Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month

Ian Bowen (left) stands on College Green with Lord Mayor Councillor Paula O'Rourke (centre) and Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees (right) on College Green, with grass, trees, and Bristol Cathedral behind them.
Today’s guest blog is by Ian Bowen, Bristol City Council’s GRT Service Coordinator

June is Gypsy Roma Traveller (GRT) History Month and we are pleased and proud to celebrate the positive impacts that these communities bring to our city.

Bristol has had links to Gypsy Roma Traveller (GRT) communities for hundreds of years. With the first recorded Gypsies in England going back over 600 years ago, Bristol has been used as a constant stopping place – or atchin tan – since that time. We only have to look at some of the street names surrounding the city to see the impact: Gypsy Lane in Saltford, Gypsy Patch Lane in Little Stoke and even Beggars Bush Lane in Leigh Woods (a slightly less positive name reflecting on older times) all hint towards their past use. Taking Gypsy Patch Lane as an example, this atchin tan became a mini town during travelling season, when Romany people would come into the city to trade in traditional crafts and labour. Many older Bristolians today still remember knife sharpeners, brush makers, singers, musicians and rag & bone men who would bring important services right to your door that could not be found elsewhere.

The camp at Gypsy Patch Lane has long gone now, replaced by Rolls Royce, but that has not reduced the impact of GRT communities on our city. The 1960s saw a massive increase in city development which coincided with the arrival of Irish Travellers. The foundations of Broadmead, the high-rise flats in the South of the city and the industrial areas of the North were all dug with the help of Irish Traveller labour – hard workers who worked long hours moving with their families from one site to the next.

The 2000s saw Eastern European Roma and Gypsies bringing a new diversity into Bristol, increasing the cities available workforce, bringing a new diversity to schools and providing a further enrichment to inner city Bristol.

People gather at College Green's flag poles to raise the GRT flag on 1 June. The GRT flag is a red wheel on a background split between blue (top) and green (bottom).

As a City of Sanctuary, we are pleased and happy to welcome the different Traveller communities that have suffered prejudice and hate elsewhere, but we are going much further by actively celebrating GRT History Month.

GRT History Month has taken place in June every year since 2008 and this year, we are using it as an opportunity to celebrate the unique and diverse histories, cultures and languages of Travellers and the considerable and outstanding contributions made by GRT people to wider society. Celebrations will start at the beginning of June with the raising of the GRT flag which will proudly fly over City Hall throughout the month. A number of schools in the city will be running events ranging from flag making, cultural talks and discussions right through to a big picnic in the park in Easton with traditional Roma food and singing. The council’s Youth and Community Team are working with Learning Partnership West, Creative Youth Network, Children’s Scrapstore, Oasis Hub and others to run inclusive youth sessions across the city that will bring together young people from Traveller backgrounds with non-travellers to share community awareness and form new links.

The council’s GRT Team will be available to provide information, advice and awareness raising sessions throughout June, and to support Travellers on our different permanent sites in the city to celebrate.

For more information on GRT History Month, contact the GRT Team at gypsries.travellers@bristol.gov.uk