Thursday, February 23, 2023

Dame Barbara Cartland was a friend to the Gypsies

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Time for another post about Barbara Cartland, the liberal Conservative and social reformer.

Four years ago the BBC screened a documentary by Damian Le Bas about the experience of Romany Gypsies in its series A Very British History. (There's a page for the programme on iPlayer, but you can't view it at present.)

The Welwyn Hatfield Times published an article about it at the time, and Dame Barbara featured prominently:
Going into the 1960s, the travelling way of life was still there but by the end more and more gypsies were becoming 'settled'. 
Large numbers were forced to abandon their nomadic lifestyles for a more settled existence - a painful transition for many. 

Focusing on the Home Counties, Damian draws on his own Romany family background, and a rich film archive, to show how Romany Gypsy people faced becoming outlaws in their own land.

New legislation led to tighter planning laws and a further erosion of traditional stopping places, but some councils did provide a handful of official caravan sites.

Barbara Cartland, who was a county councillor at the time, led the fight to secure a permanent site for Gypsies on the outskirts of Hatfield. That fight was won after a public inquiry and the site became known as Barbaraville Camp in her honour. 

In the programme, Damian Le Bas spoke with Ian McCorquodale, one of Cartland's sons:

Damian says to Mr McCorquodale: "People offer all sort of reasons why they don’t want a gypsy site near them.

"You’ve referred to it as old-fashioned racism, and your mother compared it with the situation in the south of the United States of America."

Mr McCorquodale replies: "It was definitely prejudice. It was really, really nasty."

He adds: "My mother had a lot of hate mail and people were rude to her, but she persevered.

"She was not one to be deterred my mother in any way. She stuck to her guns."

Breakthrough legislation in 1968 finally compelled councils to provide permanent sites that gave hope to many - but at the cost of losing a freedom, which was closely tied to their identity.

Now freedom to roam is even more tightly controlled and councils do not overexert themselves to provide sites.

It makes you nostalgic for the variety of Conservatism espoused by Barbara Cartland, who was also a champion of education for Gypsy children.

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