Search for Epping ancestors

Gypsy Smith memorial stone – Woodford Green

Patrick Wiley, an American Archaeologist, is researching the history of Romani and Traveller families who lived in Epping Forest from the 1760s onward.  As many as 300 Romanichals lived and worked in the forest until they were forcibly evicted in 1897. Despite these restrictions Romanies and Travellers were known to stop in Epping well into the 20th century and thousands of people of GRT backgrounds live in the Epping Forest District today. Patrick would like to get in touch with anyone of Gypsy Roma and Traveller heritages who lives in the area or has relatives who lived there.

The research will focus on three forest compartments, Walthamstow Forest, Wanstead Flats, and High Beech. Walthamstow Forest is the birthplace of famed Romanichal evangelist Rodney Smith. Wanstead Flats is mentioned in his autobiography and other sources mention it as common campground. High Beech was chosen because there are charcoal pits in the area possibly left by Romanichal charcoal burners.

For his PhD research at University College, London, Patrick plans a series of scientific tests to see if archaeological remains are present.  This information can help him, or other future archaeologists decide to excavate in the future. 

The stages in the fieldwork will include:

  • Walking the site looking for anything of interest on the surface like the charcoal pits. 
  • Magnetic susceptibility tests covering an entire forest compartment to look for changes in the soil caused by human habitation.
  • Magnetometry to finding the buried remains of campfires, forge fires, and iron artifacts
  • Ground penetrating radar to look for the hard-packed earthen floors of bender tents. 

Patrick hopes these tests will reveal campsites in detail and might even be able to determine if the camp was built in summer or winter based on the location of the campfire or hearth.

Romani Archaeology is largely unknown in the UK, but studies have been carried out in Sweden and the Czech Republic in collaboration with local Romani people. Patrick is seeking people of Gypsy Roma and Traveller heritages to work with him as partners and participants. Anyone interested can reach him at

Romani history is a severely neglected topic in the humanities and barely any Romani archaeology has ever been conducted. I believe that the marginalization of the Romani past is directly connected with the marginalization of the Romani people. I know that the study of the past has great potential to inspire, transform, and empower and I believe that a dedicated subfield of Romani and Traveller archaeology will have that same impact. 

Patrick Wiley
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