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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

The tinsmiths had two horses and one ass


On

my return from the English Border, I passed over the field where the fair had been held, two days before, and found, to my surprise, the Gipsies occupying their original encampment. They, alone, were in possession of St. Boswell's Green. I counted twenty-four carts, thirty horses, twenty asses, and about thirty dogs; and I thought there were upwards of a hundred men, women, and children, on the spot. The horses were, in general, complete rosinantes--as lean, worn-out, wretched-looking animals, as possibly could be imagined. The field trampled almost to mortar, by the multitude of horses, cattle, and sheep, and human beings, at the fair; the lean, jaded and lame horses, braying asses, and surly-looking dogs; the groups of miserable furniture, ragged children, and gloomy-looking parents; a fire, here and there, smoking before as many miserable tents--when contrasted with the gaily-dressed multitude, of both sexes, on the spot, two days before--presented a scene unequalled for its wretched, squalid and desolate appearance. Any one desirous of viewing an Asiatic encampment, in Scotland, should visit St. Boswell's Green, a day or two after the fair.[237]

[237] St. Boswell's fair "is the resort of many salesmen of goods, and, in particular, of _tinkers_. Bands of these very peculiar people, the direct descendants of the original Gipsies, who so much annoyed the country in the fifteenth century, haunt the fair, for the disposal of earthen-ware,

horn spoons, and tin culinary utensils. They possess, in general, horses and carts, and they form their temporary camp by each _whomling_ his cart upside down, and forming a lodgement with straw and bedding beneath. Cooking is performed outside the _craal_, in Gipsy fashion. There could not, perhaps, be witnessed, at the present day, in Britain, a more amusing and interesting scene, illustrative of a rude period, than is here annually exhibited."--_Chambers' Gazetteer of Scotland._ [This writer is in error as to the Gipsies annoying the country in the _fifteenth_ century: that occurred during the three following centuries.--ED.]

The following may be said to be about the condition in which the present race of Scottish _tinkering_ Gipsies are to be found: I visited, at one time, a horde of Gipsy tinsmiths, bivouacked by the side of a small streamlet, about half a mile from the town of Inverkeithing. It consisted of three married couples, the heads of as many families, one grown-up, unmarried female, and six half-clad children below six years of age. Including the more grown-up members, scattered about in the neighbourhood, begging victuals, there must have been above twenty souls belonging to this band. The tinsmiths had two horses and one ass, for carrying their luggage, and several dogs. They remained, during three cold and frosty nights, encamped in the open fields, with no tents or covering, for twenty individuals, but two pairs of old blankets.[238] Some of the youngest children, however, were pretty comfortably lodged at night. The band had several boxes, or rather old chests, each about four feet long, two broad, and two deep, in which they carried their white-iron plates, working tools, and some of their infants, on the backs of their horses. In these chests the children passed the night, the lids being raised a little, to prevent suffocation. The stock of working tools, for each family, consisted of two or three files, as many small hammers, a pair of bellows, a wooden mallet, a pair of pincers, a pair of large shears, a crucible, a soldering-iron or two, and a small anvil, of a long shape, which was stuck into the ground.


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