Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month 2020

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month may look different this year but it remains a celebration of the rich culture and heritage of Gypsy, Roma, Traveller, Showmen and Circus communities in London.

More than 60 people joined the event via Zoom hosted by ACERT Vice-chair (among many other roles) Tyler Hatwell. The event included a range of video clips, live contributions and awards for GRTHM competitions. A recording of the event is available on the GRTHM 2020 Facebook page.

There were individual live contributions from:
Debbie Weekes-Bernard Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement
Chelsea McDonagh The Traveller Movement and ACERT
Lois Brookes-Jones & Traveller Pride
Dr Dea Birkett
Oliver (RSG)

Video clips included:
GRTHM 2019 London Event
Ando Glaso
Circus Videos
NFCA/Fairground & Archive footage
Faith I Branko
Newham Bridging Sounds Orchestra
Roma Support Group
London Gypsies and Travellers
Newham Bridging Sounds Orchestra

50th Anniversary of the 1971 World Romani Congress

8th April 2021 will be the 50th Anniversary of the 1971 World Romani Congress, which led to the explosion of Roma, Gypsy and Traveller activism across the world.

An open-membership, non-political committee has been set up in London to liaise between people who want to organise events to mark this very special Roma National Day. 

Within the London Committee we are working towards two specific events so far:

1)     A large, interactive exhibition organised by the Galerie Kai Dikhas in Berlin to bring a selection of the best of modern Romani Gypsy and Traveller art to prestigious venues in London 

2)     A pilgrimage to Cannock House, in Chelsfield, site of the 1971 Congress, with a concert/performance event led by the Romani singer-songwriter, Pashey Smith, hopefully at the Bull Public House where the Gypsy Council was founded in 1966 (and its own 50th anniversary celebrated in 2016.)

Funding applications are pending. An academic seminar might be another possibility if one of the younger Roma, Gypsy or Traveller academics who still has a job steps up to organise it.

We would love to hear from anyone who would like to be involved in these events, or would like help with or publicity for stuff they are organising.

The chair of the committee is Virgil Bitu, the secretary is Thomas Acton, and Grattan Puxon, who founded the Gypsy Council and ran the first World Romani Congress is a prominent member.

Contact details

Virgil Bitu  

Thomas Acton 

Grattan Puxon

Contact Thomas Acton if you want minutes of the three meetings held so far or to go on the London Committee mailing list.

Families struggling financially

The Independent newspaper has followed up their first article from Mihal Bica (mentioned last month) by talking to other Gypsy Roma and Traveller people and organisation workers. 

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities struggle to get financial aid in lockdown

The article is informative, though worrying. ACERT members may be shocked that after decades of campaigning, a progressive newspaper does not give the recognised racial groups Gypsy and Traveller of Irish Heritage the respect of capital initial letters. We will take this up with the paper. 

A heart warming tale

Gerwyn and Gwyneth Davies extremely well at 94 and 93
On 16th May ACERT received the following message via the Contact us link on our website:
Dear Sir/Madam, 
I am sorry to trouble you at what must be a busy time, but my dad, Gerwyn Davies is about to celebrate the 70th anniversary of his marriage to my mum Gwyneth. The party we had planned has been cancelled of course, but I wondered if someone from ACERT may be able to record a short congratulatory message and send it back to me which I could then play to them during our planned Zoom call on the day.
In the 70s my dad was Head of a primary school in Bedfordshire and working with a gentleman from the Traveller community called George Marriott, set up what I think may have been one of if not the first permanent classrooms for traveller children in the grounds of his school in Kensworth with money donated by amongst others John Lennon. 
If someone from ACERT could do something to help us mark this special day I'd be very grateful
Very best wishes and stay well
Nick

The message was circulated to the Executive Committee and elicited the following response from Thomas Acton:

My God! I am utterly amazed Gerwyn Davies is still alive.  I actually co-authored a paper with him on Romani children's language use in school, which was based on his MA thesis. The article was published in a special number of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language (in 1979) edited by no less a luminary than Professor Ian Hancock, OBE, still alive and now a University of Texas emeritus Professor.  Of course I remember George Marriott very well also and so will Grattan Puxon also still alive.
Davies G. and Acton T. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE SOCIOLOGY OF LANGUAGE No.19, 1979 "Educational Policy and Language Use"
Gerwyn was a great friend of the actor Richard Burton, with whom he was himself at primary school in Wales. Richard Burton used to visit Gerwyn just for the pleasure of speaking their native Welsh together. The school project Gerwyn ran was I think joint first as an official local education authority project with that run in Kent by the young C.A.Beresford-Webb.
I well remember, as will Grattan, the celebration we had just up the road from the school on the day in 1970 that Part II of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 came into force. We lit a huge bonfire by the caravan that John Lennon had bought and the smoke drifted across the M1 (especially after one of the Travellers put an old tyre on the fire.) Somewhere there are photos
I have left a message on Nick Davies' phone, and I will text him now.
Thomas 

Thomas did more than that. This is the video clip he sent to Nick Davies:

The video sent to Nick Davies to be played at Gerwyn Davies 70th wedding anniversary celebrations

At the same time, Margaret Wood was doing a bit of online research around this story. This is what she came up with.

In the late 1960s the issue of education of Gipsy children became news. A caravan at Luton Road, Caddington, began to be used as a school [E/PM3/2/1] and in 1970 Gerwyn Davies, headmaster of Kensworth and two of his colleagues volunteered to teach pre-school Gipsy children whilst on strike. In May 1971 it was proposed to station the school caravan permanently at Kensworth School [PCKensworth26/6]. It was 22 feet long and owned by the Gipsy Council. It was intended to site it just inside the main gate in Clayhall Road. It was noted: “It would appear that the Headmaster of the School considers that this would be a first step towards integrating the gipsies with the rest of the community. The County Planner, from whom the enquiry originated, feels that the proposal commends support”. 

The Dunstable Gazette of 15th September 1972 reported that John Lennon and Yoko Ono provided a substantial sum of money for a new caravan at Kensworth School [SS/GT2/2]. The old caravan had been set on fire by vandals and had to be scrapped. It was 54 feet long, staffed by two teachers, paid by Bedfordshire County Council and accommodated about twenty children. The continuation of the story is no doubt in the school logbooks of the period but, sadly, they are not held by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service.

Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service

On 31st May, Nick Davies posted this response.

Dear all,
 
Please forgive the general email but so many of you contributed both personally and on behalf of your organisations that it would take me a fortnight to write to you all separately.
 
I’d just like to say a huge “thank you” and “diolch yn fawr” to all of you, on behalf of me and my brothers Rod and Jon,  for helping make my mum and dad’s 70th Wedding Anniversary such a fantastic occasion. They had 63 cards and numerous phone calls. I had 27 video/audio and email messages that I managed (just!) to incorporate on the Zoom call we had with them and their extended family and to cap it all they had Paul Potts come to their street , stand outside and sing them a few arias (thanks again Andrew G, I’ll write separately to thank Paul which I’d be grateful if you could pass on).
 
Both mum and dad were ”blown away” by everyone’s best wishes whether conveyed materially personally or virtually and very much appreciated the contributions not just from their current community in Port Talbot but also those from earlier in their very long marriage in Luton and Dunstable and elsewhere.
 
Attached are a couple of photos taken on the day (and one from the original date 70 years ago) – I’m sure you’ll agree they both look extremely well at 94 and 93 ! There is footage of the singing in Hafod St on Facebook if you go to either my wife’s (Margy Davies) or brother’s (Jon Davies) page you will find a link there.
 
As many of you said in your messages , it’s good to have a bit of good news to celebrate during these challenging times, and let’s hope it won’t be long before we and many of you will be able to see mum and dad in real life.
 
I wish you and yours all the very best to stay healthy and come out of the current situation all the stronger
 
With our sincere thanks once again 
 
Hwyl nawr 
 
Nick
Gerwyn and Gwyneth Davies on their wedding day 70 years ago.

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Education has had, over decades, many compassionate and committed supporters. It is important that their contribution is recognised.