The United Kingdom Horse Shoers Union

The voice of the farrier.

Blacksmiths - Born To Roam by David Dennis 2004

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At one time, all humans were travellers or nomads who moved their herds from place to place trying to find the best grazing, just as the Laps and Kurds and the English, Welsh and Spanish shepherds follow their herds or go to the high pastures in summer today.

There is an important group of people who still have a travelling lifestyle. They are sometimes called gypsies or travellers but who would prefer it if people called them the Roma peoples, or Romani.  They are a distinct group of people with a legally defined ethnic origin. You should not confuse this name with the similar name Romani which you see on the Internet websites for Romanian ex-patriots. The Romani are not all Romanian! Nor should you confuse the word ‘travellers’ with the New Age Travellers who are not an ethnic group.

In the tenth century, when the Indian Empire of the Gupta Dynasty fell apart, The Romani were persecuted by the invading Afghan sultan Mahmoud Gaznevid (988-1030). They moved out of India about 1,000 years ago and now there are about 13 million of them spread around the world.  Many live in Eastern and Western Europe. The first Roma came to the Balkan Peninsula in the 14th century, According to a written document, there were Roma in Prizren during the reign of Emperor Dushan (14th century) and most of them worked as blacksmiths. The majority of them today are found in Romania, Hungary, and Former Yugoslavia.

They have always been a persecuted people. For example, the Sinti are Romanies who have lived in Germany for the past 600 years, while the Roma, deriving principally from Eastern Europe, have settled in Germany during the past two centuries. Half a million Romany gypsies from across occupied Europe were killed in the Holocaust. Sixty-eight per cent of Germans still have negative attitudes towards the 60,000 gypsies living in their country.

The Romani, in their travels reached the UK in about 1500 AD and Henry VIII made it a capital offence in England to be a gypsy. Well - he would wouldn't he!

Similar dramatic prejudice about people who are not willing to settle down has continued in England ever since.  There are about 100,000 Romani in the UK and Ireland, divided roughly into four groups known as the Romanichals of England, the Kale of Wales, the Nachins of Scotland and the Minceir of Ireland. The cause of the Romani was badly damaged by a disreputable element within the New Age Travellers of the Hippy Festival Culture between the1960s and 1980s.

Following years of controversy about legal and illegal camping and supposed breaches of public order, in 1977 some Romani children applied to go to school in Croydon and were refused permission by the local authority.  The 1980 Education Act enabled the Romani to overcome this.  However, OFSTED stated that in 1983 there were still 10,000 Romani children without school opportunities.  The 1990s saw the Traveller Education programme begin and now, with European legislation in force to protect them, they all have access to education and have their own internet websites.

In their 2001 annual report, the European Committee on Romani Emancipation (ECRE) specified objectives for the countering of racism against the Romani, to bring about real prospects in their economic and social status. They now have what they call ‘Gypsy Rights’.

The Learning & Skills Council has carried out extensive research into how these travelling communities can access lifelong learning.  Colleges and training providers are asked to support their local LSC in any plan to make the education and training of the Romani into a good and supportive experience. It is understood that the Head of OFSTED. David Bell, has asked schools to explain to children that a travelling lifestyle is something that may be considered as well as a sedentary one. In his report on support for ethnic minorities, David Bell said:

“Schools benefited significantly where time was devoted to joint planning and teaching about Gypsy Traveller history and culture. This generally added much to the knowledge and understanding of all the pupils in the class and made a marked contribution to the self-esteem of pupils from Gypsy Traveller families and to their general attainment.”

Please remember that each person is a human being. Being a Gypsy or New Age Traveller does not automatically mean you are a bad person. Individuals are seen to be good or bad. Ethnic minorities or modern cultures must not be automatically discriminated against as groups. Please treat each person on their own merits.

You can read more about the Gypsy life by going to the following links:

Gypsy Council For Education, Culture, Welfare And Civil Rights

European Roma Rights Centre

Traveller Law Research Centre