Our wonderful local storyteller, Fiona Collins, is our guest blog writer this month and shares two of her favourite stories with us which have very close links to The Forge and our vintage gypsy caravan. Perfect for snuggling up with next to the fire on a cold winter's night.....
If the Gypsy Caravan at The Forge really did belong to William Boswell, then it is linked to one of the largest and best known of all the British Romany Gypsy families. The Boswells have always been admired for their skills in wagon building, storytelling and musicianship, and are especially known for their knowledge of horses and horse breeding. They are normally at all the major horse-fairs in Britain and one of the family, Gordon Sylvester Boswell (who wrote The Book of Boswell - Autobiography of a Gypsy), led a deputation to save Appleby Horse Fair when it was threatened with closure by the local councils in 1965.
The Boswells, like other Romany families, have had many great storytellers in their number. They were even famous enough to have an imaginary family member, Appy Boz’ll, who featured in his own comic tales. This story was collected from the Romany storyteller Esmerelda Lock around 1880, and can be found in Neil Philip’s excellent collection, The Penguin Book of English Folktales (pub. 1991). The book also contains much longer stories collected from Taimi Boswell, another fine woman storyteller from this famous family.
Here is Esmerelda’s story of Appy Boz’ll:
Wonst upon a time there was a Romano, and his name was Happy Boz’ll, and he had a German-silver grinding-barrow, and he used to put his wife and his child on the top, and he used to go that quick along the road he'd beat all the coaches. Then he thought this grinding-barrow was too heavy and clumsy to take about, and he cut it up and made tent-rods of it.
And then his donkey got away, and he didn't know where it was gone to; and one day he was going by the tent, and he said to himself, 'Bless my soul, wherever's that donkey got to?' And there was a tree close by, and the donkey shouted out and said, 'I'm here, my Happy, getting you a bit o’ stick to make a fire.' Well, the donkey come down with a lot of sticks, and he had been up the tree a week, getting firewood.
Well then, Happy had a dog, and he went out one day, the dog one side the hedge, and him the other. And then he saw two hares. The dog ran after the two; and as he was going across the field, he cut himself right through with a scythe; and then one half ran after one hare, and the other after the other. Then the two halves of the dog catched the two hares; and then the dog smacked together again; and he said, 'Well, I've got ’em, my Happy'; and then the dog died.
And Happy had a hole in the knee of his breeches, and he cut a piece of the dog's skin, after it was dead, and sewed it in the knee of his breeches. And that day twelve months his breeches-knee burst open, and barked at him.
And so that's the end of Happy Boz’ll.
The Forge itself is not far from the place where some of the greatest Welsh Romany stories were collected: stories from another famous family, the descendants of Abram Wood. Abram Wood was credited with introducing the violin to Wales, and his family were all either great harpists or fine storytellers. The scholar John Sampson, Librarian at Liverpool University, would visit them regularly, amassing vocabulary for a Romany-English Dictionary. Though he never completed the dictionary, he did collect many wonderful stories, staying during the winter in a cottage in our nearby village of Betws Gwerful Goch, just the other side of Corwen. Some of the Woods would stay in the village too, until the summer came and they could go ‘tramping’ again.
Our local storyteller Fiona, who first heard about the Woods from her fellow storyteller Daniel Morden, got to know Teleri Jarman, the present representative of the family, and gained her permission to translate one of Teleri’s mother’s stories from Welsh. Fiona’s version, “The Three Tasks’, can be read in her book ‘Denbighshire Folktales’. (There is a copy on the bookshelf.) Or better still, ask her to tell it to you by your campfire!
John Sampson became so fond of this area that he asked that his funeral be held, and his ashes scattered, on Moel Goch in nearby Llangwm. Jane Ellis, who is 98, is the last living witness of his funeral, held in November 1931. She told Fiona:
‘John Sampson’s son walked at the front of the procession, carrying the ashes. Also present were Augustus John, T. Gwynn Jones, Ithal Lee, one of the Gypsies, and Turpin Wood, who sang ‘Dafydd y Garreg Wen’ after reaching the top of the mountain.’
Augustus John was a famous Welsh painter who, like Sampson, was fascinated by Romany culture.
T. Gwynn Jones was a Welsh poet, author and folklorist.
‘Dafydd y Garreg Wen’ is a traditional Welsh air, supposedly composed on his deathbed by the harpist David Owen, whose bardic name was Dafydd y Garreg Wen (David of the White Rock.)
Turpin Wood was, of course, a descendant of Abram Wood and friend of Sampson’s. A drawing of Turpin by local artist Ed Fisher, taken from Sampson’s archives in Liverpool, appears in Fiona’s book.
You can hear Bryn Terfel sing Dafydd y Garreg Wen here: