Romany Collections to be Revealed

Our Romany Assistant Archivist, Caroline Bolton, writes that the University of Leeds Library has been awarded a National Cataloguing Grant.

The Library has won a £31,000 grant for a cataloguing project called ‘Collectors and Activists: Romany Collections at the University of Leeds’.  The grant from the National Cataloguing Grants Programme will enable Special Collections to undertake a 12 month project to catalogue and promote the archives.  The Romany Collections were awarded designated status in 2005 in recognition of their national and international significance for researchers into Gypsy and Traveller communities.

The Romany Collections comprise several smaller archival collections.  Dorothy Una Ratcliffe (1887-1967), the niece of Lord Brotherton, amassed a large private Romany Collection of manuscript material.  Her archives include drafts of works by George Borrow and George Ackerley and paintings by George Morland.  Ratcliffe left an endowment fund and the collection continues to grow.

Angus McKay Fraser (1928-2001) was the founder of the George Borrow Society and author of ‘The Gypsies’ (1992).  He collected documents relating to Gypsies and other Travellers’ rights in Spain.  The Angus Fraser Collection includes family trees, photographs of Travellers and wide coverage of the persecution of Gypsies during the Holocaust.

The activist and solicitor Diana Allen (1916-2007) campaigned tirelessly for local authorities to provide caravan parks for the Romany community and other Travellers.  Her collection includes papers from the National Gypsy Education Council and Berkhamsted and District Gypsy Support Group.  The files also contain her correspondence with the Department for the Environment.

The Labour Party Campaign for Travellers Rights consisted of Labour Party members including Gypsies and Travellers and service providers for their community.  Our collection was gathered by Jenny Smith, Labour Councillor for the Southmead Ward in Bristol.  It includes research papers on caravan sites and Romany populations, land ownership records, court cases and the education of children.

Special Collections will launch the Project in spring 2016 with the appointment of an archivist.  The Project aims to catalogue the Romany Collections to item level to make them accessible to Traveller communities and researchers.  The archivist will engage in ‘Revisiting Collections’ activities with volunteers recruited through Leeds GATE (Gypsy and Traveller Exchange) and the School of History.  During the activities the archivist will work in partnership with the volunteers to build public interpretations into the catalogue record.   These will reveal the hidden histories behind the archives.

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