Tents and the Vardo Life; What is a Bender?

vardoandbender

The bender tent provides shelter from the damp while keeping the living space outdoors.

Travellers in Europe and Britain have always been associated with a style tent called a bender.  This comes from the construction technique of cutting saplings and bending them into a dome, elongated dome, or half cylinder shape,  These frameworks were then covered with tarps and made watertight in the temperate damp.  The origins of this design are lost in the mists of time and are believed by archaeologists to be one of the earliest style of recognizable tent structure used by humans.

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This size bender can more than double the living space of a vardo in a matter of minutes.

Even after a certain level of affluence allowed some Romany and other Travelling folk to own living wagons, the bender continued (and continues) to be a way to extend the living space without the need for a lot more gear.

In England, Gypsy women often used their homes for fortune-telling, especially around the Gadjo (non-Gypsy) vacation centers. Image, early 20th century. Source: Romany & Traveller Family History Society.

The fact that a tent becomes the subject for a Blackpool post card shows the ongoing fascination with “Gypsy Culture,” especially in the British Isles where Travellers are simultaneously suspect and romanticized.

Fortune Teller

The front or vestibule provides a place to do business in relative privacy. Source: Romany & Traveller Family History Society.

If you have family that me be Romany, Traveller, or Fairground folk in Britain or just want to learn more, check out the Romany & Traveller Family History Society at http://rtfhs.org.uk/.

Community of Wanderers

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.

1930sI 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.

4203n Woonwagenkamp, een draaiorgel komt langsThese are not the rolling home of the wealthy showmen of idle rich but the best compromise for families destined to live on the road.

FamilyVardoThe 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.

Dutch1940Even 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.

Home is Where the Hearth Is

…and the Vardo Will be Close by.

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Somebody hates to be left out.

Some important facts about caravan living before the ultra-modern RVs came along that may help people understand some of the choices I have made about my own wagon:

atHome

At the most basic level, life revolves around food and shelter.

  • The caravan is the hub around which camp is built, but most “living” actually takes place outside in the wide world.  Sometimes this means tents or other temporary structures provide added protection from the elements.  Prior to the second world war, caravan Travellers in Europe often slept outdoors, under the caravan when necessary while the kids were corralled inside.  This makes a lot a sense as adults stay up later, and kids can wander off.
  • Cooking is done outdoors, over a fire.  The stove, when there is one, is for heat and drying.  The hearth is the focus of family life, just as it has been for a million years.  That is where people congregate, music and stories happen there, and it is provides comfort and cheer.

Hearth and home has a real meaning.

  • There is no water closet or toilet inside the caravan.  That is considered by connoisseurs to be repugnant in such a small space.  Needing to defecate in such a small space is a modern, and to some, a filthy idea.  However, this is one of the most common criticisms I hear about mine or other traditional wagons; seemingly from folks with little travel or camping experience.
J. Lequesca's sheep graze in Jordan Valley, Oregon.

J. Lequesca’s sheep graze in Jordan Valley, Oregon.

  • A consistent anthropological observation about nomads is the strict rules of hygiene and cleanliness.  Working and wandering outdoors can be a dirty business so strict rules are adhered to.  Some of these reach the level of taboos and can be traced back over at least a thousand years.  Living on the road can make one appreciate this need.Family

    Family

    A happy family from the road.

  • The fancy wagons of 19th century Britain are the exception, not the rule.  Functional but sometimes homely carts and wagons have likely served as the home base for nomads of various types since 500 B.C. or before.  They came to their peak of perfection in Britain in the 19th century before morphing into the RVs we see today.
TravellerinSWengland

A Traveller in southwest England. This simple accommodation is much cheaper and more readily built from cheap or found materials than the fancy production models.

Then as today, a conscientious traveller uses a fire pan to prevent scorching the earth by the roadside.  Mine is an old plow disk.

And finally, above are a few examples of outside extensions added to late 19th century caravans across Britain exhibiting the functionality of canvas to extend the living space in less-than-perfect weather.

Caravanroadside

You never quite know where the day might end.

 

A Real Land Yacht

wowWagon

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.

Party Time

partytimeThis 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.

Romany Family on the Move

romanies

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.

Vanniers ambulants

vanniersA homey scene.  A mother cooking, father and son engaging in their craft.

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 Traveller in Surrey

Surrey in the 1960s.

Surrey in the 1960s.

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 Convergence

goodolddays
 
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.