The second great Gypsyry is on the Middlesex side of the river, and is distant about three miles, as the crow flies, from that of Wandsworth. Strange as it may seem, it is not far distant from the most fashionable part of London; from the beautiful squares, noble streets, and thousand palaces of Tyburnia, a region which, though only a small part of the enormous metropolis, can show more beautiful edifices, wealth, elegance, and luxury, than all foreign capitals put together.
After passing Tyburnia, and going more than halfway down Notting Hill, you turn to the right, and proceed along a tolerably genteel street till it divides into two, one of which looks more like a lane than a street, and which is on the left hand, and bears the name of Pottery Lane.
Go along this lane, and you will presently find yourself amongst a number of low, uncouth-looking sheds, open at the sides, and containing an immense quantity of earthen chimney-pots, pantiles, fancy-bricks, and similar articles. This place is called the Potteries, and gives the name of Pottery Lane to the lane through which you have just passed. A dirty little road goes through it, which you must follow, and presently turning to your left, you will enter a little, filthy street, and going some way down it, you will see, on your right hand, a little, open bit of ground, chock-full of crazy, battered caravans of all colours - some yellow, some green, some red.
Dark men, wild-looking, witch-like women, and yellow-faced children are at the doors of the caravans, or wending their way through the narrow spaces left for transit between the vehicles. You have now arrived at the second grand Gypsyry of London - you are amongst the Romany Chals of the Potteries, called in Gypsy the Koromengreskoe Tan, or the place of the fellows who make pots; in which place certain Gypsies have settled, not with the view of making pots, an employment which they utterly eschew, but simply because it is convenient to them, and suits their fancy.
A goodly collection of Gypsies you will find in that little nook, crowded with caravans. Most of them are Tatchey Romany, real Gypsies, "long-established people, of the old order." Amongst them are Ratzie-mescroes, Hearnes, Herons, or duck-people; Chumo-mescroes or Bosvils; a Kaulo Camlo (a Black Lovel) or two, and a Beshaley or Stanley. It is no easy thing to find a Stanley nowadays, even in the Baulo Tem, or Hampshire, which is the proper home of the Stanleys, for the Bugnior, pimples or small-pox, has of late years made sad havoc amongst the Stanleys; but yonder tall old gentlewoman, descending the steps of a caravan, with a flaming red cloak and a large black beaver bonnet, and holding a travelling basket in her hand, is a Tatchey Beshaley, a "genuine" Stanley.
The generality, however, of "them Gyptians" are Ratzie-mescroes, Hearnes, or duck-people; and, speaking of the Hearnes, it is but right to say that he who may be called the Gypsy Father of London, old Thomas Ratzie-mescro, or Hearne, though not exactly residing here, lives close by in a caravan, in a little bit of a yard over the way, where he can breathe more freely, and be less annoyed by the brats and the young fellows than he would be in yonder crowded place.
Though the spot which it has just been attempted to describe, may be considered as the head-quarters of the London Gypsies, on the Middlesex side of the Thames, the whole neighbourhood, for a mile to the north of it, may to a certain extent be considered a Gypsy region - that is, a district where Gypsies, or gentry whose habits very much resemble those of Gypsies, may at any time be found. No metropolitan district, indeed, could be well more suited for Gypsies to take up their abode in.
It is a neighbourhood of transition; of brickfields, open spaces, poor streets inhabited by low artisans, isolated houses, sites of intended tenements, or sites of tenements which have been pulled down; it is in fact a mere chaos, where there is no order and no regularity; where there is nothing durable, or intended to be durable; though there can be little doubt that within a few years order and beauty itself will be found here, that the misery, squalidness, and meanness will have disappeared, and the whole district, up to the railroad arches which bound it on the west and north, will be covered with palaces, like those of Tyburnia, or delightful villas, like those which decorate what is called Saint John's Wood.
At present, however, it is quite the kind of place to please the Gypsies and wandering people, who find many places within its bounds where they can squat and settle, or take up their quarters for a night or two without much risk of being interfered with. Here their tents, cars, and caravans may be seen amidst ruins, half-raised walls, and on patches of unenclosed ground; here their children may, throughout the day, be seen playing about, flinging up dust and dirt, some partly naked, and others entirely so; and here, at night, the different families, men, women, and children, may be seen seated around their fires and their kettles, taking their evening meal, and every now and then indulging in shouts of merriment, as much as to say:
What care we, though we be so small?
The tent shall stand when the palace shall fall.
Which is quite true. The Gypsy tent must make way for the palace, but after a millennium or two, the Gypsy tent is pitched on the ruins of the palace.
Of the open spaces above mentioned, the most considerable is one called Latimer's Green. It lies on the north-western side of the district, and is not far from that place of old renown called the Shepherd's Bush, where in the good ancient times highwaymen used to lurk for the purpose of pouncing upon the travellers of the Oxford Road. It may contain about five or six acres, and, though nominally under the control of trustees, is in reality little more than a "no man's ground," where anybody may feed a horse, light a fire, and boil a kettle.
It is a great resort of vagrant people, less of Gypsies than those who call themselves travellers, and are denominated by the Gypsies Chorodies, and who live for the most part in miserable caravans, though there is generally a Gypsy tent or two to be seen there, belonging to some Deighton or Shaw, or perhaps Petulengro, from the Lil-engro Tan, as the Romany call Cambridgeshire.
Amidst these Chorody caravans and Gypsy tents may frequently be seen the ker-vardo, the house on wheels, of one who, whenever he takes up his quarters here, is considered the cock of the walk, the king of the place. He is a little under forty years of age, and somewhat under five feet ten inches in height. His face is wonderfully like that of a mastiff of the largest size, particularly in its jowls; his neck is short and very thick, and must be nearly as strong as that of a bull; his chest is so broad that one does not like to say how broad it is; and the voice which every now and then proceeds from it has much the sound of that of the mighty dog just mentioned; his arms are long and exceedingly muscular, and his fists huge and bony. He wears a low-crowned, broad-brimmed hat, a coarse blue coat with short skirts, leggings, and high-lows. Such is the kral o' the tan, the rex loci, the cock of the green. But what is he besides? Is he Gypsy, Chorody, or Hindity mush? I say, you had better not call him by any one of those names, for if you did he would perhaps hit you, and then, oh dear!
That is Mr. G. A., a travelling horse-dealer, who lives in a caravan, and finds it frequently convenient to take up his abode for weeks together on Latimer's Green. He is a thorough-bred Englishman, though he is married to a daughter of one of the old, sacred Gypsy families, a certain Lurina Ratziemescri, duck or heron female, who is a very handsome woman, and who has two brothers, dark, stealthy-looking young fellows, who serve with almost slavish obedience their sister's lord and husband, listening uncomplainingly to his abuse of Gypsies, whom, though he lives amongst them and is married to one by whom he has several children, he holds in supreme contempt, never speaking of them but as a lying, thievish, cowardly set, any three of whom he could beat with one hand; as perhaps he could, for he is a desperate pugilist, and has three times fought in "the ring" with good men, whom, though not a scientific fighter, he beat with ease by dint of terrible blows, causing them to roar out.
He is very well to do in the world; his caravan, a rather stately affair, is splendidly furnished within; and it is a pleasure to see his wife, at Hampton Court races, dressed in Gypsy fashion, decked with real gems and jewels and rich gold chains, and waited upon by her dark brothers dressed like dandy pages. How is all this expense supported? Why, by horsedealing. Mr. G. is, then, up to all kinds of horsedealers' tricks, no doubt. Aye, aye, he is up to them, but he doesn't practise them. He says it's of no use, and that honesty is the best policy, and he'll stick to it; and so he does, and finds the profit of it.
His traffic in horses, though confined entirely to small people, such as market-gardeners, travellers, show-folks, and the like, is very great; every small person who wishes to buy a horse, or to sell a horse, or to swop a horse, goes to Mr. G., and has never reason to complain, for all acknowledge that he has done the fair thing by them; though all agree that there is no overreaching him, which indeed very few people try to do, deterred by the dread of his manual prowess, of which a Gypsy once gave to the writer the following striking illustration: - "He will jal oprey to a gry that's wafodu, prawla, and coure leste tuley with the courepen of his wast." (He will go up to a vicious horse, brother, and knock him down with a blow of his fist.)
The arches of the railroad which bounds this region on the west and north serve as a resort for Gypsies, who erect within them their tents, which are thus sheltered in summer from the scorching rays of the sun, and in winter from the drenching rain. In what close proximity we sometimes find emblems of what is most rude and simple, and what is most artificial and ingenious! For example, below the arch is the Gypsy donkey-cart, whilst above it is thundering the chariot of fire which can run across a county in half an hour.
The principal frequenters of these arches are Bosvils and Lees; the former are chiefly tinkers, and the latter esconyemengres, or skewer-makers. The reason for this difference is that the Bosvils are chiefly immigrants from the country, where there is not much demand for skewers, whereas the Lees are natives of the metropolis or the neighbourhood, where the demand for skewers has from time immemorial been enormously great. It was in the shelter of one of these arches that the celebrated Ryley Bosvil, the Gypsy king of Yorkshire, breathed his last a few years ago.