Monday, 6 July 2020

Ocean

I have just been reading about Ocean (what a lovely name) - the East Anglian Gypsy woman who wandered around Norfolk and Suffolk the whole of her life until she died in her early nineties.   I wonder if you have heard of her Rachel?

These 'characters' don't seem to exist any more do they whereas at one time every country area seemed to have one or two.   We certainly did on the edge of the Lincolnshire Fens.    Our female 'woman of the road' was Pyewipe Liz, who used to wander through the villages with her daughter who, looking back, must have been of school age but never seemed to go to school.   I must be talking of the years just before the Second World War - maybe 1935 - 1939 (I was born in 1932).  I remember her well - she always called at our house because she knew my mother was friendly.    She would give Liz any clothes I had grown out of, give them both some kind of meal and send them on their way.   She was called Pyewipe Liz because she came from Pyewipe, about a couple of miles the other side of Lincoln.
Pyewipe is a small settlement on The Fossedyke, the 'canal' - dug by the Romans I think - which links Brayford Pool in Lincoln (the River Witham runs into that) with the River Trent at Newark.  And as for the odd name 'Pyewipe' for a settlement (too small to be called a village) - Pyewipe is a colloquial word in the area for a Peewit or Lapwing.

We also in those days had 'Men of the Road' - my mother would never have them called 'Tramps'.   Many of them were 'casualties' of the First World War - not wanting to live indoors they wandered about the villages, sleeping in barns, picking up a few days work as and when they could.   As was the custom in those days, our gate post had some kind of sign on it, put there by the men, indicating that this was a safe house to call at.   There was always a place set in our wash house in case a tramp called and he would always be given food - a hot meal if it was the right time, or maybe something as simple as bread (my mother baked her own) butter, cheese and a few pickled onions (she also pickled her own) but always something.   And if there were any old clothes of my father's she would make them try them on  in the wash house and if they fitted give them to them (my Dad would burn the old ones on the bonfire) but if they didn't fit she would keep them for the next 'caller'.

These characters seemed to disappear with the onset of the Second World War - or was it with the beginning of the so-called 'Welfare State' - and of course that is as it should be.   There is something romantic about it all, and something to look back on with nostalgia but in the cold, clear light of day - there is nothing at all romantic about it all, is there.

29 comments:

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

I remember a few of these characters who were around when I was a child. I didn't really understand at the time but now I suspect that many of them were in need of much deeper help than the odd bit of bread and cheese. If you want to see their equivalent today then visit any large city and you'll see them on our streets. I've spoken to many of them and they are a very varied lot - men unable to cope with civilian life after leaving the armed forces, some are the victims of abuse, some have mental problems and some are just people who've lost their jobs and then their homes and families and have made some bad choices along the way. I suspect our ladies and gentlemen of the road were a similarly damaged lot.

Ellen D. said...

It is a sad situation. I just looked it up and found: "In the United States, there are over half a million people experiencing homelessness. These individuals live in a temporary shelter or transitional housing or sleep in a place not meant for habitation (like an abandoned building)."

diana said...

Before the days of government help ,neighbors and churches helped those in need and I believe this taught us all kindness and gratefulness.

Sue in Suffolk said...

Was is it a book or a newspaper article you were reading. I've not heard of anyone like that in Suffolk

Brenda said...

Families took care of families before government did. Grandparents lived with children...a good time for nuclear family. You have such a good attitude about all that is going on around us...wish others would follow suit...take care...prayers

The Weaver of Grass said...

Interesting what you have to say John. Perhaps these people tend to gravitate towards towns now rather than out into the country where I suspect many people are out all day in any case - so many commuters now live in our villages.

Derek Faulkner said...

The only person like that that I can recall, was this scruffy old lady when I was youngster in the 1950's. She spent every weekday pushing a metal dustbin on a sack barrow, round each school in turn and collecting all the left over food from school canteens to take and feed her pigs with.

walking in beauty carmarthenshire said...

In Somerset back in about 1990, We had a lady of the road who used to sleep on a bus shelter and pushed a pram with her belongings. We also used to have occasional callers stop at our house and we would feed them and give them something to help them on the way. I have a very old book showing the meaning of the signs they might leave.

Sue said...

The inherent kindness and decency of helping these folks with a meal and clothing is very touching. And seems sweetly old-fashioned, compared to the realities of poverty and mental illness in our modern time.

Ruth said...

Please keep writing your memories, Pat. This is such a good time to get them recorded, and everyone truly enjoys reading about them. I remember one poor old soul in our little town in the 40's. He'd pull up his horse and wagon across the street, lay a pair of trousers with neat creases on the curb, and sit on them. He'd fall asleep that way for an hour or so and then move on, his ironing done! I never saw him begging, and no one knew how he lived or where.

What must it be like to have no home, no bed, none of the things we take for granted. The poor and homeless are still very much with us, mostly sight unseen unless we start looking for them. Thank goodness for all the organizations today who are dedicated to helping them. We can help with food and money, but who will help the mental and physical problems that go along with it.

Bovey Belle said...

I don't remember gentlemen of the road as a child, but we had one here aboutsfor several years running - he would camp in a dilapidated wriggly tin shed beside the little derelict cottage a mile or so from here. When we went past on a walk we would note he had his socks washed (after a fashion!) and hanging up to dry by his fire. Once a week (on market day) he would pack up his tent and belongings and go and get his pension and some food for the week, then be back by teatime. He would stay there for several weeks (usually in the spring) and then move on, and be back later in the year towards autumn. Then we saw him no more and there was a bit in the local paper about a "tramp" having been found dead.

I do remember the "bag ladies" in Southampton when I lived there, sitting in the bus station cafe and making a cup of tea last all day. There were also the old boys from St Michael's Hostel, who had to find something to do all day long. Some were tidy, just homeless chaps, others had a drink problem and would be seen guzzling cider and meths (!) in the parks in Southampton. I imagine you didn't last long when you were drinking that blend . . .

Bovey Belle said...

P.S. LOVELY memories of yours. Please do start that book!

justjill said...

You write so well. You word a picture!

Heather said...

How right you are Pat. My grandmother always had respect for the true Romany gypsies and would have done as your mother did, had her house been more accessible to passers by.

willian vivian said...
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Marjorie said...

Your Mum sounds so lovely and kind. Thanks for sharing this lovely story about her.

Bonnie said...

I always enjoy hearing your memories of times past. How wonderful your parents were to help these people.

Tom Stephenson said...

I remember these real tramps and real Gypsies. First of all they were killed off by the crusties of the 1970s/80s, then the men of the road were killed off by urban alcoholics made homeless by rising house prices.

In France there were charcoal-burners and here there were genuine tinkers and knife-sharpeners.

Travellers these days are as much feared and avoided as in days of old, but probably for better reasons. Not many of them move camp much either, but that may not be their fault.

Joanne Noragon said...

I remember Men of the Road because of the major railroad tracks only a few miles away. In the forties.

Susan said...

The tramp I remember from my Suffolk childhood was known as Fiddler Joe. For a long time he was accompanied by a woman, Hannah, who I believe was blind. I have no idea why they were on the road but there must be a story to their lives. I think Hannah died in the local hospital but not sure what happened to Joe. There was another man, more of a hermit, who lived on my Uncle's land in a traditional gypsy caravan. He died there. This was in Ellough, Suffolk. I can understand if some of these people were casualties of war. My much older cousin was on the streets for a few years after WW2, and never really recovered his mental health. I would like to know where to find info about Ocean.

Cro Magnon said...

I don't remember tramps calling when I was young, but I do remember the Gypsies who came to the house selling pegs, washing line props, and strange flowers made from coloured wax attached to twigs. My mother would always buy something, and my aunt, who lived down the road, would buy lots. There was quite a community of Gypsies around our Surrey village. The wheelwright specialised in mending Reading wagons, and a so-called 'King of the Gypsies', Nelson Smith, lived just on the outskirts. There was always plenty of work for them in the fields, and they were very much a part of our village life.

thelma said...

I remember as a child gypsies coming to the house with their lucky heather and clothes pegs. I also remember Tom's 'crusties' at a later date because one of my son's friends was one.
We have real gypsies camping round here as well, knife-sharpeners, I saw them the other day with their ponies picketed out on the verge. They are very tidy and no one seems to move them on.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks everyone for adding your memories of those days to mine - fascinating reading all of them - and I am sure as John says that they are still around but in a slightly different form so that we don't notice them so much.

A Smaller Life said...

Lovely post Pat, and I love that so many of the comments echo your own memories.

The only proper 'tramps' that I remember were the homeless men and women that mostly lived in Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester city centre. They would claim a bench in the gardens at dusk and then move on to their wanderings the next morning. With bags and trollies hidden they would leave the city and then return later. They were a friendly lot if you talked to them and full of happy reminiscences.

They bulldozed the gardens to make a concrete 'water feature', now it's soulless and unfriendly. The homeless people are even barred from shop doorways due to metal gates being fitted over the thresholds. Times have changed ... but is it for the better?

Christine Hancock said...

I think my grandmother looked upon such folk very suspiciously. They sound romantic but on the road was a cold hungry life I think.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Indeed times have changed - and is it for the better?

Rachel Phillips said...

I have not heard of her Weave. I agree with the other comments, and my mother and father fed the gentlemen of the road and gave them a night or two in the straw shed as they passed the farm. We were situated by the main London trunk road.

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