Spanish documents about the Gitanos in the Fraser Collection

Massimo Aresu is a Brotherton and Leeds Humanities Research Institute Postdoctoral Fellow studying our Romany Collections. Here he offers an insight into the important Spanish documents in the Angus Fraser Collection. These are almost unknown to scholars of Romany studies.

The Spanish collection consists of around 150 documents, printed and manuscript, from the 17th and 18th centuries. They were assembled by Sir Angus Fraser (1928-2001), who became fascinated by Gypsies in his youth, and published articles in academic journals from the 1960s. After retiring from the Civil Service, he wrote his most famous book ‘The Gypsies‘ (1992).

Fraser divided the Spanish documents into six sections on these subjects:
(1) Spanish (mainly Castilian) decrees etc. of general application, affecting Gypsies, (2) Sanctuary, (3) Dance, (4) Conscription for armed forces, the galleys and other forced labour, (5) Individual cases, (6) Other matters

He added a seventh section (G), of a single envelope, which contains photocopies, notes, and receipts relating to the six sections, A-F. The Spanish documents are available in Special Collections, catalogued and distributed in five boxes (A1-A25), (A 25-A54), (B, C, D), (F, G).

A list of 130 Spanish documents filed chronologically and entitled ‘Oferta sobre Gitanos’ (box F, G: envelope G) shows that the majority of the manuscripts and printed documents in the Spanish section were bought from a Sevillian bookseller, Antonio Castro. A handwritten note by Fraser explains that they relate mainly to the South of Spain, especially Andalusia. It adds that they were “collected by Colonel Benigno Gonzalez Garcia, a nationalist with a strong interest in Gypsies”.

We don’t know how and when Fraser purchased the collection. The earliest date could be the death of Colonel Gonzalez Garcia in 1993, after which the documents were probably acquired by Castro. The Fraser Collection contains a copy of the facsimile of ‘Libro de la Gitaneria de Triana’ (F6), published by Castro in 1995, after the original manuscript was discovered by Gonzalez Garcia. The facsimile’s dedication suggests that the relationship between the bookseller and Fraser wasn’t only motivated by business reasons, as it reads: “Para sir Angus Fraser con sincero afecto. Antonio Castro”.

Thanks to the list ‘Oferta sobre Gitanos’ we know that three printed documents from the original sale are no longer with the other Spanish documents, but they are in the Brotherton Library. These are:

To show the richness of the Spanish documents in the Fraser Collection, in future blogs I will comment on some of the most original and curious texts. I aim to publicise and give new life to them.

Activism and Racism: cataloguing the Romany Collections

On 21 March, the United Nation’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination our Romany archivist, Caroline Bolton, reflects on the content of our Romany CollectionsTo date, the Romany Collections that have been catalogued have mainly offered a more celebratory, sometimes romanticised view of life for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma. In contrast as cataloguing continues the Collections are starting to show glimpses of the reality that has faced many of these communities.

Henry VIII’s ‘Egyptian Act’ (1530) which sought to expel from the country those ‘outlandish people calling themselves Egyptians’ is an early example of Gypsies and Travellers being criminalised and made stateless because of their ethnicity. Egyptian meant ‘Gypsies and Travellers’.  The word ‘Gypsy’ derives from them being wrongly identified as Egyptian.  Alongside this in the Angus Fraser Collection are over 150 official 17th and 18th century Spanish documents some of which contain early references to such discriminatory attitudes.

Fast forward to the 20th century and a sign from a public house in 1951 reading ‘No Gipsies Served Here’ offers a more recent example from the Collections.  This is accompanied by an account of how the neighbouring businesses then followed suit.  There are a wealth of 20th century press cuttings referencing Gypsies, Travellers and Roma.

However the Collections offer a counterpoint to this narrative of discrimination. The files relating to the business of the National Gypsy Council including its activities in the United Nations Year of Human Rights (1968), and the 1st Romani World Congress (1971) show the efforts of Gypsies, Traveller and Roma to assert their identity and defend their rights. Key Council members such as Grattan Puxon were involved in international efforts to gather evidence of the Gypsy/Roma genocide in Europe during the Nazi period.  Puxon later co-wrote a book ‘Gypsies under the Swastika‘ (1995).  It is not surprising that the national and international Gypsy/Traveller/Roma rights movement became so active and visible in light of the reality of extreme racial discrimination.

It is against this background of more general social activism in the 1960s and 1970s that the Collections capture the involvement of non-Gypsies and Travellers. Such people include screenwriter, Jeremy Sandford, editor of the Gypsy Council’s ‘Romano Drom‘ publication and solicitor Diana Allen.  Allen’s Collection tells the story of her involvement in campaigning for Gypsy/Traveller sites in the UK up to the early 2000s. Jenny Smith’s Collection continues this theme but broadens to reference wider protest movements of the 1980s and 1990s.

The Collections offer a wealth of material for the study of racism and activism. When there are global events run in support of the United Nation’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today 21 March, they also offer a wider appeal in the insight they provide to the stories of the past and the ability to inspire change for the future.


Research and the Romany Collections

Discover more about the research potential of our Romany Collections in our Cultural Institute Workshop in February

Work continues on the National Archives funded cataloguing project, “Collectors and Activists,” to catalogue what have become known as the Romany Collections.  Made up of collections deposited by four different owners – Dorothy Una Ratcliffe, Sir Angus Fraser, Jenny Smith and Diana Allen – the collections offer different viewpoints.  What is also becoming apparent is how they cover diverse subjects and in turn offer an excitingly broad range of research potential.  This will be explored at a Cultural Institute Workshop on 21 February.

It would be fair to say that Dorothy Una Ratcliffe’s collections primarily capture the more romanticised view of life for Gypsies and Travellers in the UK and Europe from the 18th to mid twentieth century. There are however two sides emerging to her collections; that of a non Gypsy Traveller’s celebration of Gypsy Traveller culture and traditions captured in the historic mainstream e.g. art, language, literature, music and dance.  This is very much reflective of the aims of the Gypsy Lore Society of which Dorothy Una Ratcliffe was a member, benefactor and advocate.

In contrast her collections also capture important documentary evidence of the emerging realities of life for many Gypsies and Travellers during the period 1930-1960s through the press cuttings and papers relating to Evangelism within these communities in the mid twentieth century.  The handmade flowers in the image below are from Ratcliffe’s collections.

Jenny Smith’s Collection on the other hand couldn’t be more different. Working for Shelter (Homelessness charity) and a Labour Councillor in the Bristol area over the last 30 years she has championed the rights of Gypsies and Travellers, both in her area and more widely in the UK as part of her role on the Labour Campaign for Traveller’s Rights which was founded in the 1980s.

Smith’s collection captures a very different perspective and possibly an experience that is specific to the UK in its coverage of New (Age) Travellers and the laws and policies that affected these and other communities of the Gypsies and Travellers in the UK, especially the Criminal Justice Act 1994.  It also highlights the sometimes radical protest movements that surrounded these communities.

Individually these collections provide an example of the diversity of themes.  While collectively they also reflect a multi-faceted view of both the varied and common experiences of some Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities and a chronology of change particularly in the last 100 years.

Cataloguing of these and the other collections continues but what we are starting to glimpse is the multiple stories and themes contained both within and across them.  These offer not just a rich resource to historians but also to others within the University, including people studying languages, linguistics, law, art, social sciences, politics, planning and education, for example, and external researchers. Recent interest in the collection has also demonstrated the potential opportunities to engage and inspire artists and communities for change.

For those interested in finding out more about these collections and their potential there is a Cultural Institute Workshop on the Romany Collections on 21 Feb 2017.


Re-visiting the Romany Collections and YARN

Our Romany Archivist, Caroline Bolton, write about community workshops, YARN and the Romany Collection.

Recently with the help of Leeds GATE, (Gypsy and Traveller Exchange) we invited members from Gypsy and Traveller communities to come to Special Collections to have a look at material from the ‘Romany Collection.’ We wanted to gather their views to help us to improve the way that we describe these items so that we can better understand the collections.  We also wished to discover what is important to people from Gypsy and Traveller communities to enable them to find and use this material themselves.

We did this by running a workshop based on a revisiting collections toolkit  that was produced some years ago by the Collections Trust to help organisations to capture and share multiple perspectives on archive collections.

The session was well attended with members from a number of Gypsy and Traveller families looking at a selection of photographs, drawings and paintings.  They gave us an invaluable insight into the archives that would have remained hidden. The session was well received with requests for follow up sessions to look at more material.  It demonstrated both the interest within these communities and mutual benefits of community engagement with archives.


As a result of the workshop we wanted to look at how we could extend these conversations beyond the workshop format, especially for those who for a variety of reasons wouldn’t feel, or be able, to attend. For this we were able to pilot a community storytelling application called YARN which was recently designed and created during a research programme led by the University of Leeds.

YARN is designed to allow users to create their own stories using material from the web and from archive partners such as Special Collections. It seemed like an ideal opportunity to gather those parallel stories that exist around items in the collection. The results of this first venture can be viewed as Special Collections’ first story and we are hoping that it will provide a chance to showcase items from the collections and enable users to better engage with them. This includes academics, researchers, communities and members of the public.

The next step is how we capture these alternative narratives more permanently within the catalogue.  We are currently working on incorporating summaries of the feedback as ‘additional descriptions’ within the item’s catalogue entry. These will provide alternative access points and increase accessibility and understanding of the collections.  Crucially the summaries will be attributed to those that have provided them so future researchers understand the context of the comments. It is also an acknowledgment of thanks to those volunteers who have given up their time to contribute to the cataloguing process and help widen access to the collections.



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.