Date: Friday 6th July 2007

Definitive and enduring chronicle of the New Fair gathering

THE premier of a wonderfully produced documentary film, Gypsy Fair: Krush on the Drom, or Come on the road to Appleby which tells of the rich culture and fascinating heritage of Appleby’s annual and ancient New Fair Gathering, as seen through the eyes of a group of young gypsies and travellers was shown to a selected audience in Appleby.

NOISEfestival is the showcase for the best in UK creative talent for young people up to the age of 25 and in co-operation with the Gypsy and Traveller Exchange (GATE), of Leeds, and Young Roots, a program funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, a three-year project was launched to make the film.

The young people involved were Romany gypsies and Irish travellers, and Denise Proctor, Victoria Turnbull and other members of NOISEfestival taught the young filmmakers key television production skills, including researching, interview techniques and camera and editing techniques. The young production team interviewed residents and visitors in Appleby and many other parts of the country who make the annual pilgrimage to Appleby to be part of New Fair gathering.

In a film full of new and diverse ideology, there were some very surprising and little known insights into the lives of the true Romany gypsies, including their total and complete devotion and adherence to the family and the strict code of conduct which is adhered to by the young members of every family.

Many of the teenagers who attend the Appleby gathering with their parents can be seen in very modern dress, and, although short skirts and skimpy tops may be what the young girls prefer to wear, these are merely a fashion trend and the code of morality of the teenagers is strict and complies with the unquestioned morality of their family traditions. The older gypsies explained this quite easily, saying: “You may look, but must not touch.”

The film was shown in the meeting room of Lady Anne’s Pantry, Appleby. Among the audience were the town’s mayor and mayoress, Stan and Rita Rooke, Ella Langan, of the New Fair joint committee, Sergeant Grant Warwick of the local police, and some of the young people who made the film.

Also present was Ron Richardson, of Connections Cumbria, which does excellent work with young people throughout the county; Violet Tucker, of the Gypsy and Traveller Exchange, and Denise Proctor, chief executive officer, and Victoria Turnbull, project manager, both of NOISEfestival.

The film takes viewers on a fascinating visit to the Gypsy Lore Society, at Liverpool University, and the priceless collection of photographs in its gypsy archive. These depict the lives of true Romany gypsies and Irish travellers going back to the very start of photography. The names and even the faces in the photographs brought gasps of incredulity from the young filmmakers as they recognised the names and facial characteristics of what were some of their distant relatives.

Another tradition that is little known to the general public, and depicted in the film, is the great importance given by the young gypsy brides-to-be in choosing their wedding dresses. In Liverpool, a specialist shop designs and makes some superb wedding dresses which are both breathtaking and highly flamboyant.

The undoubted “hit” of the film was the extended interview by the young people of Appleby police sergeant Grant Warwick. His easy going, pleasant style in giving his view of the annual Appleby gathering and his statement that crime levels throughout the gathering were no higher than a normal similar period were rather a surprise to many people.

Later, Sergt. Warwick was told that the young filmmakers were most impressed with him. They said the police officers they come into contact with are nothing like as pleasant and polite as he was.

As a former mayor of Appleby and the present chairman of the New Fair joint committee, Ella Langan said she had been involved with the gathering for more than 40 years and, in her experience and in spite of the more obvious problems of the disruption to the normal life of the town and the unavoidable amount of rubbish and inconvenience that is caused, when one accepts that it has been going for hundreds of years, on the whole the gathering is quite acceptable for the short period it is held.

The film tries hard to give an unbiased analysis of the many diverse views as to the points for and against the gathering. It shows interviews with several people who are convinced the annual gathering is a very bad thing for the town of Appleby, causing such terrible disruption that every effort should be made to have it stopped.

Much of the film shows the actual gathering itself, including a tour of the hundreds of caravans on the Fair Hill, the gypsies and the great speed their horses can achieve as they are shown off to potential buyers, and the spectacle of the horses being washed in the River Eden with hundreds of spectators lining the town bridge and the riverbank to watch.

Several of the older travellers are interviewed and they give often poignant memories of times gone by. The film shows Appleby’s packed out public houses, and the singing and tap dancing which are a great feature of gypsy life.

When the views of the travellers themselves are aired, the entire concept of just how important the annual Appleby gathering is to hundreds of genuine Romany gypsies becomes apparent. Many of those who attend the fair now live in houses, run successful businesses and are highly respected citizens within the community in which they live, but their families have for hundreds of years made the trip, however far, to Appleby. They themselves have attended since they were born, many were christened in the town and even more met the person they would eventually marry while at the gathering.

Going to Appleby New Fair once a year gives the opportunity for all the travellers to meet up with old friends and renew associations with other families. A member of one of the old established gypsy families says it is simply not possible for anyone other than a gypsy family to fully comprehend the tremendous importance that makes families go to Appleby year after year after year.

A traveller summed up the ideology, saying: “Our Heritage is important, it’s who we are, where we’ve come from, and it’s worth protecting for the future.”

At the end of the film there was prolonged applause and the audience gave universal praise to the young people who made the film, the staff of

NOISEfestival, the Gypsy and Traveller Exchange and Young Roots. The feeling was that Gypsy Fair: Krush on the Drom, or Come on the road to Appleby could well become the definitive and enduring chronicle of the Appleby New Fair gathering, encompassing every aspect of the event and giving a genuine unbiased account of the attitudes of both those people who love it and those who hate it.