Itinerant minorities in England and Wales in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries : a study of gypsies, tinkers, hawkers and other travellers
The term 'Romany' immediately conjures up notions of race and ethnicity, accompanied by images of a separate and distinct culture. Many writers, past and present, have contributed to this essentially mythical, racial construct. Although nineteenth-century travellers were varied in terms of their habits, aspirations, wealth, type of dwelling and the like, the attempt to draw between the travellers’ cultural lines of divide based on racial determinants contains serious flaws in assumptions, methodology and evidence. f, I- I Moreover, although varied, the travellers were bound together by certain common features, notably by their position as a minority group in relation to settled society. Resultant upon their travelling way of life was a conflict with the 'centre', or with the institutions and structures of a sedentary-based society, in this instance organised around a capitalist political economy. The nature of this relationship with the dominant economic, social and political structures can be explained summarily by reference to the attempts to christianise, educate, settle and sanitise the travellers, and which were carried 'out with various degrees of coercion and compulsion. Formal and informal upholders and agents of the 'new morality' worked together to bring about these desired ends. The position of travellers was also necessarily affected by general trends taking place within the economy and society as a whole. Changed perceptions about them, responses to them, and the conditions under which they lived, were a reflection of more general developments, economic trends affected their employments, and where they were carried out, which in turn altered their relations with the sedentary community they served. Similarly, racial theories concerning the 'Romany' assumed a position of pre-eminent status only with the related growth of, and deference to, scientific knowledge from the mid-century onwards.