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Issue 7 - July 1972
Hoy The Cooncil Oot Of Gateshead...
Despite the fact that a County Court judge had previously ruled that travelling people should have the right to park their caravans on waste land in Gateshead until a proper site is provided the town council decided otherwise. Whilst the Fair was on the travelling people moved their caravans up to Newcastle Town Moor for a few days. Seizing the opportunity the council hired a mechanical digger to scoop out trenches and pile earth around the waste ground thus ensuring that it would be impossible to park the caravans. Muther Grumble went to talk to people in the area; first of all to Tom outside his caravan in Askew Road.

MG: Is there anything else that brings you to Gateshead at all beside the Town Moor Fair?

Tom: We stop anywhere where it's pleasant to stop, where the peoples is nice, y'know what I mean. It doesn't make any difference, but you can't keep running all the time like ... er, you've gotta have a place to stop. Now for instance, when I went up to the Moor I had three boys and they were going for confirmation y'see and getting a bit of schooling up there in the local catholic church. We just went up to the Moor for the week and when we got back we found the site had been blocked off, y'see. So we just couldn't move on because the confirmation was coming off y'see. So we just pulled down here and they got confirmed last Sunday, the three of them like. We had to take them over to Stockton, the bishop was over there. So that was last Sunday and now I've got three more for Holy Communion next Sunday. Now when you've got to do these things with the family you can't keep running all the time. So whatever the council say or do you've got to stop somewhere ... as to complaints from the people up there, there was no complaints, they were very nice people. I can't see where the police were getting three or four complaints a day from, there was no reason for them to do. All the people is pleasant around here and that's one thing about them, y'know.

MG: Do you think it's sort of prejudice, you know. They've heard so many rumours so they've made their minds up before you come sort of thing.

Tom: I think so, I think so. For instance, you pull into a place, it's happened to me often, you pull into a place and there's no house within three mile of you, in country places, and all of a sudden you meet a policeman coming along about five minutes later and he says I've had five phone calls about you already. Now that's impossible, he couldn't have done y'see, it's just word of mouth, it don't happen as quickly as that y'see.

MG: Have you had much harassment from police round here?

Tom: No they're not bad round here, they're very nice, y'know. I mean, if you keep yourself to yourself the police won't bother you, y'know.

MG: You'd think if the council were chasing you they'd get the police onto you as well wouldn't you?

Tom: You'd think so wouldn't you, but as I said, round here they wait till you pull off t go somewhere and they're so cute that the minute you've got your back turned they block it off, y'know what I mean. Every major town has a site; London has a site, there's one in York, one in Leeds, Doncaster, Oxford, and this is the only town that hasn't got a site. The farther you go back up the south ... there's two on the outskirts of London.

MG: What kind of places do they put you in?

Tom: There's a site for Leeds, it's not fit for dogs. You've got all the caravans packed in on top of one another. You can't be packed in like that when you've got a family, you've got to have room to play about, y'know, you gotta have room to park a motor, they've got one tap for fifty caravans, one tap running all the time. The toilets, they don't flush at all, they get the men women and children they want to bung them all into one toilet, well we don't work that day, it's not right, y'know.

MG: You'd think that in the Act they'd have made regulations about that, you've got to have so much space.

Tom: Yes, that's right. There should be 12 to 14 feet between each caravan, at least that. They don't think of that y'see. Often they give you a site and they try to bung you out of the way, the nearest shop might be 15 miles, they bung you up in the mountains somewhere, think you're uncivilised or something. But when you've got a family and you're working all day your wife can't travel out to these shops maybe 12 or 13 miles away, a big lonesome place, you know what I mean. Oxford and Wakefield and Doncaster are very pleasant sites.

MG: What kind of work do you manage to do to keep yourself?

Tom: A little bit of hedge topping, casual work, this time of the year we might do a lot of farm work, and we probably get a bit of scrap. Wherever we can make an honest bob, let's put it like that, y'know what I mean. It's all honest work, you gotta work hard for it, there's no easy work, y'know what I mean, to keep the best side of the law of course.

MG: Do you think that Mr O'Doherty is going to have much chance in getting you what you're after?

Tom: Well I don't know, I think any man fighting hard enough should get what he wants, if he really believes in what he's doing.

I then went to a pub to see what some of the local, more permanent residents thought of the travelling people. Incidentally, I was asked not to take photos on the site because there was a lot of rubbish lying around. This could hardly be blamed on Tom and the other families because the council refused to provide a few bins and toilets. The people in the pub didn't want to give their names because, as they said, there could be repercussions from this sort of thing.

MG: Can you imagine where the Evening Chron get this idea that there's complaints piling in all the time?

Fred: Well what does a reporter do about any paper? As long as he gets a story he'll put in a million lies won't he? You should know that.

Arthur: Well according to these the council up there is going to give them a piece of land, why don't they give it to them and let them get on with it. I canna see na wrong wi them, I mean to say they come in here and they keep themselves to themselves, and that's it like, da knaas.

Fred: Oh yer, they're very, very friendly in here definitely.

MG: Well from that report in the Chron you get the idea that there were gypsies going around and they might be doing anything, it was left completely open, they might be stealing or anything.

Arthur: Talk about stealing, people forget the time when one of them was away from his caravan for a couple of days and someone broke in and stole his television set.

MG: What's your attitude to the council over this business?

Arthur: Naa. The council. Why I don't like the council to start off with, it's a whole load of corruption for me.

Fred: It costs that Drott about £10 an hour, I do know that for a fact, it used to be £8 and I'm talking about a good few year ago it was £8 then. So it must be £10 for a machine and a man now.

MG: And they've been at it a couple of days now have they, cos they've done that bit by the school and there's some more round the back?

Fred: Oh, aye, that's only a day's work. They've done that and they've done Charlton Street and Cross Street. It's taken not an hour over three days, because it works non-stop that thing you know.

Arthur: They cause nay trouble to naybody. But the council, I'd hoy them oot of Gateshead and leave the gypos here. Tell you what, some of them up there want hoying oot cause they're only there for back handers.

I talked to as many people as possible in the pub, nobody had any complaints about the travelling people. Finally I did find a local shopkeeper who had a different point of view but wouldn't let me record him. He wasn't extreme and was just as angry as everyone else that the council had spent so much on hiring the mechanical digger. His argument was based on the idea that the travelling people wouldn't pay a fair rent for a decent site, but the families had said that they'd already offered to pay a fair rent. Why should Gateshead be allowed to drop out from the 1968 Act that says that councils should provide sites for travelling people? It seems that if a decent site was provided then everyone would be happy. Admittedly this report has been biased, I never went to talk to the council, but then the Evening Chron can do an excellent job of presenting the council's point of view and I had heard a rumour that local councils are supposed to represent the people of the area so they shouldn't have a point of view, just do the job which they're supposed to be doing - serve the people. In this instance that means provide a site for the travelling people and stop pissing about with bulldozers and all the other toys they're so fond of using to intimidate people.