Hatfield to feature in BBC history programme about Romany Gypsies

PUBLISHED: 18:37 10 February 2019 | UPDATED: 18:57 10 February 2019

Damian Le Bas by the bridge over the River Eden at Appleby, Cumbria, during the annual  horse fair in June 2018. Picture: BBC/Adam Keelan.

Damian Le Bas by the bridge over the River Eden at Appleby, Cumbria, during the annual horse fair in June 2018. Picture: BBC/Adam Keelan.

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Hatfield and Dame Barbara Cartland’s legacy will feature in a BBC documentary about Romany Gypsies.

Damian Le Bas by the River Eden at Appleby, Cumbria, during its horse fair in June 2018 in A Very British History: Romany Gypsies. Picture: BBC/Adam Keelan.Damian Le Bas by the River Eden at Appleby, Cumbria, during its horse fair in June 2018 in A Very British History: Romany Gypsies. Picture: BBC/Adam Keelan.

Writer Damian Le Bas explores a pivotal decade in the lives of Romany people in Romany Gypsies on BBC Four.

The hour-long film focuses on the 1960s – a key decade of change for the community.

Up until now the history of Romany Gypsies in this period has never before been told on TV.

Damian charts the highs and lows the Romany Gypsy community faced, and the stories of the people who helped them, such as romantic novelist Dame Barbara Cartland, who secured a permanent site in Hertfordshire.

Barbara Cartland with Gypsies who were about to be evicted from Colney Heath in July 1961. Picture: Tony Gregory.Barbara Cartland with Gypsies who were about to be evicted from Colney Heath in July 1961. Picture: Tony Gregory.

Damian’s film is the first attempt at explaining an important period of transition that most don’t know about.

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.

Dame Barbara Cartland with former Welwyn Hatfield Times chief photographer Denis Williams.Dame Barbara Cartland with former Welwyn Hatfield Times chief photographer Denis Williams.

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.

In the programme, which is to be screened on BBC Four on Monday night, Damian speaks with Ian McCorquodale, the son of Dame Barbara Cartland.

The colourful novelist and former Conservative county councillor, who lived at mansion Camfield Place in Wildhill, near Essendon, took on the battle to find gypsies in Hertfordshire somewhere permanent to stay.

Following a public inquiry, Dame Barbara and her allies secured a piece of ground on the outskirts of Hatfield.

Damian Le Bas with his Ford Transit van in A Very British History: Romany Gypsies. Picture: BBC/Adam Keelan.Damian Le Bas with his Ford Transit van in A Very British History: Romany Gypsies. Picture: BBC/Adam Keelan.

The site in Hertford Road became known as Barbaraville Camp in Dame Barbara’s honour.

Mr McCorquodale discusses his mother’s battle.

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.”

Damian Le Bas with his great-grandmother Julie Jones, known as 'Nan' to Damian, in A Very British History: Romany Gypsies. Picture: BBC/Adam Keelan.Damian Le Bas with his great-grandmother Julie Jones, known as 'Nan' to Damian, in A Very British History: Romany Gypsies. Picture: BBC/Adam Keelan.

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.

Damian Le Bas by the River Eden at Appleby, Cumbria, during its horse fair in BBC Four programme A Very British History: Romany Gypsies. Picture: BBC/Adam Keelan.Damian Le Bas by the River Eden at Appleby, Cumbria, during its horse fair in BBC Four programme A Very British History: Romany Gypsies. Picture: BBC/Adam Keelan.

Damian reveals that despite this, 50 years on, Romany people still have a clear sense of their ethnicity, on full show at the Horse Fair in Appleby, Cumbria.

Romany Gypsies is the first part of a four-part BBC Four series, A Very British History, which explores key moments in the 20th century for minority communities across Britain.

The series also includes episodes about the Jewish community in Leeds, Afro-Caribbeans in Birmingham, and Ugandan Asians in Leicester and beyond. Fronted by presenters from those communities, the series explores the highs and lows that many faced when making their home in modern Britain.

Viewers will hear their untold stories and follow emotional journeys back in time.

A Very British History: Romany Gypsies presenter Damian Le Bas, second from left, with Betsy Mobey, David Donaldson, Jonathan Lee, Lisa Smith and Johnson Welch, members of the Gypsy rights organisation ERRC (European Roma Rights Centre), at the Appleby Horse Fair, June 2018. Picture: BBC/Adam Keelan.A Very British History: Romany Gypsies presenter Damian Le Bas, second from left, with Betsy Mobey, David Donaldson, Jonathan Lee, Lisa Smith and Johnson Welch, members of the Gypsy rights organisation ERRC (European Roma Rights Centre), at the Appleby Horse Fair, June 2018. Picture: BBC/Adam Keelan.

Each film is a quest to discover more about the history of communities in multi-cultural Britain.

A Very British History: Romany Gypsies will air on Monday, February 11 at 9pm on BBC Four.

Damian Le Bas at Bill and Rachel Cooper's home near Basildon, Essex, in A Very British History: Romany Gypsies. Picture: BBC/Adam Keelan.Damian Le Bas at Bill and Rachel Cooper's home near Basildon, Essex, in A Very British History: Romany Gypsies. Picture: BBC/Adam Keelan.

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