My father always maintained that our family originated from Spanish Romany stock. However, I have been unable to confirm this. Subsequently I have always had an interest in this way of life. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting up again with Pam and Len Watkins, who for a lot of their working lives, enjoyed their 'Life On The Road'. I am honoured to be able to share their personal story with you. BLOG; CLICK HERE TO SEE THE LATEST UPDATES ON www.penmon.org
LIFE ON THE ROAD
by Pam and Len Watkins
Yours magazine Issue 060
April 7 - 20, 2009 features "I followed my dream... to live in a gypsy caravan" by Pam Watkins
Please note that the following story of Pam and Len's Life on The Road, is not the one featured in YOURS magazine.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Pam and Len were featured in an article entitled; End of the road for 'dream' life
Please click on the arrow to see and hear Donovan singing Pam's favourite song, CATCH THE WIND Thanks to SHAYMCN2 from Youtube for sharing this clip with us. Original BBC recording
Welcome to our campfire dear friend. You may have come here by choice, or you may have stumbled across us through curiosity. Either way, you are most welcome. Come and join us, sit around our humble fire, have a drink and we will share with you, the story of our "Life on the Road".
The 5th June 1983 was a memorable day in our lives. It was when Len's, our son Lee's and my lifestyle changed completely, as we literally took to a 'life on the road'.
My diary for that day reads; Up at 4.30am. We got everything packed on the cratch, including our son Lee's bike, which was going to prove itself very useful. The cratch is an adjustable rack on the back of the waggon that is meant for hay and anything else which needs carrying. I packed all the china on the bed. We then all sat very nervously, waiting for our friend to arrive with his tractor, to tow the waggon or caravan, down our very steep narrow drive onto the lane below. Despite our nervousness, he executed the job with no problems.
We set about harnessing our horse Chessay, as the couple who had bought our home, Little Bahaillon, turned up with a bottle of champagne. Before we knew it, the whole village had turned up to wave us off. So much for trying to sneak off at 5.30am with nobody about! They all helped us by giving the waggon a push down the lane.
Little Bahaillon, City, Sarn which is over 300 years old. This photo was taken on our last day there, with our waggon ready for the road.
We soon realised however, that Chessay's collar was far too tight, and he couldn't pull the waggon as well as he should. A group came with us for the first three miles, which was great. One old friend videoed us as we set off on our journey.
As soon as we pulled into our first atchin tan or stopping place, another crowd appeared and we found ourselves being showered with gifts. One elderly lady brought us a dozen free range eggs and told us we could get water from her house. A young lad appeared with some bailing twine to tie up our cats securely, in case they went on the road. A local farmer offered to tow us up the steep hill ahead with his tractor when we were ready to move.
It's unbelievable how everyone wants to help us. We thought we were going to be met with hostility, however, we had loads of visitors on this, our first day. People stopped their vehicles to take photos.
I managed to cook a nice vegetable stew for our dinner. The three of us then went into a nearby field and down to the stream where we had a nice cool wash.The weather, initially cold, had turned out red hot. Lee seemed happy enough riding his bike around and talking to people who called upon us.
Chessay and Tom Thumb
Tom Thumb, our pigmy goat, who walked all the way with us, is now flat out and fast asleep under the wagon. Chessay is happily grazing on a wide grass verge across the road. A farmer even fetched his old mare to introduce her to Chessay. The farmer sat and had a cuppa with us, everybody was so excited. It was totally different to what we had expected.
We went to bed at 10pm, after what had been a long, tiring but wonderfully happy day.
P.S. Our cats Fred and Barnaby woke us at 2.30am, wanting to go out. We let them go, wondering whether we would ever see them again...........
That day, despite being many years ago, strangely seems just like yesterday. It's now late afternoon and Len and I are settling around our camp fire for what we hope will be another interesting evening.........
Yes, our day is coming to a close. It's as Pam sets about getting our meal together, that I start preparing our fire, which inevitably attracts not only the curious moths, but also many a passerby who will venture near and happily join us to exchange stories.
When I gather morning sticks and logs, I can't help but remembering how we first discovered our waggon, and the painstaking task we three undertook to create what was to be our new home.
Pam and I were out and about one day, when we spotted what we thought was a gypsy waggon tucked away behind a cottage. The owners of the cottage were selling bramley apples, so we called and asked about the waggon which they mentioned was for sale. We had a look at it but felt it needed too much restoration, even the owners had given up trying to restore it.
We talked about the waggon many times. Our son Lee, then aged 11 was very keen on it, so we returned there and made some drawings with a view of building a new one on a flat cart. However, we eventually decided to buy the waggon but then wondered what we'd done in buying something which was no different to a chicken shed.
The waggon stood in Telford from 1926 to 1976. Home to a settled travelling man.
Sold to a family from Chirk, it then stood empty from 1976 to 1982
I'd recognised it as a Reading waggon. I'd seen many waggons in the past, but the Reading Varda impressed me most because of its lovely shape. They have a slight inward slope from the top to bottom and were highly carved.
We sold our cottage a bit sooner than we'd hoped and ended up renting a piece of land from them to live in the waggon which we were going to restore. We'd transported the waggon from Chirk having added artillery wheels to make moving it possible.
We brought it in, covered the roof, put on small wheels to take the long journey to Sarn.
A friend kindly towed our waggon up our narrow drive and into a field. Not an easy task as it was dropping to pieces.
We needed a stove immediately for heating. We bought a 'Classic' stove in Oswestry which are normally sold for use on barges. We restored the inside first and then worked on the outside on dry days. We stripped it down to the boards, replacing wood as necessary.
The roof was in a dreadful state. You could stand inside it and look out. A company in Presteigne rebuilt the wheels. The rear wheels were larger than the front. We kept the same dimensions. The rear wheels were placed on the waggon around 1923, when its then owner pulled it off the road into a field at Lower Darley, part of Telford. The wagon remained there until about 1973, when the people from Chirk bought it. We bought it for £500.
I'll let Pam talk about restoring the inside.
Thanks Len. We had to make it habitable first and comfortable later. There was a lot missing, such as a bed and cupboard. We found a much smaller than usual chest of drawers which Len cut into size to fit. It looked almost like the original and he made the bed out of pine laths. The bed pulled out into a double one, above the bed where Lee slept. We had to replace glass and then I made curtains.
Fire surround and wardrobe in need of some T.LC.
T.L.C. given. We fitted a little classic stove and bought a copper kettle at auction
Our bed area. We put yellow undercoat on the windows. The blue ceiling was finished.
Fred the cat showing that the bed is comfortable with Lee's bed below. Pam's Grandma's 100 year old bedspread also on display
Corner cupboard and box seat both stripped ready for painting
Cupboard and seat painted. A friend gave a helping hand painting flowers.
With the internal decor almost complete, we're nearly ready for the road.
Brass rail cleaned, mirror in place and airing cupboard door fitted.
Once we were happy with the internal renovations and decorating, Len carried on with restoring the outside of the waggon.
That's right Pam. I had to make new steps completely out of my head. That was no easy task, looking at books, photographs and drawings. I had to get a blacksmith to make iron for the cratch, where we put bales of hay for the horse to eat. We also needed canvas to cover the cratch which was not easy to find in those days.
The painting was the next big job which we did between us. We wanted it painted in the traditional style of the Victorian days. It required priming, then an under and a top coat and finally varnishing. The chamfers needed to be picked out in reds, greens and yellows with the linings white and light green and the scrolling on the front had to be done.
I painted the red base, while Lee follows on with yellow chamferings
I started to add the green. The waggon is starting to come back to life
The undercharge contained a lot of rotten timber, which we repaired in a shed.
The wheels were rebuilt at Presteigne. This was the only work we did not carry out ourselves.
We gave Lee a coal hammer and chisel to carve out the porch brackets. He did a wonderful job. The first carving he had ever made.
Lee's porch brackets are now in place, just waiting for a coat of paint .
All these friends turned up to help us fit the wheels. But as we'd already got them on, we all celebrated with a drink!
Here I'm still working on the outside weatherboard and waistboard. The shafts were made
We never actually finished before we set off. We did more painting in lay bys when we had more available time.
After some four years, we changed the colour scheme to green. A farmer kindly let us lie in a barn one winter, in between work. We were very glad to be there because there was snow outside. When we were back on the road again, folk thought we had a new waggon.
Chessay, our cob, standing at 14.2 hands, looked well with both colour schemes. Chessay is Romany for dancing and prancing.
Lee's waggon was complete by April 1st.
Lee's open-lot waggon was bought at Whitworth Horse Fair
We hired a car and set off for Lancashire, to show Lee the waggon. He loved it
Lee's waggon's first outing. It poured with rain, and we managed to do some repairs to the Chapel roof
Lee is very pleased with his little waggon.
Taking Lee's waggon to the field where we'd left our wagon.
The bed area - a bit of a mess to start with.
A much improved bed area with Fred ,our cat, ready for off!
Fitting a little 'Queenie' stove and starting to build the cupboards
Lee's waggon all spruce and clean.
Ready for the road again.
Sitting by our camp fire as the light darkens and the flickering flames faintly illuminate our waggon, Len and I often recall the time when it could all have gone so terribly wrong for us. I can see the headlines in the local papers now;
Couple swap dream home for gipsy caravan
'Dream life' halted
Luck deserts 'new' Romanies
Our problems started following heavy rainstorms about 9.30 pm, one Tuesday night in May 1983. Len was leading Chessay from his grazing pasteurs over the bridge when he slipped and the bridge started to go. Len just managed to hang on to the hand rail but he was very lucky, below him were rocks and the rain swollen brook. Len ran home to alert me, and Lee went to get help from neighbours.
The bridge following the accident.
We all tried to get Chessay up, but could not move him. As he tried to scramble to get his front legs down over my legs, I couldn't do anything for a moment. There was a ten foot drop under the bridge. If he had gone down, that would have been the end of him.
Praise heaped on fire crew who saved horse
We contacted the fire services as the wind picked up in the rain and the light was fading. A light tender arrived from Newtown and they were able to loop hoses around the front and hind quarters of the helpless Chessay. A veterinary surgeon was called to treat him.
The firemen and our neighbours were wonderful. Luckily many of the firemen were from nearby Montgomery and are farmers used to handling animals. They made the horse as comfortable as they could. The bridge had to be dismantled and Chessay suffered only minor scratches and bruises. They were fantastic and the vet couldn't believe how well the horse was after his ordeal.
However our problems didn't end there. On the Sunday of that week, Lee caught his leg in a wheel. He was taken to the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the injured leg was put in plaster. This meant that we put our travelling plans on ice until Lee's leg had healed.
How did it all start and what made you go for a life on the road?
I have always had an interest in fairgrounds. I think it must have come down through my genes because my mother's father, Henry Gilmore managed a cinema in Bloxwich and later painted scenery for shows in the Town Hall, when he worked for Walsall Council. He also painted Disney characters for illuminated displays in the Arboretum there.
I can remember being as young as 13 I loved to visit the funfairs, not just for the enjoyment, but I wanted to work there. I often asked showmen if I could help, and luckily one of them who had a coconut shy said I could help him at weekends, selling three balls for sixpence.
I caught the bus on a Friday night to Dudley, or Willenhall, or Wolverhampton, working on Saturdays and sometimes helping them to pull down the following day. After about a couple of years of doing that, I was lucky to get a job in the fairground's depot at Bloxwich. This was in 1959 and I was 15 years old.
There were many workshops there, such as a blacksmith's, a carpenter's shop, a paintshop and a huge aeroplane hanger which kept some of the fairground rides over winter. The main jobs were to restore rides and fairground tackle.
There were four engines there when I started, The Leader, Goliath, Griffin and No.1. The canvases were in pieces and falling off, and as a result they had ceased to work and were rotting away.
We used to go as far as Barry Island, Battersea, Seaburn near Sunderland and Sutton Park to fetch rides for restoration and return. Some also arrived by train. We would rebuild them by cutting out any rotten timber which were replaced by the carpenters. My main job was to do the undercoating, top coating and varnishing.
You know, as a result of all that, I've grown to really appreciate nostalgia, in other words, the good old days.
You must have met some fascinating people!
Since we've been on the road and setting up camp, people have been attracted like a magnet to the camp fire. They've come to chat about the waggon, our life on the road, all the ups and downs we've been through. We've literally had everybody from tramps to superstars joining us.
In our day, we've travelled through Mid-Wales and Shropshire. We've worked from farm to farm with a waggon and two horses, livmg in a Vardo waggon, which is Romany for 'a living van', originally built in the 1900's to 1920's.
When we were young Pam and I used to work by picking apples, fruit, potatoes, sprouts, anything to do with market gardening. This work sadly died out when farmers became mechanised.
We then started helping people restore old cottages and small holdings. We became casual workers, doing everything.
This is one building we had to put back together.
Pam doing her washing as the men are working.
We have to rebuild this wall. Len and Lee sorting out the jigsaw of stone.
Finished at last. 2 months hard work. Len holding the wall in case it falls!!
Thanks for sharing your early days with us Len. What were your early days like Pam - have you Romany blood in you?
Well yes I have. One part of my family were bargees and the other were Romany.
When I was young I found it hard to settle down. I've always wanted to be outdoors. As a child, I would play with and spend more time with the gypsies who lived in a nearby field, than I did with my own family.
When Len and I met, and started courting, almost the first thing we talked about was actually taking to the road as travellers. We both worked in a factory and when we got married, we had a mortgage to repay.
It was a life that didn't really appeal to us. Len's told you how we got the waggon and set ourselves up to go on the road.
My traditional Roumanian gypsy costume
What were the conditions like in winter? It must have been so cold for you all!
The stove we put in actually made us very warm during the winter months. A good example was when we were in North Wales. We were under three feet of snow for over two months. We cooked on the stove and as a result, were so warm that one night, despite a heavy frost, we slept with the top of the wagon door open. People kindly came to find us, bringing us bread and milk. We all sat there chatting and they got so comfortable, that they didn't want to go home to their big draughty homes!
We awoke to thick snow this morning. Right; 2" frozen milk with the cap still on!
We are very grateful for the winter quarters. Will this snow ever go away?
Len and Lee having a welcome cuppa around the fire.
How did you manage Christmas time?
Well, Christmas cards had to be sent. Here I am actually writing some by paraffin light.
Preparations normally started Christmas Eve. With such a tiny oven, it wasn't easy.
Len lends a hand on Christmas morning with dinner. This particular year, we cooked a meal for 6 and had a great time!
What were your first days on the road like - did they come up to your expectations?
Surprisingly, on our second day on the road, I was cleaning out the caravan as it had got a bit dusty after our visitors the day before, and saw outside a camera crew with B.B.C. WALES emblazoned on the side. They wanted to film us and had me hanging my washing on the hedge, and then bringing it in. They didn't want any of my undies on shot, but were happy to film Len's and Lee's underwear!
They then filmed Len and Lee making pegs and baskets. Happy with that, they went on their way telling us we'd be on TV that night - the 6 o'clock news. I don't know where they thought we'd see it, as we had no TV!
We had many other callers - old friends, new friends and strangers. They were very happy to see that we were actually riding in a Reading waggon, instead of it being in a museum somewhere. It was lovely to see that old friends had thought enough of us, to want to visit us after only two days!
I was very happy and decided to stay where we were as we waited for a bigger collar for Chessay. Our animals, the cats, Chessay and Tom, seemed very happy too.
I took a stroll to a nearby stream on the third day, and sat dangling my feet in the lovely cool running water. I wrote a few letters to my Mom, Dad, family and friends. Suddenly Lee came on the scene to inform me that we again overrun with visitors. The lay by resembled a car park!
A storm seemed to be brewing making the animals restless. Tom Thumb broke his tether and stopped the traffic by standing in the middle of the main road, before we realised he was loose! He was defying anybody to go near him. Thank goodness we were alerted before he started butting vehicles. He would have caused some damage. Lesson learned - a stronger tether for Tom!
Lee was very pleased with himself. He had made and sold two and a half dozen pegs that day. He was our sole breadwinner at the time!
The following morning we faced an uphill struggle - literally. A local farmer towed us up the hill, as Chessay couldn't manage it with his current collar. Once on level ground, Chessay got into the swing of things again and we were all happily walking along, with Tom, our pigmy goat, bringing up the rear - the cats happily sleeping indoors. Tom Thumb walked under the waggon and if Chessay was going too fast, he would give a bleat and Chessay would slow down a bit!
We went towards Abermule via Glanmule.
We were regularly bestowed with gifts from very kind people. Cold squash for us and water for the animals, eggs, milk, cake, newspapers, coalite, duck eggs, two bottles of home brew, a bunch of wild flowers 'for the gypsy lady'.
People were just passing in their cars and stopping. We felt this was absolutely wonderful. It was not the reception we'd expected at all.
The weather was really glorious the next day, after such a long wet spring. I was busy cooking breakfast when I was invited into the garden of a nearby cottage. It was like walking into a fairy tale story! It was not a large garden, but it took me an hour to walk around. The prettiest and fullest garden I had ever seen. It was so natural with apple, cherry, pear, plum trees, all intermingling with raspberry canes, blackcurrant bushes, vegetables, hollyhocks, delphiniums, roses. There were lots of perennials such as geraniums, granny's bonnets, foxgloves, clematis. How could anyone get so much into one garden. This was my first sighting of Paradise. I returned to the wagon with a donation of various sources.
On the 10th June, Len went ahead on a bike to look for our next stopping place. Lee did some schoolwork - it was important that he kept up with his education.
A large van pulled up selling groceries. One by one, all the locals residents started to emerge from their doors and form an orderly queue. I purchased some produce. He offered to stop should he see us in the vicinity again.
Len came back quite exhausted. It's been a few years since he's ridden his bike! The harness for Chessay is sadly proving to be a more difficult job than we thought. I was asked whether I would like to see a green rose. I thought I'd seen all the magic of that wonderful garden yesterday. Was there really a green rose hidden away in there? It proved to be an exquisite, very vivid green. It's a rare old rose and so beautiful, I was even honoured with a gift of one, which I hope to preserve.
When the lovely people around here heard we were moving on the next day, they all came and asked if we would come and stay again soon. It was with heavy hearts that we went to bed, promising we would be back - but we had to move on and start to look for work. This was not meant to be a holiday.
The following day, a Saturday had a beautiful sunny morning in store for us. We were all sad to leave, and we wondered if it could ever be possible to meet with such friendliness from strangers. We waved off with promises that they would come and find us, and we promised that we would call back and stay again.
The morning started well. A man gave us two pounds to put in our tin, for allowing him to take photos of us! We quickly decided we must get a tin for such welcome contributions.
We had a good journey down a twisty dingle, apart from seeing a dead magpie on the road, which is always a bad omen. We pulled into a disused road that Len had found yesterday, the farmer having kindly given us permission to stay. Unfortunately, the farmer's wife appeared and ordered us from the road. The farmer hadn't told the wife, so she thought I was a dirty lying gypsy!
We harnessed back up and moved on, not knowing where. We found a little pull by Abermule with just a day's grazing. We again had visitors, including one who had kindly fetched the repaired harness. We shall be a lot happier now to get Chessay in his bigger collar.
We lit a small fire and cooked tea. What a day. At least we now know the difference between hospitality and hostility.
Sunday came, and I gave the wagon a good clean up after the heat and dust. Some old friends of ours came to visit us. They were thrilled about our new life and envied our freedom. We moved on to the Goron Ddu, where we found a lovely big lay by with grazing and pulled in. Nearby was a lovely little coppice of willow and hazel.
The couple we had bought our waggon from called to see us. It was amazing how people were finding us. They'd got us a swindle tree and some harness ready for the new mare when she arrived from the breakers.
The next day we rose early as I was offered a lift into town. I stripped the beds and took a big bag of washing with me for the launderette. I thought it was a lot easier than having to boil up a big saucepan on the open fire and wash that way.
Lee and I went for a coffee as the washing machine did its job for us. We met a couple of old friends who offered us a lift home. What a relief, as neither Lee nor I were looking forward to carrying all this washing and shopping the five miles back to our waggon. When we got back, Len had been busy making a load of pegs and willow baskets.
We later walked to a kiosk in Abermule where we phoned to see how our mare was doing. She was broke to harness and going well. We could have her tomorrow evening. We were very excited. It will be a good place for her to be delivered as we have now got to stay here.
Chessay has cast a shoe and the blacksmith cannot come out to us until Friday morning. We have hunted for the shoe, but can't find it. It looks as though we shall have to pay for another one. The lost one wasn't even worn down.
Hair washing day for Len. Lee is getting about well with his leg in plaster.
June 15th, Vashti-day. First thing this morning, I cleaned the windows and the wagon, humming a tune, as I thought of Vashti, our beautiful young mare coming back to us this evening.
Then a visitor arrived with really tragic news. Our animals which we left with the people who had bought our cottage, had all been killed, when two farm dogs got into the field and attacked them. Milena, a little goat kid who was too young to come with us, our ducks and hen. I felt very guilty for leaving them behind, but knew they would have a good life. We were very upset and it marred the arrival of Vashti.
She had been broken to harness and schooled very well. She was perfect lady. Chessay was very excited to see her and started prancing around and showing off to her. We tethered them close together and tried to get to bed. The three of us had little sleep, worrying how the horses were settling in and thinking of our poor 'lost' animals. At least they are all together.
Thursday 16th June was a dull old day, the sun never shone at all. The first thing we did was to harness the horses and walk them side by side up into the village. I long reined Vashti. She is ever so good for a baby. A shied a bit when a lorry passed by but Chessay kicked out at her as if telling her not to be so silly. Although she's good, she is very young and inexperienced for the wagon just yet.
We have our usual run of visitors. A Police car pulled up and I thought they we sure to move us on, but they were only being inquisitive and had a good look at the waggon. I think they sensed the kettle was on the boil. After a cuppa , they went on their way without asking us to move on…..phew! Sigh of relief!
I sat on the waggon steps all afternoon and handmade myself a gypsy pinny out of black silk. Len went on the bike, scouting for our next stopping place.
So that's what happened during our very early days in the wagon. Settling in, meeting many new friends and reminiscing with old ones who popped in to see us. Yes, very early days, but enough to know that we had made the right decision. We were going to enjoy our life on the road.
You've attended many shows, can you remember the first one you went to?
Yes, it was the Carno Show - August 19th, 1984. We were staying at a very good friend's house at the time and we had actually been invited to two shows. We were very nervous. We set our stall up with tea towels we'd had printed with teasel mice and herb cushions Pam had made.
Pam did some palm reading, which people seemed very pleased with. The show actually closed at 5pm, but Pam still had a queue for her readings at 9pm! I sold out of teasel mice and cushions. We did not know this at the time, but the Carno show changed our way of life.
Lee on his way to Bishop's Castle Steam Rally. We found it so peaceful travelling around rural Wales and Shropshire. Dreaded to think what it would be like doing this in the streets of London.
Our next show was the Bishop's Castle Steam Rally and on the way Pam had time to do a bit of washing and drying, when the clothes were able to catch the wind.
Our waggons were in position. Pam did some readings, Lee made pegs and baskets and Len will be manning the stall.
Our whole summers soon came to be spent doing shows.
You've mentioned your Reading waggon and Lee's waggon. How did you come by your second?
It was while we were on the road that we heard about it. A passing motorist stopped and told us he was aware of one in a yard near Aberaeron on the coast below Aberystwyth. He kindly agreed to drive us over, and we spoke to the couple who owned it. They said that they would break it up for firewood if we didn't buy it. We bought it. We were able to store it in part of a barn in what was no longer a working farm.
With a living to earn, we left it there for about four years, although I did have the wheels restored by a wheelwright in Worcestershire. This waggon had obviously been made by its first owner who might have travelled on his own. It is smaller than the Reading and is much darker inside, for it has no mollycroft.
We certainly couldn't travel in it, but Pam uses it at the steam rallies for her clairvoyancy consultations. Its appearance suggests that the owner built it on a horse drawn hearse. The front carriage in particular makes me think that, for I've seen one with the nutcracker type springs which are on this one. They had to be replaced because of the effect of the sea air had rusted them through.
When we moved here a couple of years ago, we left the Reading behind for a while, and so I hired a flat truck and fetched the second and restored it here.
Again I had to restore a lot of the timbers, although there was not a great need for lime. Altogether it was an easier job, for we didn't have to live in it as we did it. The journey down was a little easier than the trip when we collected it, because on that the steep hills of west Wales took their toll, and it nearly collapsed. We had to stop to prop it up and rope it together, but we got it home without too many other problems.
Above, Pam's wonderful collection of dolls making themselves at home.
Right, Lee making pegs.
You've got beautiful waggons - but of course, without Chessay and Vashti, you would be unable to go anywhere. How did you prepare Chessay for the day?
First thing I did every morning was to take Chessay a bucket of clean water, as he had always kicked his over during the night. I then move his tether onto fresh grazing as there would be a complete circle of bare grass were he had been. I checked his feet to make sure they were clean.
Chessay then had a quick grooming.
If we were moving that day, the harness would have to be checked over and make sure it was clean, as a bit of mud on the inside of the collar would soon rub into a sore spot. Chessay was very good to harness up. He would put his head down and stand still. He was a real character though and I could always tell by the glint in his eye what sort of mood he was in. He loved nothing more than to stand by the waggon with his head resting on the foot board, looking in. I'm sure he would have come in with us if he could! Pam would have the waggon packed down and ready to move while I was harnessing Chessay. She would then help me to hitch up to the waggon as Chessay would back in. Then with one of us on either side, we would fasten the traces and away to go. It only took a minute. People often stopped in a panic to tell us that our horse was dead on the grass verge! They had gone up to him having seen him lying flat out and he hadn't moved. However, as soon as one of us went to him and said "What're you doing old lad?", he would lift his head and I'm sure he smiled at us. This was one of his favourite pastimes on a nice sunny day.
You mentioned Chessay and Vashti - we actually had another horse too - we called it our 'Iron Horse'!
Here stands our Iron Horse with a very inquisitive colt, while Lee is making baskets.
I'm sure you were faced with a few problems though?
Yes, we've had good times bad times.
We awoke to thick frost which we hadn't noticed because the fire had kept us warm.
We had to get the big waggon under cover. It was leaking through the roof and the bed was getting wet. We had the kind offer of a barn to store it while we work on it.
It was in November '83 that we moved to a cottage in Llanbrynmair, taking Lee's waggon with us. We could not winter with it - no doors nor stove. We put Chessay into a field in Kerry. It seems we were all split up as a family.
Len and Lee made the door and fitted it. It was much easier for them with a shed to work in. None of us are happy here. We can't wait 'til we're on the road again.
What about meals on the road - what sort of food did you cook?
One of our favourite meals on the road was
giant puff ball
If you are lucky enough to find a giant puff ball, you have the beginnings of a tasty meal. First slice through it and make sure it is pure white, because if it has the the slightest hint of brown, discard it, as it will make you ill . Then cut it into thick slices. Take off the tough outer skin and dip the slices into a beaten egg. Then fry them in butter, preferably in a cast iron pan, hanging over an open fire. Accompany them with elderflower fritters. Pick elder flower heads when they are just opening, wash and dip them in a light pancake batter mix and fry in deep oil or butter. Wash and thickly slice a gypsy potato (do not peel) and fry in oil, turning 'til they're brown.
We also used to pick the tips of young nettles, wash and cook them and eat them as spinach. They could also be propped on the kettle prop above the fire until dry, then crunched up to make nettle tea. They were also lovely cooked with melted goats cheese.
We'd use the roots of wild garlic, chopped them up, and although they were not as strong as garlic itself, they could be used in stews.
We made coffee out of dandelion roots too. We'd dry the roots on a tray in our oven in the waggon, and once they were crisp and hard, we crushed them up and used them, as coffee. The leaves were also useful in a salad.
Sorrell used to be readily available and we used them in soups.
We loved horse mushrooms - so full of texture and flavour. We ate many varieties of fungi too, such as bracket fungi, but we had to be very careful, because many fungi are poisonous.
My favourite 'sweet' dish was Gypsy cake. It was a fruit cake with a mixture of flour, butter, eggs and fruit. We made it in a cast iron frying pan which was hung above the fire - high enough to just let the heat hit the pan. I flattened the mixture until it was about an inch and a half or so thick, cut it into four pieces, turning them over. We kept a lid on the pan, which helped to make the cake nice and moist.
We found a lot of our food on the hedgerows, but in fields, not from the side of the road. We ate sorrell, dandelion leaves, nasturtium leaves and flowers, vioet leaves and flowers were put into a salad. We given swedes, potatoes as part of the payment for doing jobs. We made nettle tea, and also used the tips of nettles, washed and put them into a pan with butter.
You mentioned earlier about having a waggon to do some palmistry and clarvoyancy? How long have you had this gift?
I realised this at a very early age, and how we started to read palms on the road, came quite by accident. We were at one of our earlier shows, just showing our Varda waggon, when I was asked whether I could read a palm. On hearing that I could, the lady asked me to read hers, and in a weak moment, I did!! The lady went away quite satisfied with what I'd told her. In no time at all, a queue started to form outside the wagon, as the lady had told her friends who were at the show, and they all wanted their palms read! The queue just got longer, and we were still at the show, doing readings, 4 hours after it had officially closed. One kind person went to fetch us some fish and chips once she heard that we hadn't eaten for quite some time. We've helped people cope with bereavement, their work prospects, and have even given businessmen advice on what decisions to make!
We decided to continue doing readings to help us earn a living to support our casual work, which was usually paid by a bartering system, whereby we would receive food, free grazing and things like that.
Hello, I'm Ken and am very pleased to join you at your campfire. I came to see you Pam, some time ago and you helped me solve a family mystery which was over a hundred years old.
In the late 1880's my great grandfather, Edward Davies, left Wales and his family, to seek his fortune in America. The family were due to follow him later. He sent letters home regularly, but they stopped after a while. The last the family knew of him, was playing a piano in a bar, either in Idaho or Idaho Springs. Someone told us they thought he returned to this country, but never rejoined the family.
I gave you his photograph (above) which you held and then placed your hand over his face. I was absolutely amazed - within no more that 10 minutes, the messages you received told me of his fate. He was doing OK in the States, but then did something there and had to come back to this country. Large amounts of money were involved, and somehow he lost it all. There was another chap involved with him, who was very tall. My great grandfather had to go undercover because he was caught up in a group of men who were after him. These men were all dressed in grey serge trousers and had strings tied around each leg up to the knee.
He returned, but to England and was so ashamed of what he had done that he did not want to contact his family in Wales again. He even changed his identity, using the name of Mr Morris. There is also a connection with someone named Mary. He lived in the Southport area, and was in lodgings at one of a row of large houses similar to those on the seafront at places such as Aberystwyth, and there seemed to be a vast expanse of land, like a prairie just to the side of the houses. You also mentioned that he died before reaching the age of 50. This explains why his wife was described as a widow in the 1901 census.
Although I was naturally shocked by the revelation, I was very content in the knowledge that this chapter in our family history could finally be closed - all thanks to you Pam.
It's really cosy and warm around this fire, but it can appear quite spooky in the surrounding shadows. Have you had any scary moments on the road?
Oh yes - there was one place in particular we'll never forget - it frightened us all, even the animals! It was at a type of crossroads with a railwaybridge going overhead. We'd pulled the waggon onto a spare piece of ground by the bridge and we tethered the horses on some grass on the other side. We couldn't sleep. The horses were restless, we could hear them stamping their hooves on the road surface because they were so unsettled. I had to get up to them twice in the night. We were really sleepless - it was very eerie. It felt as if there were some bad spirits about, or even as though someone had died there. It was near the site of an old Roman fort - that may have had something to do with it. We were away from there about 4 o'clock that morning! We spoke to some locals later, and they told us there had been some nasty accidents nearby. We get the shivers everytime we go near there.
We even faced hostility at one point. We were parked up when some lads sped past us in a car, and threw some eggs at us. It was a scorching hot day, and the eggs instantly fried and corroded the paint on our waggon.
You've mentioned making hazel baskets and pegs. How do you go about making them?
We used to try and camp by places called withybeds. These are areas where the willow and hazel trees normally grew in the hedgerows. These were ideal for making the primrose baskets and pegs.
Willow and hazel wood was cut from the trees while they were still green. We would cut them into lengths with a 'peg knife'. This had a curved blade and wooden handle. Gyspsies made their own peg knives which lasted for life.
Various lengths of wood were cut depending on its thickness. Small nails were used to put the hazel 'basket' together. The pins were put into water so that they would go rusty. This way, the wood would hold together much better and would not split. We'd line the baskets with moss and buy primroses from gardeners.
The basket handle was willow.
The pegs were easy to make from short pieces of hazel or willow, with a cut made up the middle into a 'v' shape. Then a steel band was nailed around the top to strengthen it. We used old pop cans for the steel.
Lee used to be very busy making pegs and primrose baskets. At one time, he was selling them as fast as he could make them! He'd make 5 gross of pegs in an evening, selling them at 50p a dozen, and baskets were £1 each.
Hi, my name's Marian, and I've actually brought with me one of Lee's beautiful primrose baskets to show you. We bought it over 20 years ago and it is still in use! You can see here it's decorated for Easter.
Did you have people asking you to cure them of their ailments?
Yes, many times. I remember two ladies stopping in a cottage. They came to find us in our wagon because they bad sore throats. I gave them each a teaspoon of honey, wrapped in a blackberry leaf. I told them to chew and chew until all the juices had gone, and then spit it away. They were amazed that this simple cure and got rid of their sore throats, which they'd suffered for months.
We attended village fetes and carnival, and at one of them an old bachelor went up to Len, who was controlling my appointments, asking if he could see the gypsy lady as he had bad warts on his hands. I was taking a rest a rest between readings, and agreed to have a quick look at them. I touched them and offered to buy them, telling him to count his warts every night. Each time he counted them, the number of warts reduced. A few weeks later he came to thank me and the warts had gone.
We once saw a young boy aged about 5 or 6 standing outside a shop with his mother. His face, hands and legs were visibly covered with warts. The mother told me that she'd heard I could charm warts and asked if I could help her son. I told her that I would try, but explained that I would have to touch him and would do so if they had no objection. I held his hands and then stroked his face, hands and legs, again advising them to count them each night.
I soon forgot this incident, but many weeks later the mother came to see me asking what did she owe us? Every single wart had gone. He'd had them since he was a twt. We've been good friends ever since.
You've mentioned your horses Chessay and Vashti. Did you have any others?
Yes we had Rosie who gave us a beautiful foal. We found that they all enjoyed grazing from what was growing on the hedgerow, and herbs on the lanes such as comfrey. Our goats enjoyed rose bay willow herb. Grazing these were much better than feeding on green fields. Strangely enough, we often passed fields which the horses had grazed on the previous year, and noticed how much greener they were thanks to the horses!!
What was your proudest moment during all this time?
This was easily the first morning we were on the road after about 8 months preparations and renovations to our waggon. We wondered whether we'd ever get on the road after all our problems, mentioned earlier with the horse falling, the rain. Yes, the first cup of tea we made from the fire was a proud moment, and also meeting good friends.
You mentioned that you did some building work, what other types of work did you do to earn a living?
Can I just say that we never turned a job down. We always found out how do a particular job, and did it.
A woman farmer asked me if I could repair antiques. Naturally I said yes, this was before knowing what the job was about! She had a lovely roll top desk, but the rolling mechanism was broken, so it was not rolling properly.
I started to shake in my shoes! She was going to town and left us alone in her home to repair the desk top. We took the back from the desk and the slats came apart. The webbing which held the slats together had gone. We popped to town to buy some new webbing and glue, and fed the webbing back into the desk and managed to repair it without too much trouble.
The lady returned and was thrilled to bits with it. We charged her £7.00.
We met her again many years later and she told us the roll top desk was still going strong and that it was now with her son..
Another job we were given was to restore a waggon for someone. That naturally took time and we were given the use of a field while doing it.
We also did a lot of hedging work for farmers. This involved pledging. We half cut each branch and would lean it into the hegde for it to keep growing. We generally charged by the hour. Dipping sheep was another job we took on. Each sheep had to be dipped for about two minutes in a mixture to keep maggots off them.
There must be lots of traditions within the Romany world, Len?
A few come to mind, for instance boys wearing earrings and women smoking pipes. These would be small sweggler pipes or corn on the cob pipes, with a short stem.
Couples tended not to get married outside the Romany 'tribes' as they have been called. If a boy married outside a 'tribe', without the permission of his parents, he would be cast out and not welcomed back. Fresh blood was needed every now and then naturally, but the 'outsider' would have to be suited to living the Romany way of life.
When a couple got married the parents would usually buy them a waggon. Wedding presents were normally useful items such as china or cutlery.
Take a man's clothing for instance. The trousers would usuaslly be what was called the stovepipe-leg type, which had six rows of stitching around the bottom, with flap fronts and pipe seams down the sides. The shirt would always be in the true style of the Romany, and he wore a certain patterned scarf around his neck with a heavily embroidered waiscoat, such as the one I'm wearing.
Lee made this for me. A beautiful piece of work.
Then when working, the man would wear a leather waistcoat.
A man would always wear the scarf, which was knotted in a special way. It was used for everything including wiping the horse down and cleaning shoes! You'd never see a man without it.
If someone died in a waggon they'd been living in from birth, there was a tradition in India to burn the waggon, the person's body and the caravan's contents. People burned the waggons upto the 1960s.
Hygiene traditions all came from India. It was important to be clean, that's why they used two bowls and boiled water to keep clean and fight off diseases.
What about the language - is Romany spoken much these days?
Romany is not generally spoken much these days. People tend to remember and use the odd words, such as kushti bokt. Even the Romany accent has gone unfortunately. I read that a Matthew Wood was probably one of the last people to speak in the true Romany tongue in this country.
You mentioned earlier that Lee made your beautiful waistcoat. How did he manage with his education while you were all on the road?
Well we took him out of school when he was 13. We had no problem de-registering him as we explained that we were moving out of the area..
We were heading for Herefordshire but only got as far as the Shropshire border, and 10 years later we were still in Powys.
We contacted 'Education Otherwise', a back up organisation for home education. They issued monthly magazines and gave tremendous support to people if they had problems with the authorities. Luckily we didn't need them.
How did you cope with not being in school Lee?
Well it just happened and I just 'let it come'! I learnt a lot on the road. I was taught all the practical things and I had a better education than those who were in school. As a result, I have never been out of work! I didn't miss out on anything. My Mum and Dad arranged for books to be stored in farms when we were travelling. Books on things like history and geography. On the road we met people from other countries like America, and India, and we shared our experienced and I learned a lot that way. We exchanged tales about our way of life. I made many friends and have kept in touch with many and am still close to them. I learnt a lot working with Dad - farm work, hedging, wall building. Didn't do any academic stuff until I was 28 or 29, when I went to University and got a BA Honours degree in media studies - film making.
No regrets about leaving school then? Was it a lonely life for you?
No, I just learnt what I wanted to learn which was an advantage to me in later life. I went to college later on to study caring for less fortunate adults, and also got a qualification. It wasn't a lonely life. I enjoy music, and when we went on the road, the first thing that went under my bed was my guitar! The first one I had was a Stratacaster guitar, and then an original 1968 Gibson guitar.
Twenty three years later I've still got it, and it's in perfect condition. I didn't need lessons, I was pretty much self taught. I just had to hear a tune and then I could play it.
Are you a musical family?
I'm not musical and Len has an interest in music but is not a musician. Lee played in a few local groups didn't you?
Yes. One was called Black Rain and we played in Powys. At the Queen's Head in Newtown I did a duet with a local and we called ourselves The Booze Brothers.
Where and how did you spend your winters?
We spent winters in a regular location - in a barn with a waggon outside. We used part of the barn as a kitchen where there was a calor gas cooker. People thought it was a rough way of living, but with a wood burning stove, table and chairs, we were comfortable enough.
Pam made teasel mice and herb cushions, wooden chrysanthemums dipped in cochineal to dye the tips. It would run up the wood and give a pinky/red colour to the tips.
We looked after the property when the owner went away, caring for pets, 2 kade lambs, a goat, three horses, our 6 cats and 12 other cats, chickens, ducks, geese and guinea fowl. This was our winter job. We listened to the radio and people were always calling 'round, when we have a sing song. I also made flowers out of coloured nylon tights and wires. On another occasion, the late Richard Walker interviewed us for a Radio Shropshire folk programme! The reporter Phil Rickman interviewed us in the first year we were on road, at it was broadcast on the BBC World Service. Unfortunately we didn't always hear these programmes.
We bought a 1968 Austin Gypsy 4 x 4, an old police vehicle, which was originally dark blue and a 1960's Vickers Morcambe caravan, called a trailer which we kept and used for three winters at the farm where we 'overwintered'.
It was specifically made for travellers. We originally just stayed in the barn, then bought the 'Morecambe' so called, because that's where it was built.
It was immaculate when we bought it. The wardrobe doors had cut glass, and it also had glass in the cupboard doors.
We lived during daylight hours. We got up when it was light, and could be in bed by 6 at night. We always had loads to do. We had to look after our animals which I've mentioned and two adopted King Charles spaniels. There was also Big Arthur, a ginger cat who lived until he was about 23 years old. He belonged to an old gentleman who had to go into a home, but Big Arthur didn't actually travel with us.
You must have met some very interesting characters on the road!
Do you remember that elderly deaf and dumb gentleman who visited us quite often Len? His mother and grandmother used to live in wagons. Whenever he wanted some tobacco for his pipe, he curled his left hand fingers together to represent a bowl, and pointed into the hole with a finger on his right hand. Anyway, one day I saw him coming and pretended I wanted some tobacco. I copied what he always did with his hands, when he wanted some tobacco. Well, he screamed with delight and as we could communicate together in our own way, he indicated it was the first time anyone had asked him for tobacco!!
He had a lovely way with him. He would sit and look around at the crockery we had on display. Some he would point at, smile and give a 'thumbs up', indicating it was a good piece. Others he would frown at, and then, as if he was holding the piece in his hand, would smash it against his knee indicating that it was not a good piece!
I am fascinated by the fact you mentioned there is traditionally no sink in the waggon. How did people manage?
Well it is Romany tradition that you do not wash indoors. You have to wash outdoors always. The only time there could be an exception perhaps, would be if the person was very ill, or too old and frail. Then someone would come and wash them, and throw the water outside. This tradition actually goes back to India.
You had two bowls, one for washing as a person, and another for dishes and things like that. The waggons do not have any toilets either!
You mentioned earlier that your family were gipsies?
Yes, the Butlers. They travelled around the Worcester area mainly. My grandparents eventually settled down, and there are not many of my family travelling now.
Wouldn't you have preferred living in a house instead of a waggon?
As a gipsy, living in a house is very difficult. I liked cooking in the outdoors on an open fire. When I did that in the back garden, neighbours were watching us. We just didn't live the same life as them. We love to live outdoors mainly. We found that we were very enclosed in the house. We couldn't stand it - we just had to be off on the road.
There are not many real gyspsies now. Most have settled down as they were hounded into council sites.
Many called them concentration camps, because they had big high fences all the way round them, and they were not allowed to keep horses. There was no longer a life for them on the road., they were hounded so badly
We can't say that about them here in Powys though. They've been very good with us, probably because we lived the life on the road in the traditional way, as it would have been at the turn of the century before last.
We'd pull into a layby as I said earlier, we always cleared our litter and the horses kept the grass down. We found that the Welsh people are very good to us - far better that the treatment we had in other places. We were harrassed, knocked up at 4 in the morning and told we had to move on, saying our horses were a nuisance. Here in Wales they accepted us, and we stayed in Powys because we had enough farm work to keep us going. In fact, we had to turn a lot of farm work down. We couldn't cope with the amount. The farmers loved to have the waggon in the orchard.
You've now settled in a beautiful part of Mid Wales. How difficult was it to actually give up the way you loved to live on the road?
It didn't happen overnight. We went to Cornwall to restore a cottage. The gentleman who owned it said we could live there as we worked, and we gradually moved in a bit at a time, while still parlty living in our waggon.
While there we went to shows and back to the cottage. We also restored a small wooden waggon.
We didn't actually decide to give it up - it just happened. There was more and more traffic on the road making it a lot more dangerous and it became a worry for the horses.
We had a Land Rover and a trailer for the waggon and another four wheel drive vehicle and Lee's waggon and a van with items of things for our stall for shows. We were quite a convoy!! Towing that made us go slower and it was dangerous for traffic. This was the only way to get from A to B to attend shows, so it became very difficult for us to carry on with that wonderful way of life.
We've often wondered about the healing properties in plants. There must many types of medicines out there in the fields?
There were plenty of old cures, but these days gypsies go to the chemist for their medicines. With the introduction of insecticides and other sprays, the plants which were used are probably full of poisons by now.
Honeysuckle berries and raw honey used to be good for canker in the mouth.
Stinging nettle tea was good for anaemia.
A poultice made up of leaves of violets put in boiling water first, and then placing the leaves on cancerous growths would help. Romanies also believed that drinking the liquour of these helped with internal cancer growths.
A common cold could be cured by taking tea made up of dried elder flowers, peppermint and yarrow, or a mixture of woodsage and ground ivy.
Bronchitis could be cured by four different types of tea. Marshmallow root tea, madweed tea, cuckoopint flower tea or cuckoopint root tea.
A mixture of dried dandelion leaves, coltsfoot, parsley, sage, lavender, rosemary and thyme would help ease asthma and other bronchial or lung complaints.
Toothache pain could be lessened by applying a mixture of the roots of ginger and daisy, but a visit to the dentist was the best!
How did gipsies manage their finances?
The gipsy lady carried the money. If she didn't do that, then the money would have ended up being spent in the pubs!
Gipsy ladies wore a pinny with what was called a horseshoe pocket. They went door to door selling things and sometimes begging for clothes for their children. They usually had a basket with them too. The horseshoe pocket was quite deceptive, because this was a very large pocket hidden inside the pinny. Here the lady would put any clothes given her. It was very roomy and any bulge in the pocket would not be noticed. Clothes given were hidden here, so that when the gipsy lady called at a house, she could hide what she'd already been given in her pinny and not put them in her basket. She was unlikely to be given any clothes if people actually saw she'd already had some clothes.
You were on the road quite a bit getting from one place to another - any difficult moments at all?
Yes, we had one particularly frightening moment which happened on the road between Bishop's Castle and Churchstoke. That morning, Chessay and a mare we had, who was in foal, were prancing around and quite frivolous. We had difficulty holding them. Len was in charge of Lee's waggon, I had a friend's waggon, and Lee had the other waggon. Our policy was to travel early to try and avoid as much traffic as possible. We were so glad that we'd had an early start on this particular day!
Chessay was still in a frivolous mood, as we set off and we knew something was wrong. When he saw a hill ahead of us, he charged up it and dragged Len off his feet. Chessay went straight through a set of traffic lights. The mare who was following Chessay just as quickly, wouldn't stop, and took me through the set of lights which were on red.
Poor Len was thrown into a ditch and the waggon turned over, with Chessay lying on top of him. Len went down in slow motion, shouting 'Oh my poor horse'. Len managed to crawl from under Chessay.
We realised that Chessay was suffering from cholic, having eaten something he shouldn't, like yew tree leaves or very fresh grass. All he wanted to do was to lie down and roll over. We went to a nearby stables, leaving the waggon in the ditch. A passer-by kindly phoned the vets who came out and advised us to rest up for a week and keep Chessay off grass.
When we returned to the toppled waggon, we were petrified of opening it because we always carried our very precious china with us.
We'd thrown our china individually on the bed before setting out, a practice we always did, and then covered it all with a duvet. We were amazed to discover that we had not broken a thing!
I remember on one occasion, we'd been given permission to put our horses to graze in a field with some shire horses. We were visited by the worried owner of the shires, telling us to come quickly as our horse, Chessay, was chasing his shires! It was very funny thinking that a 14.2 hand pony, was knocking six bells out of these shires! Chessay certainly enjoyed himself!
Another time Chessay caused what you might call 'a problem', was the day a woman held him, and looked into his open mouth. She complained that the horse had bitten her.
I asked her what she was doing and she replied that she was trying to find out how old he was. I told her I wasn't surprised he had bitten her. How would she like it if I did the same with her mouth!
It must have been difficult to store everything you needed in your waggon. It seemed small but comfortable.
Yes, we called it the Tardis. We tried to pack things in as best we could. I had about twenty skirts rolled up neatly in a drawer. We couldn't carry a lot of food - no tins. The waggon weighed one and a half tons unladen and about 2 tons fully laden.
I have a 26 year old black pinny. Gipsy women always wore them. Mine has small pinholes in it. These are from sparks from the fire which have spitted out on it over the years. Some of my other clothes have these pinholes too.
Unless we could pull the waggon, we would never allow Chessay to pull it.
We had a miniature rayburn in the waggon, which made the waggon very hot and we had to cook in a 7 inch square tin. This is why we prefered to cook outdoors.
We kept our pots under the waggon in a pan box. We used a big bowl on an open fire. We boiled borrowed water or stream water which were carried in a water carrier. We were never turned away by anyone when we asked them for water.
Coming soon, more tales on the road.
Thank you for calling by. We've enjoyed your company. More stories on our 'life on the road' to follow. Please call by again soon. Kushti bokt. Pam, Len and Lee.
Pam and Len today.......
We've both retired now, and spend our time reminiscing, enjoying our garden and giving talks to groups or organisations such as Age Concern and the W.I.. Here are some of the items we had on display at a recent talk in Powys.
Above is the waistcoat which Lee made for Len. It took him endless hours of devotion and some 700 yards of silk. Lee was offered £3,000 to make a similar one for a person at the Appleby Horse Show, but Lee declined the offer, stating that this waiscoat was a one-off, made specially for his Dad.
Below are the hand made pegs, which were bought as quickly as Lee could make them!!
Lee's primrose basket with Pam's wooden flowers
Do you have memories of Pam and Len when they enjoyed their 'life on the road'? Do you have a question you would like to ask them? They would love to hear from you and record your comments on this page. Additionally, if you have any memories you'd like to share, we'll add them to our fireside chat feature above. Please e-mail; firstname.lastname@example.org Your e-mail address will not be disclosed on site. Your message will be passed on to Pam and Len..
Being friends of Pam and Len Watkins, we were interested and impressed with the fascinating information on their "Life On The Road" article on your web site. We will be spending time looking at many of your other inclusions. It does look a truly fascinating site. Thank you, Terry Ayling and Jenny Ballinger. 11th March 2009
The Watkins' are my close family. I've lived and worked along side them from the Rock and Roll days in the rat race to the Atchin Tan nights of the good life, where Len traded in his Blue Suede Shoes for Blue Long Johns. Thank you for telling their story. I found it to be very informative, interesting and well presented. It reflected the impressive life changing and fulfilling journey they made. I hope people will realise the incredible braveness of this couple and their young son who gave up the beautiful chocolate box cottage that they had worked so hard for, to live a life that wasn't everyone's dream. Pam Len and Lee are very special people who have touched many people's lives and hearts.Their life on and off the road has been an inspiration to us all. Annette Walker - 22nd March 2009
Thanks for the very interesting article about Pam and Len's "Life on the Road". Thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to the next instalment.
Janet Evans - 24th March 2009
I have only known Pam for a few years and although I have heard her speak of her life on the road with Len and Lee this site has shown me in more depth what it was like to have lived in that way. I don't think anyone in these modern times can really envisage the reality of this kind of life. It must have been very hard at times - but also very rewarding. It is both interesting and informative. Thank you for sharing this piece of your life with us. Anne Watt 26th March 2009
It is very nice to see my grandparents and dads life written out, as I knew about the life before, but seeing it written down makes it easier to understand . It would be nice if they were still on the road as I would have lived with them. Aaron Watkins 13, 29th March 2009
Thought I would let you know that I have read 'Life on The Road' on your Penmon site. It's great to see the photos and read all about it.
It is so different to anyone else's life and how many would take a chance like that? You couldn't do it nowadays - you wouldn't be safe, but what a marvellous thing they have done in their lives. I bet they're glad they did it, even though they had hard times. Marvellous Pam. I'll get YOURS magazine (Issue 060) tomorrow and see what is in it about Pam, Len and Lee. Carol, 11th April 2009
How wonderful it was to read Pam and Len's story on your web-site. The photographs are mesmerising and the stories of life on the road full of interest feeding into a rich seam of nostalgia for the countryside and what has been lost. I loved the accounts of the restoration process both outside and within. In reading it, I truly felt I had travelled the road with them, if only in my head! Congratulations, Pam and Len. We are indebted to you for keeping some of the precious folk traditions of these islands alive in an age which has shamefully used and abused Nature for its own mercenery ends. And thank you too for your super web-site which allows such stories to be told. Look forward to reading more.
Yours Pat Ashford 22nd May 2009
Merry meet both. What a lovely site, colourful and informatively refreshing. It was like being there when reading, Pam Len and Lee. You must have adored your way of life. Anyways your site is great living from day to day but you also put in the bad and not just the good. So a true look at living on the road. Well done to you please keep up the good work. Bokt to you.
Maureen 22nd June 2009
I've just checked out your website - congratulations, it's very interesting and you've put a lot of work into it! I was really looking for Pam and Len Watkins' 'Life on the Road', I didn't realise it was part of a much bigger site :O)
Pam and Len visited Walsall Local History Centre, where I work, back in May when they came to look a few things up and to see the Pat Collins exhibition I had arranged at Bloxwich Library. Len used to work for Pat Collins fun fairs when they were still based in Bloxwich in "the good old days", as you know.
We had a long chat and I mentioned my Bloxwich website to them - The Bloxidge Tallygraph and they gave me a leaflet about 'Life on the Road'. I've been meaning to look at 'Life on the Road' for a while and have only just got round to it. I'd be glad if you'd let Pam and Len (and Lee of course) know that I have really enjoyed reading of their adventures on and off the road. I have to say I'm a bit jealous!
Please can you also let them know that on Saturday night I'm adding a new feature to The Bloxidge Tallygraph which I think they will enjoy:
Pat Collins' Lion Tamer: The Story of Captain Herbert Clarke
I recently had the chance to meet the youngest son and daughter-in-law of Captain Clarke, who travelled all over the world as a lion tamer and animal trainer before working for Pat Collins toward the end of his career in the early 1930s. They lent me a lot of the Captain's old photos and papers and I've written up a short version of his circus life on the website. It's a very exciting tale of old-fashioned adventure, and I think Pam, Len and Lee would enjoy reading about the Captain and his lions.
Anyway, please also give them all my best wishes, and thanks for taking the trouble to pass this on. Cheers,
Stuart Williams, Bloxwich, West Midlands 3rd July 2009
Hello Strangers... What a lovely morning this has turned out to be. I was quite moved reading about your life on the road. Lost all contact with Lee and Kim when I moved in the mid 90's... Would love to hear from them again and have not seen Aaron since he was a little baby! Please forward on my email address and phone no. as I would love to hear from them. Ruth Alexander, 14th December 2009
Pam and Len Watkins hold all copyright over this feature