I read a sad story last week about a 79-year old Devon traveller, John Treagood, who was stranded on a roundabout with his gypsy caravan.
This was because failing health and old age meant his trusty 28-year-old Welsh Cob Gildor was put to sleep.
I have long had an interest in gypsy caravans and own two scratch-built detailed miniature wooden examples.
One day I hope to build a full-size replica after brushing up on my woodworking skills!
We were filming in Peterborough a couple of years ago when I discovered the Gordon Boswell Romany Caravan Museum, boasting the largest collection of gypsy caravans in the country, was only a few miles away.
I introduced myself and explained my personal interest and Gordon Boswell kindly treated me to a personal tour.
Keen to learn as much as I could about the different types of caravan, or ‘vardo’ as they were known, and the complex construction of both the living space and the ‘unders’, I took my best camera along to get as many pictures as possible.
The caravan was developed around the 1840s-50s and was first used by showmen around this time.
Employing the skills of coachbuilders, wheelwrights and blacksmiths, these early caravans would have been quite expensive in relative terms and seen as symbols of wealth.
The word ‘gypsy’ is believed to have been a corruption of ‘Egypt’, a reference to the tanned skin of early Romany travellers and their resemblance to Egyptians.
In the latter half of the 19th century, Reading, located along the main route from London to the West Country and with an established coach-building tradition, became a popular destination for travellers, giving rise to its nickname of ‘Little Egypt’.
There must have been sufficient demand for caravans in Reading at this time and it became well-known as an area of production with the legendary firm of Dunton & Sons producing one distinctive type called The Reading.
When I told my wife of my ambition to one day build a gypsy caravan, she questioned the likelihood. At first I thought she was questioning my practical ability and skills when, in fact, it was my spare time, or lack of it, she doubted.
When I said I would make time, she replied: ‘Well, can you fix the lock on the bathroom door first!’