No Peace for Nomads from Tin Bottom
By Jack Loveland
When families moved out of Tin Tin Bottom they were saying goodbye to a way of life that was traditional in the New Forest for very many years. If you seek Tin Tin Bottom on a map of the New Forest it will prove disappointing. However this is the gypsy name for Millersford Bottom situated north of the B3078 beyond the Fighting Cocks at Godshill.
With Thorney Hill and Shave Green it was the home site of many families of gypsies. This has all changed, but Millersford Bottom is still affectionately referred to as Tin Tin Bottom to this day by the descendants now liv¬ing in the houses.
A few years ago the visitor to the New Forest might have explored Minstead, sampling a ploughman's lunch at Ye Trusty Servant Inn, if the route to home was through Bartley or Cadnam the winding lane would have passed a gypsy¬ encampment at Shave Green, This was composed of a large group of wagons and benders made from bent stakes and covered in tarpaulin. Children huddled near such a home would idly watch the "Gorgies", or house-dwellers, passing by 100 yards away. The visitor in turn would catch a glimpse of a blackened utensil hanging from a kettle iron over a bed of red hot ash. The curious life of the gypsies would have been discussed as they made their way home.
Where are these wayside dweller's today? Have we all read so much of ethnic cleansing in all parts of the world that we are unable to recognize it on our own doorstep?
“ A gypsy family no longer seek out a roadside resting place, however remote from habitation, for a little tidying up has taken place …”
Gypsies are nomadic, originating in India. A distinct people hold¬ing on to the old Romani language and customs from the distant past: In earlier times their colorful tales and music as they moved across Europe suggested their origins were in Egypt, thus came the generic name Gypsy. Their language however has its roots in Sanskrit, the ancient language of the Hindu and recent blood grouping with skeletal comparisons point to an Indian origin.
Sledges made by gypsies living in Czechoslovakia are sold in this country. These would be of a good standard for gypsies are experts in many trades. Copper and tinsmithing is still carried on in Ireland. Even the humble clothes peg made by a gypsy has a superior grip to the mass-pro¬duced spring peg.
A gypsy family can no longer seek out a roadside resting place. New age travelers and those indulging in Hippy lifestyle speeded up legislation and virtually wiped out the true Gypsies’ lifestyle.
At first, half-way houses in the form of camp sites were provided by the County Council. The Gypsies weren’t keen. The authorities found they had lost one problem, only to find another. Out of sight out of mind, controls public disquiet, but in this case costs began to escalate. It did not stop at the provision of a site. Provision of toilets, showers, running water, simple basics to the house dweller but a whole new world for the gypsy, especially the children. Maintenance costs soared, the appointment of a warden was
beginning to make this a costly exer¬cise. All this money spent to take away the freedom of the individual. After all they are only “gypsies”.
With a sadly depleted housing stock already unable to satisfy the demands of the "Gorgies" seeking a roof over their head, headaches were to increase for all concerned.
Older readers will recall opening their door to a couple of gypsy women, long-skirted, shawl-covered shoulders. The younger visitor prob¬ably nursing a baby, the other holding a willow basket loaded with clothes pegs and probably a few sprigs of white heather.
The doors were seldom closed against the gypsies for the aura of mystery still surrounded these people who appeared quite suddenly, then to vanish again, swallowed up some¬where into the countryside. Their distinctive appearance, bright pene¬trating eyes, black glossy hair, dark-skinned with whining per¬suasive voices. "Buy some¬thing for the babby lady, lucky heather, a few pegs?" The thought would occur - could they perhaps put a
curse on the house? Tales handed down, superstition lingers on in the recesses of the mind.
Nearer Christmas, they would bring gaily-painted flowers cleverly crafted from shaven wood, Butcher's Broom dipped in gold and silver paint and the traditional holly wreath. Money received disappears into a pocket. They move on hawking from door to door, their independence intact. They didn't ask to be brought up into a wel¬fare system. The Giro cheque became necessary once installed in govern¬ment property, for rent is asked, heat¬ing, lighting and water have to be paid for. At Millersford Bottom, if you know where to look, the remains of a pipe from which spring water was drawn can still be seen.
Gypsies ask no more than to be left alone, but realize the world has changed for all of us and that their children need a state education if they are to happily survive into the 21st century. Has a reader found a gypsy housed beside them? Do they feel a glow of pride now that a gypsy family has a permanent base paying rent and rates? It could be that at least two families have been made unhappy by the changes taking place.
0ver the years home-ownership has been promoted as giving pride to the individual. A sense of responsibility to the family leading ` to a secure future. However true that may be to the house-dweller, the reverse is the case with the gypsies. Their wagon or "Vardo" would be brightly coloured in red, yellow or green with
with neatly curtained windows, polished copper containers at the door. Enter in to see many ornaments in highly polishe cabinets. All this they owned; it was their pride and joy.
With a large family it would be necessary to erect a bender. Inside, a hardened mud floor swept clean with mats around a cosy stove, a smokestack through the roof, tidy blanketed beds ready for tired heads of children at night.
This is all gone, exchanged for a “Georgio “ house with stairs, with a fireplace set in the wall. Two traditions, sleeping close to the earth and sleeping around the fire – the fire always drew the family close to eat, and make music – now straight away denied them. Probably worst of all, waking up each day to see the same brick house across the street, the same garden at the rear of the house, now used as a scrap yard.
The art of cultivation is unfamiliar to a gypsy who throughout his life has been called upon by the local farmer to help harvest crops rather than to plant them. Gardening will be tackled but is as foreign to a gypsy as cleaning out a rabbit would be to the average house dweller.
How many readers have enjoyed a caravan trip, plodding along behind a horse in Southern Ireland or even the New Forest? When the neighbours ask: “How was it?” Do you answer: “Oh it was great. We felt so free.” Spare a thought for the gypsies and “Kushdie Bok” which means Good Luck.