History Of The New Forest Gypsies

It is recorded that Gypsies had been living in the New Forest area for centuries, living off the land and travelling through seasonally.

The largest encampment of Gypsies had numbers reaching in excess of 400 in the 1930s. Up until 1925, their custom was to live in the open forest camping singularly or in groups anywhere in the open regions.(Len Smith, 2005) Some moved around frequently, while others settled in remote places, staying there for some time. Around 1926, local pressure mounted from the wider community and the Parish Councils.  The Forestry commission implemented a system for dealing with what they called “a Gypsy problem” in the New Forest.  Gypsy families were forced off the open land into 7 camps, known as compounds. These were situated at Blackhamsley, Broom Hill, Latchmore, Hardley, Longdown, Shave Green and Thorney Hill. The Gypsy community had no choice but to move into the compounds or leave the district. (Peacock,1999)

The compounds lacked rudimentary facilities, such as  a running water supply (although later some were fitted with stand pipes) which caused resentment from local farmers who now had to share their supply with a constant stream of Gypsies, and the concentrated activity on the ground within the compounds, rendered it a boggy mire in wet weather.

At the time, the move was considered by the Local Authorities to be largely successful. (NFDC, RDCs, HCC, Surveyors dept. 13.2.1946) Although only basic amenities were available, the families settled into their new life.

Previously there had been opportunities to live off the land and find self- employment.  Local farmers were glad of the extra help during busy seasons. There had also been a good living in horse trading and breaking.  However, as demand lessened, Gypsies turned to selling crafted objects and hawking. Whilst this door to door “hawking” had been welcomed by the community during the war years when household goods and labour had been in short supply, after the war attitudes began to change. Door knocking began to be considered as a nuisance. Inundated with complaints, the Rural, District and County Councils set up a committee to sort out what they now called a ‘Social Problem’.  In 1947, the comprehensive assessment of all aspects of the area was presented to the committee. It was a scathing and discriminatory attack those who were living in the compounds.

“In the Gypsies we meet a problem of more than local significance…..while the standard of living in this country is steadily being raised; a group is allowed to live in the area which has hardly reached the standard of the Stone Age….”

(Joint memorandum to Minister of Health, from NFDC, RDCs, HCC.  Surveyors dept. 13.2.1946)


During the 1960’s, at the height of the Human Rights movement in America and South Africa, attempts were made to ‘rehabilitate’ Hampshire’s Gypsy population.

The New Forest Rural District Council declared the conditions on the compounds as unsafe and insanitary and lacking in basic facilities. They set up a housing rehabilitation programme. Families were either placed in council houses, in ex-military camps or moved back onto the road. Some were able to buy their own private land. Most people were moved   all over the area, often many miles away from their kinfolk. The last family were forcibly moved off in 1963.

​Numbers of families living in the New Forest Today

Within Hampshire there are approximately 400 Gypsy children on roll in Hampshire schools. Hampshire county council have estimated that there are at least 100 – 150 Gypsy children who are not receiving any education. “Education shall aim at developing the child’s personality talents and mental and physical abilities to the fullest extent. Education shall prepare the child for an active adult life in a free society and foster respects for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, and for the cultural background and values of others.” (Article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child)

Despite the Gypsy Traveller accommodation needs assessment having been undertaken in 2005, (in response to the housing Act 2004) the exact numbers of people of Gypsy origin living in the Hampshire area are thought to be greatly underestimated. It is a difficult task to calculate the numbers exactly, primarily because the census does not collect all the information concerning Gypsy origins, unless people are prepared or willing to disclose this information. There is a great reluctance on the part of the Gypsy community to ascribe to their heritage. In 2012, there are current plans to update the previous surveys undertaken in Hampshire in order to gain a more accurate picture.

Research undertaken by the late Len Smith, a well known and informed local Romani Gypsy historian and Romani activist of Gypsy origins, estimated that the figure in the New Forest and Southampton alone is likely to be nearer to 10,000. He bases this estimate on the fact that in 1947, there were 1,000 Gypsy families living in the New Forest. There were also families already settled in local authority housing or travelling around the area. Since that time, families have been reared over the course of 60 years – 3 generations. Len states that in his considered opinion, and extrapolating the figure from that of records dating back to the Second World War, this is an educated guess. (Len Smith, 2005) this would therefore mean that the national figure is also underestimated. What we do know is that Gypsies and Travellers remain the largest ethnic group in Hampshire at the present time.

Issues facing the Gypsy Traveller Community

Invisibility: Monitoring of Gypsy and Traveller communities is inconsistent and often inadequate. As a result, the location of housed Gypsies and Travellers is largely unknown and it is difficult to target specialist support at them. Often it is impossible to find out when or if these communities do access mainstream services, because they are not included in monitoring forms. Even when Gypsies and Travellers are included, monitoring of ethnicity may exclude ‘new Travellers’. Members of any Gypsy and Traveller community may also be unwilling to identify themselves for fear of discrimination or harassment. (2)

Racism: Voluntary agencies working with housed Irish Travellers report discrimination within housing and homelessness services, and local neighbourhoods. (3) Researchers point to a lack of awareness of ethnicity, and a general acceptance of this overt racism. However, only rarely is such racism reported to the police (see below), making it difficult to gauge its full extent. Fear of racist abuse and discrimination can make Gypsy and Traveller households reluctant to identify themselves in the monitoring of service provision.

Distrust: Experience of discrimination can undermine Gypsies and Travellers’ access to key services, and engender feelings of distrust. As a result, Gypsy and Traveller families in conventional housing can easily become isolated and fail to access those support services that may help them sustain their tenancies. Gypsies and Travellers are less likely than other sections of the population to report offences to the police (4), or engage with other vital statutory services, such as healthcare. (5)

Accessing services: Their different lifestyle and culture can leave housed Gypsies and Travellers at a disadvantage. They may not have experience of dealing with bills, rent payments or benefits applications. Evidence shows that Gypsies and Irish Travellers may fall into rent arrears and face eviction because they lack the knowledge and experience of how and where to obtain benefits or register for statutory services (6).

Specific support needs: It Is often a household’s support needs that cause them to move from caravans into conventional housing. (7) These can include a need to access education, escape domestic violence or treat a medical condition. This means that Gypsies and Travellers living in conventional housing may include some of the more vulnerable members of these communities. These individuals are the very people who are less able to deal with difficult housing conditions, neighbourhood tensions, or self-referral to specialist agencies for support.

Literacy: Low levels of literacy amongst Gypsies and Travellers can prevent them from accessing support or managing their housing effectively. Failure by mainstream services to recognise poor literacy can undermine attempts at communicating and disseminating information, thus further increasing the risk of isolation and tenancy failure.

Isolation: Often the move to conventional housing leaves Gypsies and Travellers separated from their community and family for the first time. In bricks-and-mortar housing Gypsy and Irish Travellers households can experience a sense of isolation and claustrophobia. (8) This can undermine engagement with services and with the local community, deepening misunderstanding and distrust between neighbours.


  1. CRE, Common Ground, 2006, section 4.2.1.
  2. Power, Colin, Room to Roam: England’s Irish Travellers, 2004, section 1.3.
  3. CRE, Common Ground, 2006, section 4.2.4.c.ii.
  4. Van Cleemput et al, The Health Status of Gypsies and Travellers in England, 2004, pages 6-8
  5. CRE, Common Ground, 2006, section 7.2.1.e.
  6. CRE, Common Ground, 2006, section 7.2.1.d.
  7. CRE, Common Ground, 2006, section 7.2.1.a.


Inappropriate housing: Housing Gypsy or Traveller households in unsuitable properties and/or an unsuitable area can intensify neighbourhood tensions. Recent case law demonstrates that advisers should take cultural differences into account when outlining housing options to Gypsies and Irish Travellers. (9) Some Gypsies and Irish Travellers suffer damaging psychological effects as a result of the change from a monadic lifestyle into conventional housing. (10) More commonly, unsuitable housing simply results in on-going stress for both the newly-housed family and their neighbours. Flashpoint issues include parking caravans outside housing, living in caravans instead of the house, visits from large extended families, the hanging of game in the garden, and a preference for an outdoor lifestyle.

Antisocial Behaviour Orders and the criminal justice system: It is common for Gypsies and Travellers to express distrust of the police, often based on their experience of the police’s failure to understand and protect them and their families. (11) Although Gypsies and Travellers are thought more often to be the victims than the perpetrators of crimes, their under-reporting of crime makes this difficult to investigate thoroughly.

Young Gypsy women do not usually expect to have to find employment but spend their time managing the home. Most children have already decided at an early age to follow their parents’ career paths. Freedom to travel and follow seasonal routes travelled for generations is held as very important by the whole family.


In most part of the world, Romani people have been the subject of prejudice, discrimination and even genocidal persecution.  They were subject to slavery in Eastern Europe and were amongst the first victims of West European racism. From the foundation of nation-states in the sixteenth century, to the death camps of Hitler’s Europe in which at least a quarter of a million Roma were executed.

​Working with Gypsy & Traveller Children

Children of Gypsy Traveller origin are a minority within a minority, who suffer the ill effects of inadequate accommodation, poor living conditions and discrimination experienced by their parents. This leads to feelings of low esteem and lack of pride in their Gypsy heritage.

It has been evidenced that Gypsy children have especially poor health, poor physical development and are often disadvantaged by emotional  and cognitive developmental delay.(Van Vleemput et al, Parry et al, 2004, Doyal et al 2002)

Generally, children of Gypsy origin have limited access to safe play. Often, sites have hazardous areas or are situated near busy main roads.