AMY LAWS (nee Smith) writes:-
After the War years there were lots of us Gypsy families living in the streets of the East End of London. All around there was so much devastation, every turning there were big holes in the roads, three or four houses or shops missing, bricks and dirt everywhere, just awful! But there was a change in attitude towards us Gypsies, it seemed like wherever we went, the shops, school, everyone was caring and warm to each other, sharing food, clothes and even homes and to me it seemed that I had been accepted like I was part of the family.
Sometimes we were invited to tea after Sunday school. I remember in our street, at weekends most front doors were left open and someone might be sitting out in the sunshine. Our front door was always open as it led to a big shop-front room. Dad would sit out there in a big wooden armchair and was always asked to clean a rabbit or chicken for people, many of them he had given chickens to for them to fatten up for their Christmas dinner. He could mend shoes for people, mend chairs and re-sharpen saws for some who wanted to cut down tree branches in their gardens for fires.
Food was very scarce for a long time after the War, but my Mum would make big pots of stew with lots of vegetables and lamb bones for their marrow and, of course, the use the chickens and rabbits we kept in our big side yard. I had to take pots of steaming stew to some of our neighbouring families, every weekend Mum cared for the poor children, she used to say “They need more than a bit of bread and jam poor things”.
After school Dad would send us to his regular customers delivering bowls of firewood. This became more fun with many of our gorger friends helping us, and we had more time to enjoy our rides in our wooden barrow, racing down hills and all taking turns to push and share rides. I can see my Mum’s face now!
One time I came home and two of my friends followed me into our kitchen, they were twins and she offered them to eat with us. I will always remember a remark one of them made, she said “Can we bring our Mum so she can see your lovely tablecloth”, the other one told her off but Mum smiled, I guess she understood the old “Dirty Gypsy” tag was always sticking around!
As I grew older, I realised my Dad was very popular and respected in and around our street, some used to say “Good morning Ben”, and tip their hats to him. I would be holding his hand, skipping at his side and I felt like he was a hero sometimes. I guess with all the jobs he worked at in our shop, people got to know him and our Mum did their washing every Monday, all day over the tub and boiler. When I got home from school, I never had to be asked to help, I would deliver piles of washed things to Mrs. So and So.
Easter was a happy time to look forward to, having a nice new dress and shoes. Dad would take us on a lovely pony and trap ride out into the countryside with lots of food and treats in a basket. This was our special times and how we loved running into the woods, collecting bluebells for Mum and finding all kinds of wild things like twigs from willow trees, or fir cones and teasles. We would have a whole weekend off to play and collect bits for Mum and Dad.
I was taught to preserve and dry lovely branches of ferns, dip twigs in silver and gold and other colours in a big tub in our yard. Dad would make up the mixture from some kind of powder and liquid chemical, then put up a lot of lines for us to hang the branches in bunches to dry. Then we children bunched them up ready to sell – so we earned our new clothes and treats!!
This is how we were taught pride and self-respect by our parents, also that "Cleanliness to next to Godliness and Honesty is the best policy". Take out our tears of hurt and recall all our Gypsy roots and upbringing and we can stand tall in pride of our heritage.