Francis James, my paternal grandfather, was the youngest child of Edward
Charles James and Kathleen Amelia Farrall. He was born on the 8th
March 1908 in North Sheen, Surrey. He was the last of the family to be
born ‘on the road’ and into the travelling lifestyle of the showmen.
Travellers would always try to get married and have children during the
winter months, as the summer months were when the fairs were active and
business was conducted. It is even said that travelling showmen would
try to die in the winter too, to cause as little disruption as possible.
I am sure that was said with tongue firmly in cheek.
met my grandmother, Clara, in the mid 1930’s, whilst he was with the
fair at Clapham Common in south London. They were married on the 24th
December 1935 at the Register Office in Battersea. My grandmother told
me that at the time she met my grandfather, she was also being wooed by
a policeman who had an eye for her. However, she found my grandfather to
be by far the more exciting of the two and so she married him. He was 28
and she was 17 when they wed. After they married my grandfather gave up
life on the road and settled at a permanent address. It must have been a
very hard thing to do, given the very long family tradition of being on
the road with the fairs.
grandfather could not read or write but that was very common amongst the
travelling community at the time, as the lifestyle did not lend itself
to acquiring a formal education. However, he had a natural talent for
music and at the time he met my grandmother he was playing the drums in
a band as well as working the fairs. After he married my grandmother he
had to give up his secondary musical career, as she needed him to spend
more time at home helping her with the children when he wasn’t out
grandfather worked hard all his life and always ensured that his family
were fed and taken care of. Most travellers will not work directly for
anybody else as an employee. They are usually self-employed and beholden
to nobody but themselves and their families. It is an important part of
living an independent lifestyle, unshackled from the fiscal slave chains
and corporate bonds that bind so many people in the settled community.
love debt and they love their people to be in debt, such as mortgages,
credit cards and personal loans. It all ties people to the
‘money-go-round’ where they can be sold to, tracked, taxed and
controlled. Where they become reliant on the big corporations and
employers for their daily bread, and where they learn how to be
submissive and terrified of losing their jobs, and the baubals and
trinkets that keep them pacified, entertained and oblivious.
travellers from all sectors of the community are very talented people,
and are able to earn a good living from the skills and trades that have
been handed down to them through the generations. The females on my
father’s side of the family for example were all very talented
seamstresses and dressmakers. Travelling people of all kinds have always
been very self-reliant, hardworking and flexible. They had to be in
order to make ends meet in an often very harsh world that discriminated
grandparents had seven children in all. My father was the second oldest
and was born in 1938. Big families were common at that time and this was
especially true for our family, which is Roman Catholic. The Catholicism
comes from the Irish side of the family and has passed intact through
the generations. My great-grandmother was an extremely devout Irish
Catholic but since then, the Catholicism has become more moderate. Our
family is very large on the paternal side and I have over thirty
cousins. I have a lot less than that on my mother’s side, but then
they were mostly Methodists and Salvationists.
grandparents had a hard life. There was no social security or National
Health Service when they began their married life, and of course,
they had to go through the privations of the Second World War. My
grandfather was an ARP warden in London during the Blitz. His job was to
ensure there were no lights showing that could aid German bombers during
the bombing raids over London.
the war, my grandparents lived near Clapham Junction.
Their road was very close to the huge railway terminus and marshalling
yards. It was a prime target for Hitler’s Luftwaffe and bombing in the
area and strafing by enemy fighters was intense. My father told me that
on one occasion they were targeted by a German fighter and just managed
to dive into the shelter as the bullets tore up chunks of earth and
chips of masonry around them.
Second World War was very hard for the family, especially as most things
were rationed and there was rarely an excess of anything. My father told
me how my grandparents would often sit at the table during meal times,
dipping bread into gravy and eating it, so that the children could have
their rations. It is hard for those of us who have never experienced
such privations to fully appreciate the hardships they endured.
this day my grandmother does not hold much affection for the Germans or
the Japanese. It is a perfectly understandable sentiment in people of
that generation, who faced real terror and emotional pressures that we
can barely imagine.
grandfather died on the 27th January 1986 at St Johns
Hospital in Battersea, London. The cause of death being bronchial
carcinoma – lung cancer, brought on by smoking. The dangers of
cigarettes were not as appreciated when he was a young man and they were
suppressed by the tobacco companies themselves for many years. Tobacco
killed many people of his generation, as sadly, it still does today
despite various governmental health campaigns.
grandmother, Clara, is still very much alive at the grand old age of 93.
She is as bright as a button and sharp as a knife. There are always
family members in and out of her home, and she is looked after and
lovingly appreciated by them all. In these current times of greed,
self-interest and neglect of the elderly, it is so nice to see a family
caring for each other as a family should. That is another positive
aspect of the travelling tradition. Our family are very straightforward,
what you see is what you get. There are no pretensions, no crocodile
smiles or the kind of false bonhomie that is all too often seen in the
grandfather once said to my father of our family heritage, ‘once a
traveller, always a traveller’. It is a maxim that expresses the bonds
of blood to a tradition that stretches back down the generations. You
are what you are by tradition, circumstance and birth, it is the very
foundation of who we are, and it is something to take a great pride in.
©Copyright - James of Glencarr