I am currently a PhD student in LiFTS. In 2023 I completed a part-time MA in Scriptwriting having returned to higher education following my retirement in 2018 after over 40 years in the IT industry. I was the youngest of four children, born between March 1951 and August 1955, to parents, one of which was an English Gipsy. My Grandmother, who you can see in the photograph below, settled into brick in the East End of London very early in the 20th Century when she began to produce her 7 sons and 5 daughters, no doubt conscious of the parliamentary threats made to remove Gipsy children from their parents should they not be settled into regular schooling – a situation incompatible with a travelling lifestyle.

Lenda Lee

From conversations with my extended family, I have found that few speak openly about our Gipsy heritage and, over the years, only a very small number have returned to a travelling lifestyle. However, I, and each of my siblings, have achieved at least a Bachelor’s Degree. One wrote, taught and represented Australia in the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in the 1970’s, another is an artist, the third a horticulturalist and businesswoman, demonstrating that Gipsies and the children of Gipsies have the capacity to be as successful, and to contribute as much, as any other demographic in this society.

James Smith stands outside a wagon.

My grandmother’s parents (shown in the other photographs in this blog) have progeny which includes teachers, Civil Servants, business people, a prospective MP, an MBE, a solicitor, nurses, people with religious convictions, people with other convictions and people who should have had convictions, engineers, builders, computer specialists, musicians, professional sportsmen, labourers, drivers, Council workers, people with proud military service, Freemasons, Communists, Socialists, feminists, Conservatives, Australians, Africans, Americans, Muslims, Christians, disabled from birth, alcoholics, puritans and, of course, a mixture of races. Much, I suspect, like any other large family. 

Rosetta Smith

Being only half-Gipsy and not having experienced the lifestyle, other than “holidays” to the hop and fruit fields of Kent in my childhood, I do not consider myself able to fully claim that heritage, and I may still choose to remain silent when discussions turn to travelling matters. However, it was my fond recollections of the love of my grandmother that led me to realise that in obscuring or denying my Gipsy background, I was effectively denying this special woman who only ever showed me love. Her memory encourages me to learn about and speak more openly about my heritage and the history of Gipsies and Travellers, and to self-identify at The University of Essex. I hope that in doing so I will encourage other Gypsy, Traveller, Roma, Showmen and Boater students to self-identify, leading in turn to greater encouragement of other young people who feel they would like to participate in further formal education.

I have found the people at the University to be extremely welcoming, diversity is respected and support is widely available.