When I was a child life was a hundred percent different to now, we used to sit on the floor as we didn’t have any chairs but now and again someone would chore an old chair off the dumps. We used to make our bikes and go down the old tip and get frames and wheels and fill up the old tyres with straw. Especially during the war you couldn’t get tyres and tubes.
Life was better then because we could trust each other, you could put a tenner in a bender or wherever and you could come back in a week’s time and it would still be there and the door would be open to everyone.
I had four brothers and a sister, my mother had twenty one brothers and sisters but she was the era before me.
We never had a big family; there was five of us and Jenny the girl. You didn’t have to worry about boys then. When I was about twelve years old I was picking turnips, potatoes and carrots and earning 6d a week. That’s about 2.5p in today’s money and I used to work from the sun up until sundown. Every light hour we worked from about nine years old. Before that we had to run and get the water from the river or church yard. We had water all the year round because the stream ran through, which was lucky.
I was in East Boldre in the old compound, it’s still there, they’ve even left the bridle ways and there are four or five acres of trees. The compound was on the road to the East End from East Boldre Post Office, past East Boldre School and allotments. When you get to open forest look over on the right hand side and you will see a clump of trees that was the compound.
Mrs. Rostigina (1*) used to walk about East Boldre pushing a pram and I asked her one day, "Mrs. Rostigina, how are you?" and she said "I’m looking for old Bill". Her husband William had died about five years before.
If I had a tummy ache or we were ill we always went to see Mrs. Rosti, she would give us some liquid which probably tasted horrid but she managed to cure it. She was like the doctor old Mrs. Rostigina. Course, two of her boy’s went in the Army as well, I can remember them both. One got killed on a motor bike down at the Three Bells on the ‘S’ bend at Hordle and the other one, I don’t know where he went. He was a tall smart, big fellow. They both were big and smart. He was in the Guards and one day he brought his girlfriend home to the compound, I’ll never forget it, if it was three hundred years ago I’d still remember, she couldn’t get off it quick enough.
In my younger days the only thing I was interested in was sport, girls and that didn’t bother me at all. We used to go into Lymington three or four of us at a time, to the pictures and one thing and another. There would be girls there but when it was over we didn’t bother. I was always in the football and running.
I didn’t ever go to school except when I was in the Army; I had one to one tuition. We used to go to the back of East Boldre School and when the children were playing football, we used to jump over and play with them, them were the days.
Note: - (1*) Mrs. Rostigina is believed to be Lillian Rostigina, known as ‘The Duchess of Lymington’ Mother worked up until almost the day she died. She would go spud picking and the big ones used to go in the bag and the little ones were left to pick up after work to bring home. Now they ask a fortune for the little spuds!
I think it was Mrs Kitchener, I’m not sure, but we were spud picking down at Boyd’s Farm and Mrs Kitchener went up to the end of the field to go to the toilet and came back with a baby in her arms!! You know she had actually gone up and had the baby. Of course, the old farmer Boyd called the doctor but she went up and had a baby whilst she was there. Like I say they literally worked seven days a week whenever they could, I am sure that was Mrs. Kitchner, but I can’t remember it was so long ago now. Boyd’s Farm, East Boldre at the back of the church, I don’t know if it was a boy or a girl, of course the other women went up and helped her and came up with a horse and cart.
At Christmas, our Christmas present was a pair of socks and an apple; there was no money about, if there was you were lucky. Come round Easter then Granny Harvey used to keep bantams and she used to give us a bantam egg each for an Easter egg. But we didn’t know any different and that was great.
I think in our days it was because there was no money about, but nowadays they waste money, that’s my opinion, I might be totally wrong.
We always had a fire at Christmas and a sing song; we always had meat and ate well, everyone mucked in. We had the Gorgio people come down the compound and say "could you sell us some meat" because as you know it was all ration books, mother used to sell the clothing coupons to get food coupons and that sort of thing.
It’s a different world altogether, I wouldn’t say I’m stingy, it’s the way I’ve been brought up I suppose. I mean the thing is I remember when my wife was alive and we had teenagers, let’s say we had a double sheet and it got worn, I known her cut it in half, reverse it, stitch it and use it until it got holey, then cut it up and made it into pillow cases and when the pillow cases fell apart she would use the decent parts to make nappies for the babies and when they were all finished, if you could get a bit out, you’d make handkerchiefs. To me there’s nothing wrong with that at all, I mean that would have been thrown out and gone and yet it’s good enough for a handkerchief.
My wife was a Gorgio and we were married in East Boldre Church. Many Gypsies jumped the broom stick and this is why you might get brothers and sisters with different surnames, ones taken the mothers name, one taken the father’s name. You were given the choice, some weren’t registered or christened, well if you’re not registered who knows. Our mum registered us and that’s why the Gavver’s came down and told us to join the army. Some Gypsies don’t know how old they were because they were never registered. One lady I know remembered being christened but doesn’t know how old she is, her christening is her birthday but she could be five years older. There was no such thing as family allowance so basically what reason was there for registering?
We used to go scrumping, I used to go up the trees and put the apples in my shirt and of course being the last one out, the Gavver would be waiting outside the hedge and would tell you to go home and tell your dad who would be cross, not because you were out stealing apples but because you were caught!!!
The main thing was trading horses which was about three times a year, they used to go to the Beaulieu Road pony sales twice a year, but again you see in my day there were more horses and cows on the forest then than there is now and quite often we’d go and chore one and they wouldn’t be missed. Mother never said to us to chore anything, she would say we haven’t got many spuds or no cabbage for the weekend and we used to go out and get the spuds, but she never ever said go out and chore anything, that was her way of telling us.
What we used to do is go out in the middle of the field, dig out lots of spuds, because you get a root of spuds and that was enough, we didn’t take any more than that and we used to put the greens back in and the same as with a cabbage. We would go out and with a cow cabbage we would get it and cut underneath so the outside leaves would still be there and it would look like the cabbage was still there!!
This was years ago and I was up the New Inn and old Jim Boyd from Boyd Farm came up and a few of us men were talking and of course old Jim came up and said "You young buggers, you used to pinch my spuds and cabbage didn’t you?"
"No, not us Mr Boyd"
"Yes you did and you used to put the greens back in and you thought I didn’t know, didn’t you?"
And this was thirty years later and he knew all the time yet he never said anything, I bet they had had a good laugh over it.
We used to have hedgehog, but we used to skin them not put them in clay like everyone says. You could wrap them in foil and cook them in the normal way. You skin them the same as a pheasant, you don’t pluck them. You can skin a pheasant quicker than you can pluck it and you’ll just be left holding all the skin and feathers.
You can put proper clay around a hedgehog and chuck it in the fire because that way the clay holds everything together and when you break the clay off, all the spikes come off and leaves the skin, you do that because it don’t burn. Usually if we were going to have it for dinner we would cook it in a normal manner, we would only boil it if we were making a stew, same with a pheasant, you would boil a pheasant to make a stew, but that was the way we used to do it, but different people did it different ways. We never had squirrel but I can’t see why you can’t eat them, to me all they are is a rat or ‘bengtail,’ we don’t call them rats round here.
You see during the war people had snakes, eels, they ate worms, they ate squirrels, they ate rats mice and they’re still alive. I’ve had eel, I used to go fishing with the little ones and when the eels came I used to take them home and we’d have jellied eels. I’ve never had snake knowingly, what mothers put in stews I’d never know. I’m still here, I’ve eaten sparrow eggs and they’re no different to swans egg, I’ve had heaps of swans eggs, I’ve never been chased by a swan, usually two of us went and would go and chase them and the other one would go and get the eggs and be waist deep in water but that didn’t matter, we still had the eggs.
You would leave one egg in the nest because they will always come back, same is with moorhen, if you leave a couple of eggs in the nest, they’ll come back again and like a pheasant, if you take some of the eggs and leave a couple they’ll always come back.
Seagulls eggs, we used to go down to Old Park onto the shore and we used to get the seagull eggs and sell them to the butcher, who used to come round in a horse and cart for a tanner each, he used to get a shilling each for them in London because all the hotels and that, paid a lot of money because seagull eggs made things dark.
We used to catch deer with wires and we have chased them down with dogs and one thing and another. I started preparing a deer at ten at night and not finished until 3.00am. The way I prepared a deer was to tie his front legs down and put a knife inside and you’d have the whole skin.
I like pigs head with mushrooms, a half one not a whole one, when you get a pig’s head you carve it and take the cheek off. They’ve got quite a big cheek, but that’s another thing with Gypsies, with ox hearts and that sort of thing, the things that would get chucked away we would eat. With a pig’s head or a sheep’s head when they were cooked you always took the brains out and gave it to the baby, the youngest one cause it was a ritual basically. Nothing was thrown away, like with pig trotters, we used to eat those. Even the chit’lins were eaten, the insides as you know. Personally I like chit’lins, but they’ve done away with them now, you can’t get them.
Years ago we used to take all the rabbits out and the farmer wouldn’t get all the trouble with corn and that. In the old days nothing was ever said about poaching, but now it’s a criminal offence. Now if somebody catches you they put you inside and all you’re doing is saving the rabbits eating the corn. When father was alive we used to go ferreting. Montague Arms at Beaulieu, they had a standing order with father for two dozen rabbits every Saturday at 2s each, this was after the war. On every Friday father used to say, "Boys we’ve got to go out and get these rabbits."
We used to ferret them or wire them. Father used to go and set his wires at night and go about 5.00 am the following morning and go round, pitch up all the rabbits and bring them back. He used to poach them on site and bring them back. He would say "Boys we’re going ferreting, you’re not going anywhere else."
We used to go out 6am-7am in the morning, we only had one bike between us and off we’d go ferreting. We had two ferrets and you could get eight to ten rabbits out of one burrow using one ferret.
We had a net that was 2ft square and we would put it over the hole and you would do each hole that you could find. There was always some you wouldn’t find that wouldn’t come out. If we were around a field and there was a ditch, Father used to say we would put a bigger net down in case one got out; he used to make the nets. Ninety nine times out of hundred we used to net the holes but, I always remember when Uncle Bruce was with us one day down at East end, you could hear the ferrets in the hole, they were running, bump, bump, bump, one came out of a pot hole and we didn’t see him or put a net on and he shot out of that and straight into Uncle Bruce’s chest and Father said "Catch that bloody thing," he caught him in the ditch, we did have fun. Father treated it as a business; if they wanted twenty four they could have twenty four.
You can make rabbit taste like anything just by the stock you add to it. When we used wire, you set it down and put a stick in the ground to hold it. You put the wire about two inches above the ground because a rabbit don’t run with its head right in the ground, then it puts its head through the wire as it runs and as it goes through of course the wire tightens and rabbits being rabbits go, they try to go forward all the time so it tightens. Usually when you go to pick them up the rabbits are just sitting there, they can’t go anywhere and they don’t suffer. It’s when people put the grabs in that it’s cruel.
I’ve seen my dear old mum sitting down in front of the fire saying, "If the Gavver’s catch you, they’ll bloody lock you," that was the way of life, we didn’t take dozens of them and father had permission to go round the farmers fields so we weren’t poaching as such.
My family came from East Boldre; my mother was a ‘Harvey’, her father a ‘Kitchener’. Now father he comes from a place called ‘Burton Agnes’ in Scarborough. During the first world war, him and his brothers and that, never had no money so they all joined the army, like a lot of people did, he came down to Beaulieu and he met mother who lived up at Fuzze Lodge and they got married in Beaulieu Abbey, and course father settled down here. We always used to go up to visit his people and Diane did a research , traced it back and she couldn’t find out, we got the name cause it was all Burtons in Burton Agnes.
Father was buried at Beaulieu cemetery and Lord Montague was a bearer of the coffin, he was shown so much respect from the dignitaries of Beaulieu. Touch wood I think I’m respected but not to the degree that he was. What other Gypsy in the world can say he had a Lord of the Realm carrying his coffin like my father at Beaulieu.
Years ago we literally lived off the land, we didn’t have the money and that’s all there was to it, but now I do believe it’s all the additives in the food that you’re getting that’s causing problems.
There were only two shops in East Boldre, one being the post office Mathews & Symes, if you went in and asked for something they would give it to you. Mother used to go in and give us her pound and we used to pay off the bill, then we used to say can we have some sweets which would go in the book again. We would be in the book all week then pay it off on Friday. Course you can’t do that now because of all the supermarkets. Once a week we used to have the fish cart come round and we used to have the battery man, Eric Fenner in an old car with the batteries, so we could buy some old batteries for our radio, but you don’t get none of that now, in those days the shop keepers used to trust us.