My grandad Dick is pictured in the gallery and top right of the page, stooped over a hopping
bin aged 70. My mother Esther Clarke born 1938 pitured right.
In the gallery are his parents, officially Sarah and Thomas (Sally and Tom). They were tatcho
Romanies who travelled all over The Weald of Kent and Sussex. This area covered a giant
triangle with its three points at Brenchley, Uckfield and Hastings. They had seventeen kids.
I think half of them died as children.
Dick was born on the roads in his mum’s wagon in 1870. He had black eyes and thick black
hair (which went white in old age, with no baldness). He was a very hard-working man.
The Clark-Newmans were travelling chimney sweeps and broomdashers who also made
beehives, baskets and wreaths. Dick did some horse-dealing and he was a good animal
trapper. In middle age he met and fell in love with his second wife - an escapee from the
Chelsea Workhouse, Mary Salter, who was a gorger. Soon there were lots of children to feed.
He settled down and became a totter – rags, scrap, you name it. His circuit from 1920 to 1950
was Burwash - Heathfield - Mayfield - Punnetts Town - Cross in Hand - Vines Cross - Broad Oak.
It covered a 100 square miles.
Dick was known by some as ‘The Heathfield Ram.’ This was out of earshot! He had 4 wives, 29 children (5 adopted) and at least 51 grandchildren. These are the ones I know about!
Dick’s home was called ‘Fancy Cottage’. It was out on its own, and part hidden, near the edge of Broad Oak common near Heathfield in Sussex, away from the village. It was timber and cob, but kept immaculate, like a giant dolls house. A three foot wide cauldron inside the inglenook was always on the go. The kids worked the vegetable patch, prepared the food, and gathered other food, wood, or water from the stream.
Only Dick’s wife was allowed to serve the food. His favourite was hedgehog, but he was also very partial to rabbit’s brains.
Other kids would go totting with Dick and one of his wives. The cute kids softened up the villagers. They liked to feed his horse, Dolly, who was pretty. Dick loved Dolly as much as his own kids, and he was often heard singing to her. He would make up Dolly’s bedding in the pouring rain.
Dick was sensitive. Once upon a time he thought he’d seen the Devil, so he locked himself indoors for 6 months.
Once upon a time, Dick and his brother Bill were in the woods, working their usual long hours. They were cutting wood for brooms. They began making them right there. Dick said to Bill “Look! There’s a baby on your broom!” It was resting on the head. The next day, they went selling door to door. The brooms were thruppence on the doors. Nobody would even buy one of Dick Clark’s brooms, and they all bought Bill’s. Bill sold his whole stock!
The Clarks went hopping in Kent for over 100 years, often around Hollingbourne. It was a place to meet other travellers. We met the Scamps there through Payshee Marchant, who would cook while they jibbed.
Benny Wickham the Goudhurst farmer built six or seven brick hopping huts just for the Clark family. He knew we were a good investment. Dick’s children slept two to a hut and got half a hopping bin each.
Grandad pocketed all the money and fed them on shackles and porridge! He was poor - but shrewd! The hopping time photos are from the dying years of this tradition, when Dick’s grandchildren from Brighton joined in during those happy times. It was just before the machines took over.
Georgie Clark, in army uniform in the picture, was a lovely boy. My mum Esther Clark said to me, “Georgie had the bluest eyes you ever saw, and thick blonde hair.” When she was a child, he visited Fancy Cottage. He sat mum down on his knee as he sat in the chair by the door. Mum said, "He loved me. He fed me all his rations, including a huge bar of chocolate. I could hardly get my hands round it! He made me eat the whole lot! I didn't think to share it!"
He then got up, went through the door, and went down the path, and turned at the gate, with mum looking on.
He was never seen again.
Georgie was killed halfway through the Battle of El Alamein in Egypt, during a lull in the fighting. On a trip to collect the injured, the ambulance he was driving was hit by a shell, and he was blown up. Grandad put a picture up of him afterwards. It was the one of him playing the accordion in a trilby hat. He hung it above Georgie’s favourite chair - the one by the door, where it remained.
Photos copyright Neil Harvey grandson of Dick.