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The History of Gypsies in the New Forest


It is believed that Romany Gypsies originated from India and travelled through the Middle East, between, 1000 – 1200 AD. The name ‘Gypsy’ is understood to have been made up from the original word for ‘Egyptian’. Gypsy Traveller culture evolved during this migration. The first recorded arrival of Gypsies into the United Kingdom was in Scotland in 1505 and into England in 1514.

In 1530 an act of Parliament was passed aiming to rid the country of all Gypsies by requiring all Gypsies who were already living in England to leave within sixteen days. It also banned immigration; this act was called the Egyptian Act.  In 1554 the Egyptian Act was amended and death penalties become imposed for Gypsies already living in England if they did not leave within one month. A second Egyptian Act replaced the previous ones in 1783 and all through the nineteenth and twentieth century’s further Acts of Parliament continued to affect the Gypsy Traveller traditions and way of life.

The earliest known document to record Gypsies in Hampshire is an entry in the Chawton, near Alton, Parish records in 1638. For three hundred years Gypsies were able to camp anywhere they wished within the New Forest in small family groups. They had their usual places to stop where they often met up with their family and acquaintances. They looked after their elderly members and were very family orientated. From the start of the nineteenth century Gypsy Travellers travelled on foot or in light carts sleeping in a Bender, which was a tent made of hazel branches and covered with tarpaulin. Because of their nomadic existence the children did not usually attend school but were taught important living skills and crafts by their elders. Gypsies had great pride, high morals and respected their elders.


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