Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Openlot - Bowtop

Gypsy Waggon

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I was sat watching the T.V. one teatime in June when the phone rang... it was my friend who informed me he had just driven by a Gypsy Caravan going through Hyde. I shouted Jane to get the camera and it was off trying to find it... which as you see we did. Luckily they had stopped to rest the horses and give them a drink.
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I have always liked these since seeing them as a youngster, now adays they are rarely seen on our busy roads. I do have one friend who owns one which he uses at summer, and another that is being restored.
Gypsies have been using waggons like these for around 200 years in Britain, before these they would have simple carts to hold their goods and wares. At night the would sleep under them, or they would use Gypsy Tents known as 'Benders'.. these were made from the twigs and branches of trees such as Hazel... simple structures covered with a canvas.
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The true Gypsy name for these waggons are 'Vardo's' which is from an Iranian word... 'Vurdon'. These craftsman built waggons were the pride and joy of their owners. Most were bought from known Coach Builders. At one time newly weds would have theirs made before the wedding took place. Each one would take up to 12-14 months to be built, the preferred woods used were English Oak, Elm, Walnut, Ash and Pine.
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The skills of the Coach Builders were equaled by the artistic skills of the painter and decorates of that time... some of the more expensive ones would have designs picked out in Gold Leaf. There are a number of different designs for these waggons, and this one is known as an 'Openlot'... it is a basic 'Bowtop' design. A simple frame work was built, sometimes onto the bed of a flat bed waggon... this frame would then be covered with a canvas like this one. There is no door on these, apart from a canvas hung from the roof supports at the front.
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The insides of Bowtops such as this are quite basic, compared to some of the others bigger roofed waggons. They have one area to live and sleep in, but the back as a raised double bunk for the adults and the children slept below this, or on the floor. The sleeping area would be covered by a curtain during the day. These Bowtops had a small stove known as a 'Queenie'.. it would only be use in bad weather as most of the cooking was done on a camp fire.
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It is normal to have just one horse do all the work of pulling these, when a hill or long incline is met then a spare horse is added. These horses are sturdy bests of burden, most are over 14 hands high, and like every other working horse I've met have a good nature to them.
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The sad thing about the Gypsy way of life was the belief that in death the owners were bound to their belongings.. and could not rest until they were burnt, buried or sunk to the bottom of the sea. For that reason many of these waggons were burnt along with other belongings.
I hope you have enjoyed this post as much as I have... These can now be hired for the week as holiday homes... now that would be nice .... if the weather was.
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16 comments:

Babooshka said...

What a fantastic photo op. You got me thinking now if we have any Gypsies here. Have to check that out. Beautiful wagons and as ever so educational just dropping by here.

Gattina said...

Very interesting ! I have never seen Gipsies like that with these beautiful wagons and horses. Here they usually house in Caravans and nobody wants them, probably because they don't fit in our established society.

Abe Lincoln said...

Beautiful post Tom. I liked to see the horse well cared for. And the wagon is just beautiful.

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Rottlady of the Ozarks said...

How cool to find something like this to write about. The wagons are so ornate. I love the pictures and the education. Thanks!

RuneE said...

Thank you very much for that post Tom - I have never seen these wagons outside of film. It seems extraordinary that they still are used as in the old days, if I understood correctly. A magnificent handiwork and I hope that they will be cared for (along with the owners and horses).

PS Thank you for the comment - I'll forward you greeting to that mad Englishman... ;-)

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Tom: What a neat story about the ending of the belongings. Neat photos, not too many Gypsies in Kent.

Kerri said...

How interesting! I've never seen anything like this before!

Carletta said...

Tom, you must know I'm singing Cher's old song - 'I was born in the wagon of a traveling show, Mama used to dance for the money they'd throw, Grandpa'd do whatever he could....' :)
It's a lovely wagon and a holiday might be pretty cool if as you said the weather was good.
Nice post!

Tom said...

Hi Carletta
If you don't mind I might just pinch that idea for a post on my 'Picture and Words' Blog.... I will also be singing that now.. :O)

Arija said...

An informative and well illustrated post Tom. I had not seen these hoop topped waggons before. All the Gipsy waggons of my aquaintance have been the Mr.Toad illustration square riggers. Gypsies very often are wonderful craftsmen and artists and musicians. A pity that so many countries have historically tried to exterminate them.

Shammickite said...

Gorgeous gypsy waggon. I remember seeing these when I lived in England. And I went in a gorgeous one that was owned by the people who ran Anderton and Rowlands amusements when the annual fair came to N Devon.

Dina said...

All this is absolutely fascinating, especially the end paragraphs!!
Thanks for the great story and photos, Tom.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I lovely informative post and the waggon is quite spectacular.

It is a wonder that Gypsies persist. Life for them has been hard. They survived the Roma Holocaust only to continue to be persecuted in Eastern Europe. Many have tried to emmigrate to Western Europe and a large number have come to Canada such that the government just required Visa for people the Czech Republic (and Mexico) to slow refugee claims our Conservative government find alarming. Sadly so.

In North America Gypsies are known as Travellers, many move about a live by their wits.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I lovely informative post and the waggon is quite spectacular.

It is a wonder that Gypsies persist. Life for them has been hard. They survived the Roma Holocaust only to continue to be persecuted in Eastern Europe. Many have tried to emmigrate to Western Europe and a large number have come to Canada such that the government just required Visa for people the Czech Republic (and Mexico) to slow refugee claims our Conservative government find alarming. Sadly so.

In North America Gypsies are known as Travellers, many move about a live by their wits.

Rose said...

I really have enjoyed this post. I would love to see one in person and be able to see inside.

Ida said...

Lovely post, Tom! :)
Beautiful wagon AND horses! :))

I have Gypsy blood running through my veins myself, and I am very proud of it!!!
Gypsies have a very sad story in Norway (too!)....!
They have been treated very bad by the State Church and the government!
Until 1977 they were exposed to brain surgery (lobotomy) and sterilization - by force!
The governemnt also took away their horses. In that way they removed their basis of existence.
They even placed whole Gypsy families in missionary institutions.
Definately a big shame!

My grandmother was taken from her parents when she was three years old. All of her siblings were seperated from the family as well. She had scars due to this injustice throughout her lifetime.
Her parents were good people!

Despite all this, she was a beautiful lady! Loving, strong, petite, elegant and a woman that cared for us all - her whole family. I loved her very much!