Nicole Grant 17/06/2021 09:51:06
June marks Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month in the UK. Throughout the month celebrations, education and raising awareness will help to challenge prejudice and highlight the voices of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers within society. This year we are being asked to #MakeSomeSpace and a display in Poole Museum aims to embrace this theme by focussing on the history and heritage of Gypsy, Roma and Travellers in the Poole area.
I have been the Local History Librarian at Poole Museum for over ten years, and throughout this time have been intrigued by the different place names that appear on old census records and maps. For example, places like Heavenly Bottom and Cuckoo Bottom have always sparked my curiosity. The 1901 census shows that Heavenly Bottom was home to Gypsies and Travellers including the White family (see census record.)
Betty Smith-Billington, Chair of Kushti Bok, who are “dedicated to spreading awareness about race equality and aim to do this through cultural awareness and understanding”, is a descendant of the White family recorded on the census at Heavenly Bottom in 1901. Raymond Wills writes that “From the early 1700s many Gypsy Travellers settled in the area which was off Canford within the Kinson parish. In the early days they lived on common lands, in tents or benders, then later in brightly coloured wagons or Vardos as they were known”. This rich and long heritage of Gypsies and Travellers in this area is reflected through the names on maps, work done in many different industries and records of those who fought in the two world wars.
In Poole History Centre a project to commemorate Poole and the First World War www.pooleww1.org.uk names those who went to war from Poole. This includes the Sherwood family of Ringwood Road, seen on the 1911 census. They had a number of sons on active service in World War One. William served in the Dorsetshire Regiment and Joseph in the Labour Corps – fortunately both returned home. Another son, Henry Sherwood, living with his own family on Ringwood Road in 1911, fought with the Devonshire Regiment. He also survived the war.
The often-hidden heritage of Romany Gypsy Traveller communities in this area led to Poole Museum talking to Kushti Bok and asking them to develop a display – ‘Unearthed: Gypsy and Traveller Heritage in Poole’.
The display will share research by Raymond Wills, the local “Gypsy Poet” and Susan Miller. Ray is a poet and author from a rich Traveller heritage and both Ray and Sue are active members of Kushti Bok. The display will uncover and illuminate the deep heritage of this community in the local area. The main features of the display are a map showing historic campsites (some of them resulting in the naming of local features and landmarks), descriptions of historic sites, and a family tree. It also includes a short video by Betty Billington-Smith, the chair of Kushti Bok.
Betty reflects; “Many people still believe that Romany Gypsies and Travellers bring nothing to society. Let us hope that this little display will go some way to change the narrative.”
‘Unearthed: Gypsy and Traveller Heritage in Poole’ will be on display at Poole Museum from Friday 18 June through to early September.
Find out more:
Gypsy, Roma, Traveller History Month https://www.gypsy-traveller.org/heritage/gypsy-roma-and-traveller-history-month-2021/
Raymond Wills https://news.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/dorset-history-centre-blog/2020/07/08/the-gypsy-camp-by-raymond-wills/
Romany and Traveller Family History Society http://rtfhs.org.uk/
The White family at Heavenly Bottom (Betty Smith-Billington’s ancestors)
White Family on the 1901 census
Sherwood Family on the 1911 census