen), or less controversially, “luchd siubhail” (people of travel) for travellers in general. Poetically known as the “Summer Walkers”, Highland Travellers are a distinct ethnic group and may be referred to as “traivellers”, “traivellin fowk'”, in Scots, “tinkers”, originating from the Gaelic “tinceard” or (tinsmith) or “Black Tinkers”. Mistakenly, the settled Scottish population may call all travelling and Romani groups tinkers, which is usually regarded as pejorative, and contemptuously as “tinks” or “tinkies”.Highland Travellers are closely tied to the native Highlands, and many traveller families carry clan names like Macfie, Stewart, MacDonald, Cameron, Williamson, and Macmillan. They follow a nomadic or settled lifestyle; passing from village to village and are more strongly identified with the native Gaelic speaking population. Continuing their nomadic life, they would pitch their bow-tents on rough ground on the edge of the village and earn money there as tinsmiths, hawkers, horse dealers or pearl–fishermen. Many found seasonal employment on farms, e.g. at the berry picking or during harvest. Since the 1950s, however, the majority of Highland Travellers have settled down into organized campsites or regular houses.
Origins and customs
The Highland Traveller community has a long history in Scotland going back, at least in record, to the 12th century as a form of employment and one of the first records of that name states a “James the Tinker” held land in the town of Perth from 1165-1214 and share a similar heritage, although are distinct from the Irish Travellers. As with their Irish counterparts, there are several theories regarding the origin of Scottish Highland travellers, one being they are descended from the Picts, excommunicated clergy, or exiles from the pre-Norman-Invasion. Highland travellers are distinct both culturally and linguistically from other Gypsy groups like the Romani, including the Romanichal, Lowland Scottish Travellers, Eastern European Romani, and Welsh Kale groups. Several other Continental European groups are related to the Scottish Highland Travellers, and share similarities to other non-Romany groups across Europe, namely the Yeniches, Woonwagenbewoners in Holland, and Landfahrer in Germany. As with Norwegian and Swedish Travellers, Highland travellers origins may be more complex and difficult to ascertain and left no written records of their own. As an indigenous group Highland Travellers have played an essential role in the preservation of traditional Gaelic culture. Travellers’ outstanding contribution to Highland life has been as custodians of an ancient and vital singing, storytelling and folklore tradition of great importance. It is estimated that only 2,000 Scottish travellers continue to lead their traditional lifestyle on the roads.
Nomads are not loners. In fact, humans do not do well alone in any setting. We have always been communal people, depending upon one another for help and support. Many hands make light work and it is essential to be near others you can depend on.
I have been collecting images of Traveller communities for many years and I really enjoy the gritty, homespun feel of the old encampments with peeling paint and makeshift tarpaulin shelters. I’m sure this image was not welcome in settled communities around Europe and the shiftless nature of these wanderers led to many suspicions, both unfounded and real.
These are not the rolling home of the wealthy showmen of idle rich but the best compromise for families destined to live on the road.
The vardos bear many differences but within fairly tight physical contraints of size, weight, needs, and technology. It’s important to remember as well that historic travellers of most varieties didn’t design or build their own accommodations but often modified or improved that which they acquired.
Even though they show few relevant details of the caravans themselves these are some of my favorite images; they give us a glimpse of the people who called them home.
Although Traveller families lived (and live) on the margins of “normal” society they were (are) more like their neighbors than not.
I hope you enjoy the photos as we head into the season of Thanksgiving here in North America and give thanks for what we have.
We are at our best and worst in groups, whether that is family or friends. Humans are social animals.
I love these the old sheepherder camps. I’ve seen quite a few parked on ranches from Colorado to Idaho and even a few in Arizona. I know they aren’t highway capable but it seems they could provide a real housing alternative for low-income minimalists who have access to land. Far better than a housing complex or apartment for sure if you can deal with a small footprint.
Originally designed on a narrow wagon box, the builders took advantage of every square inch of space. Since weight wasn’t really an issue, many have large stoves like the one above for heating and cooking. As most of these wagons were homes for ranch workers in the western U.S., they needed to be prepared for extreme cold and windy environments. When I was building my vardo, I took a fair amount of design inspiration from these wagons, adding their vibe to the more European designs I was ingesting. My stove is small and I envy this one above; at least the cook top.
Off-the-shelf or build it yourself? It’s the details of hand-built structures that make them stand out and this chimney cap is no exception. This looks far more interesting to me than the local hardware store option.
The photos are from Ken Griswold’s Tiny House Blog. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ve been a fan of his site for a long time now and recommend it for anyone with an interest in Tiny Homes. Here’s a link to the full article about Lorna’s wagon.
There are quite a few images from the Golden Age of the Gypsy Caravan* floating around the web, many without appellation. Still, they have much to offer the potential traveler or yearning nomad today.
I quite like seeing the nearly universal items one needs for living on the move such as the folding tables, water coolers, wash basins, buckets, and lanterns. If I were to guess, I’d say this one was taken in some muddy side-alley in southern England around the beginning of the 20th century.
And let’s not forget that a large market for the high-end and custom wagons was for professional showmen, another group living on the road. I have kept the above image in my stock because I really like the awning over the door.
Click for a larger image.
I think one of the appealing aspects of these wagons is their almost timeless flavor. An image from the 1950s at the Appleby Fair looks much the same as one from 1985 or 1895 with the addition of an occasional automobile. The Open-Lot design above is out of favor with the modern American crowd due to the lack of security but I can see the advantages on a warm summer day.
*”Gypsy” has fallen out of use due to the pejorative overtones when applied to the people known as the Roma or other Travellers (sic). In terms of describing the living accommodations it is kept here for historical purposes, for the time being, for lack of a better universal term.
I love these things. I saw quite a few parked on ranches from Colorado to Idaho last week. I know they aren’t highway capable but it seems they could provide a real housing alternative for low-income minimalists. Way better than a housing complex or apartment for sure. The photos link to Ken Griswold’s Tiny House Blog. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a fan of his site.
I took a fair amount of design inspiration from these wagons but added a bit of class along the way. I wouldn’t mind having a cook stove like this one though.
Off-the-shelf or build it yourself? I love these details in hand-built structures. This looks way better to me than the local hardware store option.
Bundesarchiv. Bild 183-1987-1002-510 Foto 1 November 1922.
The details here are remarkable including the decorative framing around the windows and planter boxes … with plants! I believe this sits on solid rubber teeth-rattling tires. You can probably tell from the caption but this is apparently from Germany in 1922. I wish I knew what the function of the trailer was; workshop, spare bedroom, animals, kitchen?
Here’s another look at an image I posted quite a while ago. I really like this photo. These Scottish Travellers give a glimpse of some less-than-stereotypical living waggons (sic). Very few wanderers could afford the classic Dunton Reading wagon but made do with more affordable accommodations; possibly even owner-built.
Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. Click HERE for the source.
All three of the caravans pictured have mollycrofts for light and air but are of a pretty simple variety. I am struck by the one on the right mostly by how plain it is (plank siding without exposed ribs) and it’s very small proportions. I suspect there were many more of this variety than the elite, custom-built wagons on the roads in Britain in the heyday.