GYPSIES IN BEXLEY: A HUNDRED YEARS ON THE BELVEDERE MARSHES
By Simon McKeon .
Local studies manager Simon McKeon tells us the story of the Gypsies who lived on Belvedere Marshes for a century, and how they were finally removed.
Gypsy Family With Varda Wagon & Bender Tents at Barnhurst, 1902. From the Boswell Collection.
In years gone by Gypsy caravans could be seen on farms and on open ground all over Kent. One such Gypsy community lived on Belvedere Marshes, Erith.
Their presence, however, was often a cause of concern for the local authorities. Needed by local farmers to help with harvesting during the summer months, they were cast aside and considered a problem in the winter, when there was little or no work on the farms. One Kent farmer remarked in Kent County Council’s 1952 survey of the Gypsy community, “The best of them are certainly helpful, but are always a nuisance wherever they pitch camp, and the worst of them should not be tolerated in any circumstances.”
The Gypsy encampment on Belvedere Marshes is recorded in an 1896 Erith Urban District Council minute book. The Inspector of Nuisances reported “nine plots of land had been purchased by a Gypsy named Love, who let them out to others for encampment.” On this occasion the Inspector did not recommend any action to be taken against them.
By 1947 the site on Belvedere Marshes was the largest of its kind in Great Britain. During the summer the camp numbered about 600 people: however in winter the number rose to around 1700.
For over twenty years Erith Borough Council continually tried to remove the gypsies from the Marshes. The Council’s eviction policy even made the National Press. In 1948 the Daily Mirror ‘Ruggles’ cartoon strip featured the plight of the Belvedere Gypsy community.
Finally, in 1956 Erith Borough Council got its way. The Council minutes for that year record that “over 700 persons and 280 ramshackle structures have been removed…The clearance could now be said to be complete” thus ending over 100 years of Gypsy history living on Belvedere Marshes. For more info see :- Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre
For a much more in depth and personal account of the Traveller's who made the marshes their home may I suggest the charming book Memories of the Marsh by Betsy Stanley ,Betsy describes the flood of 1953 that eventually put an end to the marsh as a stopping place, she also recalls the regular round of work on Kent farms and how they made a living from traditional Gypsy crafts. Memories of the Marsh by the Late Betsy Stanley published by the R&TFHS
I am not sure if the book is still in print but I am sure that if folks wanted it then it would be reprinted .
There were many Gypsy communities such as the one on Belvedere scattered around south London, many Travellers have fond memories of Corkes Meadow in St Mary Cray, Ruxley Chalk pits and the yards of Mitcham. When trawling through the Census records its soon becomes apparent where the regular stopping places were ,and sometimes the same families can be found from one census to the next in the same spot . The "Potteries" and Battersea and Wandsworth winter quarters are covered on my original site along with extracts from Lavio Lil where borrow describes thomas Hearn and Charlotte Cooper wife of fighting jack Cooper so there is no need to include them on this page. To be Continued*********