Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities at Hartlebury Castle Museum

Hartlebury Castle Museum is proud of it’s relationship with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. A programme of  events, activities and exhibition improvements have been undertaken to increase awareness of Gypsy, Roma, Traveller (GRT) history and culture with schools and museum visitors and to directly engage members of the GRT community. These included:

Family Activity week in partnership with Wyre Forest Extended Services Co-ordinators

Pupils from Stourport Schools took part in a week of activities from June 22nd to 26th 2009 alongside their parents at Hartlebury to learn about and celebrate Traveller culture. Over 240 pupils and 90 parents from Wilden, St Bartholomew’s, Stourport, Hartlebury, St Wulstan’s and Burlish Park Primaries joined in hands-on storytelling workshops led by professional storytellers Katrice Horsley and Amy Douglas.

 Pupils and parents also used the Gypsy wagon collection at the museum to inspire them to make ‘Patrins’, a Gypsy word meaning leaf or page. ‘Patrins’ were used by Travellers to leave messages to fellow Travellers as they moved around the county.

 Sue Keynes teacher from St Bartholomew’s Primary said; “Children received a potted history on Traveller culture that enabled them to see Gypsies in a ‘better light’ as usually what surrounds them is negativity.  The children came away understanding that the culture is long in its history and has evolved.  The story telling was fantastic; the children’s understanding of oral story telling is often lost as it’s not presented in a fun way. The activities we completed during the story telling were accessible to all levels of understanding and I have re-used some of them in my classroom already.”

 All pupils who visited the museum were given a badge to enable them to have free access to the museum on the 28th June for the annual Gypsy, Roma, Traveller celebration event at the museum called ‘Gypsies, Who Are Ya?’. The event saw the pupils’ ‘Patrins’ on display as well as traditional crafts people, musicians and local service providers celebrating in the rich history of Travellers.

Stourport High School GRT Oral History Project

Project funding was used to purchase interpretative tools which led to the interviews of various people who had an involvement with Hartlebury’s Gypsy wagon collection. For example two of the interviewees had grown up in wagons, another had restored one. The interviewing process provided the museum with entirely new information about the collection, and also enabled the interviewees to talk about their heritage, and to feel involved and valued. We were also able to give some basic recording and interviewing training to a group of GRT children at Stourport High School. They then interviewed a lady who had grown up in a wagon. The key achievements here were improving the students’ speaking and listening skills and self-confidence, and promoting the importance and value of oral history particularly within the traveller community. Feedback from the interviewees, children and teacher has been very positive.    

Improvements to Museum Interpretation for the Gypsy Wagon Collection

During the spring of 2009 museum staff, assisted by museum volunteer John Lefley produced a series of new interpretative panels proving a fuller explanation of the history of the GRT communities and the wagons that Hartlebury holds. These panels were produced and launched on 28th June, the museums GRT History month event. Alongside these, “chatterboxes” were installed. These are recording/playback devices that now house the interviews collected by the project group mentioned above.

Bita Rawni Project – (written by Museum Volunteer Ced Lewis)

In the summer term of 2008 it was arranged that a young man, known to us all as A.J. should spend a day a week with Ced Lewis, our resident craftsman and wheelwright for work experience as he had shown great interest in Gypsy wagons and was keen to pursue a career in woodworking. He had already made a model of a wagon, his grandfather having owned and lived in one of the wagons on display here at Hartlebury.

AJ is seen here with his model and his Gran, Tanna Smith who features in the interviews and chatterboxes

 The exercise has been repeated again this year and with the help and support of A.J.’s school Baxter College Kidderminster, we are able to start producing a beautiful scale model , which can be seen in the museum workshop.

 The idea was to build a “miniature” (2 thirds full size) Gypsy bow top wagon from scratch, which when completed would go on display so that visiting groups of younger school aged children would be able to go inside and experience the feeling of living in a Gypsy Wagon.

 The work on display has so far taken about 80 hours and whilst there is obviously a lot more work to be done, it is the intention to produce an accurate reproduction of the traditional Romany bow top wagon.

 Why Bita Rawni? Well, in the Romani language it means “Little Lady”! 

Continuing work placement opportunity

 As mentioned above we are still offering a continuing work placement to AJ Bannister, a young man of GRT heritage. He comes to us once a week to work alongside his mentor, Ced Lewis and combines this with college work and a footballing apprenticeship at Kidderminster Harriers Football Club.

 Gypsy Textile Art Project The Odell Trust made an application to the Inroads Arts Grant in January 2010 for a Gypsy Textile Art Project. The idea for the project arose from work by textile artist, Tracey Ayre-Massey, and Leisure Coordinator for people with learning disabilities in the Wyre Forest, Sue Nicholl.  Worcestershire County Museum and Wyre Forest GOLD, a local charity, are also providing funding to support this project.

The project took place  between 27th April to 8th June 2010, in the Orchard Rooms at the Hartlebury Castle. 12 adults with learning disabilities, and their carers, learned about Gypsy traditions and culture and worked with Tracey to make their own Gypsy Patrin. Patrins are the messages which Gypsies leave for the next people who come to their site. It One session included a visit from a storyteller who brought stories from the Gypsy world to life for the group.

 The Patrins made during the project were on display at the “Gypsies – Who Are Ya?” Open Day at Hartlebury on June 13th 2010.

Sue Pope is the Learning and Outreach Manager at Museums Worcestershire and Ced Lewis is the resident craftsman and wheelwright at Hartlebury Castle Museum. Both can be contacted at

Gypsy Textile Art Project

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