SOPHIE LEGG (Pictured above as a young woman and in later life) was a Romany singer who travelled England and Wales collecting and preserving traditional music. A native of Cornwall, she built up a good-sized collection of songs, some dating back to the 14th century, possibly even earlier, many being passed down by generations of her family. Born in a tent in 1918 to Edwin and Susie Orchard, who were first cousins, the couple at first settled on some land near Saltash, but soon after went on the road in search of work. At first Edwin worked on a coconut shy, until he was approached to stand in for one of the prize fighters on a boxing booth.
The boxing game paid so well, that after a while they could afford a brush wagon, so with a good vanner horse, they soon built up a regular round in North Cornwal, hawking brushes, wicker baskets, pots, pans, haberdashery and trinkets. By providing such a valuable service to outlying and remote villages, they were shielded from much of the usual prejudice that surrounded Gypsies. Many people also appreciated spontaneous performances they gave in pubs on their route, singing and step-dancing to the sounds of banjo and accordion.
During the winter they stopped in Launceston, where the children went to school and acquired a basic education. This was the family’s life until in the mid 1930’s, Edwin built a bungalow on some land he had bought in Launceston. Aged sixteen, this was the first time Sophie had slept in a house. Edwin, by this time 65 years of age, taught himself to drive, bought a car and a caravan which he towed, and found that trading rounds that used to take weeks, could be covered in a matter of days in a car.
One night Sophie saw a young electrician from Gloucester singing in a pub and fell in love with both George Legg, and his singing, and they married in Launceston in 1939. Following the 2nd World War, George and Sophie moved into one of seven terraced houses in Bodmin, the remaining six eventually being taken by extended members of the family, until the street became known locally as Orchard Terrace. From then on regular Romany singsongs by the extended family were held in the houses.
In 1978 Sophie, by then aged 60, and her sisters Charlotte and Betsy, aged 77 and 78, were persuaded into a recording studio, each laying down single tracks. For some reason, much to the regret of Gypsy scholars, the album entitled “Catch Me If You Can: Songs from Cornish Travellers”, did not include any sung in Romany.
Sophie had two children, one of whom is Victor Legg, (A member of Romany Road), who continues his mother’s music tradition in Bodmin. Three months before her death in June 2007, Sophie asked her son to take down the words of every verse from her version of The Wild Colonial Boy and The Golden Vanity. Thanks go to Peter Nice for sending the article telling this story