A little information on the Forest and the folk who lived there.
The Gypsies because of their life style of roaming and catching their own food and making their own medicine when needed from natures garden were natuarally at home in the forests of England one of these, was the New Forest or Nevi-Wesh for many hundreds of years was a much loved home, mainly due to it being abundant in herbs and other medicinal plants, its wild game and also its springs of fresh water. By the end of the 19th century they could still be found living in tents and wagons at Shave Green,Godshill,Copythorne, Longdown,Thorney Hill, Bransgore and other places deep in the Forest.There were also a few places outside the forest which were popular with the Gypsies, Bournemouth and Poole and Fordingbridge on the edge of the Forest and Cranborne Chase.
A lot has been written about the different customs of the Gypsy tribes when they Rommered (married) such as 'jumping the broomstick' and the couple mixing their blood and many other customs but these were mainly from way back, but according to Brian Vesey Fitzgerald in his excellent book “Gypsies of Britain” :-At Bentley in 1878 such a marriage took place between David Burton and Emmy White, and in front of witnesses the couple held hands and pledged their love for one another. A loaf of bread was broken and a thorn was used to prick the thumbs of both persons and a drop of blood was dropped on each half of the loaf, this was then eaten by the couple, each one eating the half with the others blood on, the rest was them crumbled over their heads.The day after the couple returned to the camp and took part in feasting and drinking, and participating in the singing and dancing which was a part of Gypsy life that was enjoyed.”
Birth also had its special customs. Women at this time were classed as mochardi,or unclean, in the ceremonial sense. And a woman that was pregnant was move from the living wagon so that it would not be defiled by the birth.
Records show that in the New Forest, Gypsy women would go alone to a certain holly tree along the Godshill Ridge to give birth, but normally a special tent was set aside and men were not allowed near the scene.
The woman would have their own set of crockery and would not prepare food for weeks before or after the birth. Once the baby was born and quarantine was ended , this could be two weeks or maybe two months, the special tent and everything inside was burnt.
Like marriage, the Gypsies would often observe two levels of religious custom.The child would not be touched by its father until it had been christened, normally according to the rites of the Christian Church. These ancient rites have long since gone and Gypsy women have their babies in hospital with the husbands attending, normally in their best suits!
Other rituals were observed in Death and Burial with the Vardo being burnt and all the deseaseds possessions and also sometimes their horse.I personally know of one local Gypsy Queen who died in recent years and instead of the Vardo being burn, her Trailer on the local run Traveller site was burned and no one has ever taken her pitch to this day!.
In Otterbourne in 1911, Alice Barney was buried with all her jewellery except a heavy gold ring which was handed to a relative and this is still around today worn by one of her descendants.
When a former, King of the Hampshire Gypsies, Robert Cooper who was a brother of Nehemiah Cooper, was buried the local newspaper carried a report showing that nearly a hundred Gypsies attended.
Some Gypsies however were not buried in consecrated ground, and Juliette Bairacli-Levy who lived for a while in the New Forest found a secret Gypsy burial ground at Woodgreen, also possibly one at Blackwater near Farnborough.Often a Gypsy killed by accident was buried on the spot and his grave marked by a cross of stones.At Woodgreen there are two crosses pressed flat in the soil that are said to mark the graves of two Gypsies who died during a fight. A rose or thorn bush was often planted on the grave to prevent the ghost from emerging. But normally once the burial had taken place the grave was normally forgotten, though there are instances where an annual pilgrimage has been made to burial grounds, one notable one was or Gernaia Lee who was buried at Otterbourne, and here relatives came every year from Nottingham on the anniversary of her death to tie red ribbons on the thorn bush growing on the grave. (info from “Gypsies of Britain Brian Vesey Fitzgerald)
In 1897, Granny Gritt who was a Gypsy pedlar and who appears in John Nortwood's collection of Victorian and Edwardian photographs would be seen peddling tape in exchange for rabbit skins at Fawley.Granny Gritt the Gypsy pedlar was Mary Sherred who married William Gritt, who was the son of James Gritt and Sarah Harris.She was born about 1842 in either Cranborne or Winterborne, Dorset,depending on what years census returns you read! another woman sweep was Emma Gritt widow of Job Gritt who continued the business after Job's death in 1907.She was Emma Gregory a widow on her marriage to Job and was originally a Rampton.She was born about 1849. The Gritts, Harris's, Ramptons,all seem to have intermarried along with the Rawlings, Ayres and Sopers, all chimney sweeping families.
Often fortune telling was an easy way to make money but on some occasions the prediction proved to be accurate.” Granny Cooper who was a New Forest Gypsy was said to have a remarkable gift of foreseeing the future and once read the hands of a Salisbury ploughman and his wife, and predicted that the couple would soon become rich and the man would not have to work again. Some days later while ploughing his field the blade struck something solid. He dug away the soil and found a crock that was filled with gold coins. Granny Cooper was handsomely rewarded and the couple lived the rest of their lives in comfort.”(Wanderers in the New ForestBy Juliette de Baraicli Levy)
The Gypsy would also love entertaining, and had a fondness for music and dancing. Often the women danced and sung for money at local fairs and horse races, and one old New Forest Gypsy woman remembered when she and her sisters were asked to dance for King Edward VII at Epsom races. To the sound of tambourines the women swirled about in their colourful skirts performing for the king while his friends threw coins for them from the grandstand, and Granny Waters could remember when, about the turn of the century she and her sisters would earn around fifty pounds a day dancing at other race meetings.The Lamb sisters also used to sing to large crowds at the Forest Inns, their clothes reflecting the Romany love of colour were decorated with pieces of heavy picture chain when they had no other jewellery to wear. I would like to thank the publisher's of Wanderers in the New Forest Faber and Faber and also the Publishers The Romany Way EX LIBRA PRESS for allowing me to use extracts from these two books.