Wardown Park Museum In Luton Explores Gypsy And Traveller Life

By Paul Dance | 24 May 2006
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photo of a red traditional wooden gypsy caravan

Traditional gypsy caravan at Stockwood Park

Wardown Park Museum in Luton is hosting an exhibition devoted to gypsy and travelling people, running until August 27 2006.

It includes information and artefacts about all aspects of travellers’ lives from weddings and funerals to boxing and peg making. There is a play caravan for very small children and film of traditional story telling and music-making around a campfire and another short film of circus acts performed by an Eastern European group of travellers.

Richard O’Neill, a Romany gypsy from County Durham now living outside Manchester, who has been involved in a story telling project at the museum said: “If I try and lecture people, especially children, they’ll just turn off.”

“One of the best comments I ever had was when a teacher recently said to me after I’d talked to her class, ‘thanks the children enjoyed that so much, I didn’t have the heart to tell them they were learning as well’.”

His stories, about his upbringing and traditional gypsy skills like peg making, openly acknowledge many of the prejudices and myths that ‘settled people’ have about travellers, but avoid preaching.

The exhibition has a similar light-hearted feel, aiming to show and tell rather than preach. I felt there could have been more adult-oriented material as the displays are mostly aimed at children and some of the worst prejudice against gypsies appears to come from adults.

Nonetheless this is a worthwhile exhibition by a museum that is always involved in the history of its surrounding area. In August there will also be craft days and a painted, horse-drawn gypsy caravan is on permanent display at Stockwood Park Museum on the other side of Luton.

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