1879 : Gipsy Life on Mitcham Common

Sketches on Gypsy Life : Inside a tent on Mitcham Common

GIPSY LIFE NEAR LONDON. Another sketch of the wild and squalid habits of life still retained vagrant parties or clans of this singular race of people, often met with the neighbourhood of suburban villages and other places around London, will be found in our Journal. We may again direct the reader’s attention to the account of them which was contributed by Mr. George Smith, of Coalville, Leicester, to the late Social Science Congress at Manchester, and which was reprinted in our last week’s publication. That well-known advocate of social reform and legal protection for the neglected vagrant classes of our population, reckons the total number of gipsies in this country at three four thousand men and women and ten thousand children. He is now seeking to have all movable habitations—i.e., tents, vans, shows, &c. —in which the families live who are earning a living travelling from place to place, registered and numbered, as in the case of canal boats, and the parents compelled to send their children to school at the place wherever they may be temporarily located, it National, British, or Board school. The following is Mr. Smith’s note upon what what was to be seen in the gipsies’ tent on Mitcham-common:-

“ Inside this tent —with no other home—there were two men, their wives, and about fourteen children of all ages : two or three of these were almost men and women. The wife of one of the men had been confined of a baby the day before called —her bed consisting of a layer of straw upon the damp ground. Such was the wretched and miserable condition they were in that I could not do otherwise than help the poor woman, and gave her a little money. But in her feelings of gratitude to me for this simple act of kindness she said she would name the baby anything I would like to choose ; and, knowing that gipsies are fond of outlandish names, I was in a difficulty. After turning the thing over in my mind for a few minutes, I could think of nothing but Deliverance.’ This seemed to please the poor woman very much; and the poor child is named Deliverance G——. Strange to say, the next older child is named Moses.’

Source: Illustrated London News – Saturday 06 December 1879 from the British Newspaper Archive (subscription required)

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