The Derek Evans’ archive continues to spring surprises. Most delicious among them are his scrap books, page after page of newspaper cuttings, documenting news from the ‘front line’ of rural life. Dive in and revel in the weird and the wonderful, the beautiful and the baffling. This is local news reporting, the like of which we may never see again.
He was on hand, in 1960, at Hereford train station, to witness the safe delivery of an exquisite, hand-crafted gypsy caravan, a vardo. The maker’s name, George Cox, is now all but lost in the mists of time. But, thanks to these dusty, scruffy scrapbooks, we can salvage the name of this humble wheelwright. His work, however, is still remembered. A quick Google search leads to www.gypsywaggons.co.uk. Here, the richness of George’s work can been. It seems he has quite a name when it comes to the Vardo.
We have some sketchy details about George’s life. We do know that, with some encouragement from his parents, he began working as an apprentice wheelwright in Hereford in 1910. He would have been a ripe age for the battle fields of WWI, but that detail is unknown. Somewhere along his working life, his wheelwright skills developed and he began creating Vardos. He lost count of the number he made over his working life, but in 1960, George reported that he was pretty sure he was ‘the only man in Great Britain still making them’.
One thing is for sure: he would have been in demand. Right up until the seventies, horse-drawn gypsy caravans of the Romany community were a common sight on our roads. The same community were a very important labour force during Herefordshire’s hop picking season and would descend on the county enmasse. The son of a hop farmer in Bromyard remembers standing by the farm gate as they arrived ‘in their colourful wagons’. ‘Father was glad to see them come, and then glad to see them go!’
It took master wheelwright George Cox 12 months to make this caravan. The wheels along are examples of exquisite craftmanship. His assistant, Albert Wood, was in charge of the delicate and distinctive paintwork. The purchasers of this particular wagon, were a Romany family from Somerset. But he would neither name them or the price they paid. ‘The gypsies don’t like that sort of thing’, said George.
Amazingly, MACE has an interview with George from around 1960. Aside from the rather suspect questions from the interviewer, it’s a delight. If anyone remembers George, we would love to hear from you.
By Marsha O'Mahony