Scenes of life on the road and around the campsites.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.
A tiny accommodation, side entry single horse style. It is documented that the adults with this style wagon generally slept outdoors except in very bad weather. It was a good way to confine the children and the valuables.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.
A painting by the Scottish artist John Burr (1831-1893). Tinkers were originally tinsmiths or “tinners”. One of many itinerant jobs pursued by a class of casual laborers. These were mostly skilled and specialized crafts like basket making, shoe repair, leather work, and metal work but many poorer workers were migrant farm labor picking hops and tending the market gardens during the peak harvest. The fellow in the image above appears to be a fairly well-off repairman mending a seam in a pot. This from a time when new items were a rare purchase.
I love deciphering images like this for the details of domestic life. Unlike most photos, there is real intention in what the artist chose to include or not in the painting. The house is clearly a poor one but a freshly killed chicken hangs from a nail on the wall by some dry roots. A handmade broom leans against the wall next to a basket that has the tradesman’s coat lying across it. The oldest daughter tends the infant while the mother stands by the laundry basin with a toddler behind. All the children look on while the novel worker plies his trade in a waistcoat and hobnail walking shoes.
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.
Edited from Wikipedia:
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.
In Britain and Ireland, the Romany Gypsys and the Traveller community are often associated with low-skilled work such as scrap dealers, horse traders, musical entertainers, or more nefarious activities outside the societal norms. However, there were plenty of skilled craftsmen and craftswomen providing goods and services to people around the country.
Below is an image of a couple, working together making footstools outside their vardo while another couple looks on from the comfort of their wagon.
Other Gypsy families were blacksmiths, basket weavers, or similar occupations that could be taken on the road, required little stock or overhead, and could be performed independently or with a minimum of family help.
There is more to wandering people than the romantic or demonized images we carry. People are just people after all.
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.
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.
We are at our best and worst in groups, whether that is family or friends. Humans are social animals.
Here’s a wonderful old photograph of a “Tinker Family in Scotland.” It is believed to be taken sometime in the 1920s but the location was not identified. The wagon could just about pass for a western American sheep camp. Even thought they had the wealth to own a wagon it was still a pretty tough life, often unwanted in non-traveller (sic) communities, these people have been marginalized for centuries.
I found this one while perusing the Johnston Collection on the Document Scotland webpage. Have a look if you are interested in great images of a beautiful country.
… an interesting historical post about the fate of traveling folk in 17th century Scotland
Scotland had draconian laws against travelling folk. Hostility towards “Egyptians” took off under King James VI, who was also famously opposed to Border Reivers, Gaelic-speaking Highlanders, alleged Witches, Protestant religious dissenters and tobacco smokers. Edinburgh, 13 May 1682: ‘His Royall Highnes his Maties heigh Comisioner and lords of privie counsel being informed by the Earl […]
Read the rest of this interesting but seldom taught piece of history by clicking the link below.
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.
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.