Gypsies – Tents – Didcot

Extracts from a report in the BERKS & OXON ADVERTISER – 12 May 1899.

Referring to the shocking state of affairs relating to a number of people living in tents at Didcot.

From instructions received I have visited the Didcot tents, situated in the north-west corner of the parish, Mr. Dennis Napper, the owner of the land, accompanying me. The first place inspected was the cow-house. At either end there was a trifle of short straw which looked as if it had been slept on. Mr Napper informed me that sometime back he gave the policeman orders that anyone he caught there he would summons, but he was unable to catch them. I asked him if he could say how many had slept there, but he could not. Sometimes the Bland family would stop there.

Crossing over the railway line we came to two double tents: number one occupied by Henry Smith and family. Number two tent is occupied by Henry Loveridge and family. Number three tent is in the south-east corner over the Oxford line, and is occupied by James Archer, Harriet Bland and family, comprising four boys and two girls. These people have one double and a single tent, father and mother and four children sleeping at one end, the two girls at the other end, with a fireplace in the centre; the eldest son occupies the single tent by himself. Size of the double tent: the one occupied by Archer, wife and four children, 7 by 7 by 5. 245 cubic feet; occupied by the girls, 7 by 5 by 5. 175 cubic feet: tent occupied by eldest son, 4 by 6 by 4. 96 cubic feet. 

Archer and his son are chimney sweeps, and get the greater part of their living at it. The children looked strong and healthy to all appearances, but were not so clean as the others were; their heads were very dirty and caked. They obtain their water from the running stream close by, and use Mr. Napper’s meadow as their privy, he raising no objection. In the course of a few weeks Mr. Napper said he would get rid of Archer and his family, and also Loveridge and family. As I have stated Archer’s children’s heads were very dirty; I could find nothing alive about them; their clothes were very poor indeed, but they looked strong and healthy. 

Gipsies, Tents, Didcot. A report by the Medical Officer.

The facts are as follows: Three families of gipsies who say they came from Sutton Courtney, have been allowed to camp on farm lands belonging to Mr. Napper in the vicinity of Didcot Station, but at a considerable distance from any inhabited house. Two of them live in very small tents or wigwams of canvas strained over bent rods, pitched by the side of a hedge quite half an hour’s walk across the fields from the Station, the third family living in a similar and rather larger tent in a green lane adjoining the railway, but also a good distance both from Didcot and Hagbourne New Town, so that so far as sanitary considerations go their occupancy of these tents does not in itself occasion any nuisance or cause danger to health as regards either place. With reference to the question of overcrowding: in the daytime the tents are unoccupied for the most part and more or less thrown open; they have no flooring except the bare earth, nor have they any furniture or bedding beyond a little loose straw, except that in one of them there is a sort of rough bed laid on the ground. At night however, they are unquestionably greatly overcrowded according to any, even minimum, standard of air space as reckoned in an ordinary dwelling house; but being really only canvas “shelters” they are necessarily pervious to air, thus lessening sanitary evils of overcrowding. The tent occupied by James Archer, Harriet Bland and six children, four being boys (one of whom and one of the girls is grown up) is large and is used in three divisions; the girl has one end, the elder sons the other, and the parents and younger children are in the middle. All these tents are absolutely without any sanitary arrangements or conveniences, and their occupants live practically a semi-savage life. They get water, probably of fair quality, from a small watercourse in a ditch fed by a spring, and those members of the family who were about the place appeared healthy and well fed. The Archers are chimney sweeps and were black and dirty from their trade; the others were not worse in this respect than average low class gipsies. They informed me that from time to time they shifted their tents and practically, except at night, they live in the open air.

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