South of the River – Getting About

I’ve lived in Beeston for nearly thirty years. I like it here, who wouldn’t? Friendly people, affordable houses, (reasonably) good facilities. But I’m very conscious that I’ve bucked the family trend.

My father was born in a mining village outside Sheffield. He studied at Cambridge and Manchester and went to a conference in India where he met an Australian woman that he later married. They then moved back to work in India. Oh, by the way, this was the 1950s and they travelled by boat, not airplane.

They had reached Switzerland when I came along. Dad continued to travel in his job but the family settled in the south of England. I say settled, but we continued to move regularly. I lived in seven different houses before I left home to come to university in Leeds.

Once I got here, I stayed put. My brother and sisters have done the same in other parts of the country. I think it has been our rebellion against our parents. I used to think my family was abnormal in the way it moved around the country and the globe. Maybe a bit exotic, but I just wanted to be normal. But once you start digging, and look over a longer timescale you find that most ordinary families have moved, often over great distances.

My grandfather was a miner and had to move to find work, especially in the thirties when he moved the family to north Wales. Go back another generation or two and the coal mines were only just being sunk, the mills built. New communities sprang up – which means that people moved from elsewhere to live by there new place of work.

My Other Half’s great great grandmother was born and died in the village of Braithwaite in the Lake District. A settled, rural, possibly idyllic life? Well no, it turns out she lived in London for thirty years and ran a pub in Islington.

I’ve been struck by tales of families upping sticks and moving in many of the family stories revealed in the TV series Who Do You Think You Are? Ordinary people have always had to move as work has changed. The enclosure of common land, the Highland clearances (which took my mother’s ancestors to Australia), the industrial revolution and the empire have all left their mark.

One of the things that I love about Beeston is how welcoming it is to more recent migrants. Europeans and Africans have followed South Asians and South Asians who came by way of East Africa, they followed Irish, who followed the people forced off their land in other parts of England.

And of course we are regularly visited by Gypsies and Travelers (as we have been for hundreds of years) some of whom settle with us. So next time you start complaining about “bloody gypsies” just remember that your family has traveled too.

So this has been my first weekly column. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it, tune in next week to read more thoughts about life – South of the River.

4 Replies to “South of the River – Getting About”

  1. Jeremy

    Just to say I read and enjoyed this – interesting and an important moral.

    Hope everything is okay with you.


  2. Travellers who come into our communities and integrate with the local people are welcomed by most people in our area. Personally, I have good friends from Algeria and India I have neighbours from Pakistan I have family members from the Caribbean I have worked with students from many parts of the world at University. These people don’t invade where we live with the aim of antagonising those whom they are living amongst. They live alongside them and make an invaluable contribution towards our dailyf life. Not so the itinerant settlers who come with their caravans, usually in large groups, and park up wherever they think fit. These people often:

    1. Don’t travel far.
    2. Are abusive towards the local residents.
    3. Ruin sports fields and other local amenities.
    4. Bring dogs, horses and other animals that are running free – the dogs can be very aggressive sometimes.
    5. Dump their household rubbish for others the clear up.
    6. Run businesses from caravans.
    7. Dump commercial waste from their businesses around their encampments.
    8. Expect to be provided with all the social services without any contribution in terms of taxes and national insurance.
    9. Have no respect for their neighbours from the locality they invade.
    10. Live outside the law.

    Is it any wonder that most of us live in fear of a ‘traveller’ encampment on our doorstep? Travellers with circuses and fairs cause little, if any, disruption. Years ago, I remember the old horse pulled gypsy caravans coming into the area – they caused few problems. Not so the itinerants that we see today it’s usually a black day when they appear next door. As you say “bloody gypsies”.

    1. It’s clear that many travelers cause problems for the communities they camp within. However in my experience there are two sides to every story. It’s not every traveler family that behave with such disregard and to treat the whole community. You can’t stereotype a whole community anymore than you would say all Asian force their children into unwanted marriages, or all Irishmen are drunken fighters, or all Yorkshiremen are tight-fisted.

      I’m not defending dumping waste or damaging sports pitches, but I do ask why would people behave like that? If I was not welcome, if there weren’t enough legal sites to stop on I wonder what I’d do. I hope I would still act responsibly, but I’m sure I would sometimes lose my temper.

      In my view the problems aren’t going to go away until we start providing more legal sites for travellers.

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