My Name is Jim Foster, I class myself as a Traveller and a Yorkshire one, born and bred. When we were young ,we didn’t use the term Gypsy, it just wasn’t who we are. but i guess today our family would be classed as English Gypsies.
Summer months as a very young lad spent in the country side in places like Bempton lane Bridlington in Wassie Swales field or Thorpe Willerby Selby. The young ones including myself had the time of our lives. Whilst my mum Lizzie went “hawking”, my uncles went out “old stuffing” “spiveying”, selling plums round many villages in the area, at the time jam was still beings made in quantity by country folk and it was a good earner. Now these ways of earning a living are gone, I was taught by my uncles Podge, Totty, Billy, Jimmy Windas and uncle Billy Hall from Harrogate , I always remember my granddad hawking wash leathers on Bridlington prom. Back then Travellers really did travel, you didn’t come from one town or village, you belonged to a county.
We did not live in Downton Abbey but in a cottage, tent, a “whoppie” and “accommodations”, but this was living at its finest. Winter time we settled for a while. Mum still went hawking but she also had a shop which sold nearly new second hand clothes. There was a big demand in those days ,the 40s and 50s, as cash was in short supply. I used go out calling with my uncles, selling horse muck, half a crown a basket or five for a pound.
Proud to say us Travellers were the first to invent buy one get one free but they had to buy four get one free.it seems we were concerned with organic fertiliser before many others too. as you can see, we have always been very industrious.
I used to stay at my grannie Florrie Halls in Hull most of the time with my cousin Mary Windas. Living with my grandparents was a lesson in moral values in its self, Granddad used to have a horse whip over the fire.
You did not have to ask “what is that for?”
When my uncles Billy, Jimmy and Totty were not home by 10:30pm, Granddad used shout down stairs “Florrie lock the door and bring percy upstairs with you” ( Percy being the chamber pot to lag in ),Grannie never did lock the door she always “made believe”.
The night after bonfire night I was always up before the sparrows, put my Grannies fur lined boots on and go round the local fires, to scrape all the old scrap from the embers. My uncles Podge, Billy and Totty would be following once the had “yoked up” and they had some right good “jags”.
“Sprivying” was one of the good money earners in those days, uncle Billy would get the jobs doing Dutch barns he charged five pounds a bay and five pound for the gable ends. Billy always got a travelling lad called Billy Lovick to help.Billy Lovick used to say he was the fastest in England on the top of a barn, he took some keeping up with. For health and safety uncle Billy would throw a rope over the barn, He’d say to Billy Lovick “if you slip grab the rope” now that was a risk assessment before risk assessments had been thought of.
I used to get the gable ends and uprights also mixing the tar with creasort to make it go further. If the farmer said to uncle Billy “don’t forget to repair the holes in the roof” we used to get pairs of old jeans or other types of strong material tear it into patches dip it in tar and south it over the holes. That repair job would last longer than the “wriggly tin”.
Growing up our lives were good compared to those who lived around us. They respected us for what we were, we respected them and I think it was much better for Travellers or general dealers to earn a living.
I still have friends from those slum areas whom I still keep in touch with via facebook. I did go to school, villa place infants but me and David Norris also from travelling stock used to play “twag” a lot and hide in his mums Annie Norris’s fruit shop.
Mind you, we used to get flogged off our mothers, then I went to Eastfield high school. I was not interested in learning anything, which when I look back was a big mistake. I had to be re educated once I joined the army. The reason for joining the army was to emulate those who had been in before me. Granddad Joey Hall ,great uncle Jimmy Hall, mum Lizzie foster, dad Jimmy Foster not forgetting my uncles Tommy Hall and Billy Hall, I had heard stories of all those mentioned and I wanted some excitement and to travel the world. I was just right for the army. some of my best memories from the very sad to the most heart warming
The sad ones were in 1971/72 on a emergency tour of Belfast in the Ardoyne est we had five of soldiers shot and 36 with gunshot wounds and bomb blast wounds. It was like the OK corral. I struggle to forget those sad times.
The good times were seeing my wife Bet and two daughters Lisa and Leeanne after a tour in Ireland, our family is close because of those days.
The social life from those days, when you had friends that was more like brothers and sister than your own brothers and sisters. Totally reliable and there when you needed them. In 1971/72 as I said previously we were in the Ardoyne, I was a private soldier at the time and was Corparal Chuck Berrys driver of a armoured personnel carrier (nick named PIGS). Each night we would carry our Vehicle Check Points in short road blocks, to check cars for weapons explosives and the bad boys (IRA), later in the night we had to park the PIG on Crumlin road opposite Butler st. Butler St had a large barrier across to stop the restless trouble causers. Any how one night we just parked up, Chuck stepped out of the pig to stretch his legs, what I thought was a fire cracker came fizzing over the barrier and landed just under the front end of the pig. The blast bomb nearly took Chuck, had it not been for the
front wheel of the pig it may have took his legs or caused serious damage to him. Fortunately for Chuck and the rest of us it was not a big one. I grabbed Chuck by the scruff of the neck and dragged him in with the help of some soldiers. Chuck was slightly worse for wear, His report of that night to the officer commander stated we were sat like sitting targets each night. The officers would have none of it.
The next day i sand bagged the whole bottom of my PIG. The floor was just made of thin plated aluminium, that very night with the same routine. We had just pulled up ready to manoeuvre the pig so it was facing butler street, Chuck had got out to guide me and a bomb came over the barrier. It went off before reaching us, Chuck was knocked clean from his feet even though the pig caught most of the blast. I jumped out of the pig ran and dragged Chuck to the rear of the pig. Young Jones got out to help me. We drove straight to base for medical care, God was there that night he had no major damage. he still remains a very close friend to this day.
One night when I was not there, a riot broke out ,A private from the drums platoon was shot through the head as he was trying to get protective gear from the roof of the pig. A sad day indeed.
I joined the army at the age of 17 in 1964 I was fit young and rearing to go, like most of the lads who joined then, were street wise.
When talking about our lives prior to the army I always talked of my family and was proud of that fact as my Mum and Dad fought in World War 2 and throughout my army life, I never hid the fact that I was from a Traveller family. In fact I met uncle Henry Hall’s step daughter, she was married to a friend and it was over a drink we found out we were related.
small world we live in.
my greatest achievement however will stay as meeting my wife Bet in 1965 as a pen friend. We married in 1967, She is the daughter of Charlie Francis. My next greatest producing two fantastic loving daughters of whom I am all so proud of plus five loving grand children, there will be more but those are my best.