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The Yetholm Gypsies

.... [cont'd]

He adds that

'A few of the gypsies still travel the country, dealing in earthenware, horn spoons, baskets, heather brooms, and mats; but the strictness with which they are watched by the police prevents any exercise of their thieving talents. From the improved state of the district, there are few waste places for them to pitch their camp, and the raising of a fire on the roadside is certain to be visited with a fine and imprisonment. They cannot now remain in idleness, and are forced to apply themselves to some occupation to procure daily bread.'

Since he wrote, attitudes have, thankfully, changed somewhat, so that it is possible to gather facts about them rather than subjective opinion.

Like most rogues, however, their relationship with their immediate neighbours was better than that with the community at large. Most of those settled at Yetholm got on reasonably well with their neighbours. Disputes tended to be minor, and often over straying animals. Real quarrels tended to be within the tribe, or with members of other tribes when large groups gathered for the annual fairs and get-togethers, and when drink tended to flow more freely.

However, it has been said that, a gypsy would never do harm to those who trusted or showed a kindness to them. One Jedburgh lawyer is reported as having gone so far as to state that he would rather trust a gypsy before ten ordinary people. I don't know whether this tells us more about the gypsy or the Jethart people of the time.

Poverty was rife amongst the gypsies, particularly in the winter time, when they were back at Yetholm. There was little food to be had apart from what they could get by begging or grow, which in itself was difficult when away from March until Autumn, and luxuries were unheard of. Most of their property went with them on their travels, so what they had was limited by what they could carry, and little would be left at Yetholm during the summer. Thus their homes were rough and ready with little of what we would nowadays think of as furniture.

'It may not be improper to add here that the county is often infested with gangs of tinkers and horners from the neighbourhood of Berwick, and sometimes from the shires of Ayr, Renfrew and Lanark. They travel with their wives and chidren on asses, mules, or ponies loaded with their wares and tools; and though they disdain the name of beggars, are a sore burden on the farmers for lodging and provisions to themselves and cattle. At the time of sheep-shearing, too, sturdy women, chiefly from Edinburgh and Dalkeith, provincially called Randies, traverse the pasture district, under pretence of gathering or asking locks of wool, and are suspected of taking more than is given to them. Some of both classes are so mischievous, as to assault those who are weaker or more timid than themselves, to break the windows, and in other respects to demolish the property of such as refuse their demands.'

'Quacks, jugglers, and strolling players not infrequently pick the pockets of the industrious.'

The Ettrick Shepherd, James Hogg, is reported as remarking to the effect that the first sign of Spring was the arrival of the gypsies up the Ettrick Valley and the simultaneous disappearance of the local livestock and game. Each group or tribe had its own very clearly defined areas within which it felt it had the sole right to carry out its business, whatever that might be. Straying into another tribe's area usually resulted in fights. Battles are recorded in which people were involved in causing major injuries to others, even on occasion death. The 'Battle of Hawick Brig' on 1772, and another at Hawick in 1730, both between the Yetholm group and one from Lochmaben, and a major one at Romanno in 1667 leading to killings and subsequent executions for murder.

.... [more]

The Gypsies


 
Esther Faa Blythe

Charles Faa Blythe Coronation

At St James Fair 1907

At St James Fair 1907

Kirk Yetholm Green c1920

Kirk Yetholm - Muggers Row c1920

Looking up the hill to Staerough

Kirk Yetholm Gypsy Palace c1945

King & Queen and Palace

Gypsy Palace present day