The Yetholm Gypsies
A fascinating insight into the life of the gypsy is given in Rowena Farre's 'A Time from the World' in which she describes the time she spent with the gypsies and her relationship with them. From her name, it seems likely that she, herself, was originally from the Faa tribe. She is most famous, of course, for 'Seal Morning'.
In her book Rowena Farre describes in detail the use of the stew pot, into which whatever game or fowl 'came to hand' disappeared, along with 'self-harvesting' root vegetables, to become the evening meal.
Many family names are associated with the Yetholm Gypsy families, but it would seem that the earliest were the Youngs, followed by the Taits, Gordons, Fleckie, Blyth, Baillie and Douglas. Because so many bore the same family name, the use of nicknames to differentiate those with a similar Christain name was common,
By about 1830, the families had begun to split, with groups moving into the surrounding areas to live. The main reason was probably the shortage of food in winter in the Yetholm area. So we find Douglasses and Youngs appearing in numbers in the Bongate in Jedburgh, with others in Hawick and Redpath. Some went over the border into the Wooler area.
Gypsies have always been thought of as being dark-skinned, with dark eyes and white gleaming teeth, but this is only true of some of the Yetholm gypsy families. It is generally held to be true of the Young, Faa and Douglas families, but the Blythes and Baillies, mostly, were fair haired and had a rather ruddy complexion.
As with all gypsies their dress tended to be of two extremes. When out and about in what could be called day-to-day clothes, they were scruffy and appeared to be needing a good scrub. Partly, this might have been part of the image, as if they appeared poor and needy, the local population might be more willing to buy from them. All the stories written by those who have lived with the gypsies refer to the ablutions being carried out daily, usually, admittedly, in cold water. When dressed in their finery they radiated colour and joi-de-vivre. They loved the bright colours, particularly red and green, and the contrast with the gleaming white of the ladies' aprons was a sight to see. They were fond of jewellery which they wore on every possible occasion. It is rare to see a photograph of them without their gold and silver ear-rings, bangles etc.
Each of the gypsy families would have at least one donkey or pony, and most had a cart to carry their wordly goods. These animals were grazed on the Kirk Yetholm Common Land which lay between the village and the English Border.
When Jeffrey was writing in 1836, the strength of the gypsies in Kirk Yetholm was about 80, consisting of the Blythes, Ruthvens, Taits and Douglases. The Faa family had died out in name, with the death of Will Faa. The kings brother-in-law, Charles Blythe, who was married to Etty Faa seized the throne. So poor had the Faas become, that, for a time, Will had been forced to take a 'real' job. He worked as a gamekeeper for the Marquis of Tweeddale, and is described as 'an excellent fisher, well acquainted with every pool and stream in the Beaumont, Cayle and Colledge waters'