LIFE ON THE ROAD - PHOTOGRAPH'S OF THE TRAVELLING GYPSIES All Photo's Copyright Barry Law
By Barrie Law
The old ways of life are changing fast, especially for the Romany Gypsies, and with government rulings over the last few years, for local councils to provide Gypsy sites, and to make the travellers static, and remove them from the roadsides, it is a very rare site to see the horse-drawn Gypsy van travelling along the country lanes.
Being a keen photgrapher, I decided I would like to make a record of the few remaining travelling Gypsies before they became lost in the passing of time. The work I wanted to do was more than the casual photograph in passing, or even to work with the telephotograph lense from a distance. I wanted more intimate shots of the family, but first I had to find them. I had heard of Cocker Smith and his family, who travelled in and around the Yorkshire Dales.
One sunny morning in July 1986, armed with several camera's, I set out to find the Smith family. I stopped to ask several farmers and people in villages if they had seen a Gypsy family recently, but after almost a full day looking my search revealed no Gypsy sightings. Some days later I tried a different direction, but again no Gypsies could be seen. About a week later I was on my way home from Easingwold, driving through the country lanes off Tollerton, when I saw several horses tethered on the grass verges, and round the next bend, my search was over.
I stopped the car, and walked across to their encampment, where five Gypsies were sitting peacefully enjoying the sun and quietness of the countryside, until I was within about 10 yards of the wagons, and the peace was shattered by barking dogs, chained to various parts of the campsite. I was approached by one young man who asked what I wanted, I asked him if I could speak to the boss. "Oh that's my father" he replied. Just then a voice shouted Quiet. You could have heard the shout a mile away, but within seconds the dogs were silent. Five faces turned to look at me.
I stayed with them for about an hour and because I had little film, I asked before leaving if I could return in a few days for more pictures. Cocker told me to come back on Saturday, and to ask him. I did return on the Saturday and was met at the car by Cocker and several dogs. At the roadside the rest of the family sat round the campfire. I wanted to do some more work in the following week. "We shall be gone next week" Cocker said "but you can find us near the old water bridge, near Harrogate road".
I visited Cocker Smith and his family many times over the next 4 to 5 months. They made me welcome each visit. Cocker Smith, otherwise known as Sir Montague Smith, and his family, choose to live as seperately from the rest of the nation as pride and mobility will allow. Over a five month period I have collected around 700 photograph's, some of which have been on public display in York and Malton and Leeds.Alan Jones, of Malton, generated my interest in his work, personally and through his book, Yorkshire Gypsy Fairs, Customs and Caravans, which is available from most bookshops.