The Story of a Gypsy Cart
courtesy of Christopher Zane Nestor
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In the lives of the “Gypsies” better known throughout the United Kingdom as “Travellers”, few possessions were cherished more than their sturdy, coloured horses. The horse was “King” in their magical, mystical world. The Gypsy people and their horses functioned as one family.
The next most treasured possession would have been their “living waggon” It was a solidly built, ornately decorated, horse drawn vehicle, in which they lived and traveled the rural areas of England and Ireland. For them, life was an endless journey down the narrow winding lanes, lined in hedgerows.
Most of the Travellers necessities of life were obtained from these hedgerows. Fuel, fodder, herbal remedies, and food, in the form of fruits, nuts and small game, taking shelter amongst the “living fence”. The hedgerow also provided the materials to make tools, kitchen utensils, and wattles, (which are small woven-wood portable livestock fencing). These hand-made products were taken to area town markets and sold for money, which was used to buy necessities not available from nature.
It was this need to travel back and forth to town with their handmade wares, that the flat cart, also known as a Tradesman’s cart, Bradford cart, or Spinner cart was developed. It was used as the runabout and overall work vehicle by the Travellers.
Being a cabinetmaker and waggon builder by trade, and having a love for the gypsy heritage, I decided to build one of these “flat carts’ this past winter and spring of 2003. I have hand constructed, from original scaled drawings this cart. It is built along the traditional lines of the living waggons. It is correctly built using several woods, each providing the best characteristics for function, combined with traditional joinery, to provide a strong, visually graceful, well-balanced vehicle. Hand-made carvings and hand-cut scalloped edges throughout the cart are all finished in 23ct gold leaf. The cart is hand-painted in the traditional colours. Leather seats coverings and fine pinstripping all add to the creation of this vehicle, the likes of this quality not made amongst the gypsy people for generations. The cart took approximately 800 hours to complete. Several metal support pieces were first hand cut from wood, then cast in a high quality brass. The springs follow the true curves of the original. I made the cart about 2 ½ inches taller, as the pictures I had seen, all showed the cart traveling uphill when hitched to one of their horses. The tug stop is 40in from the ground, where it would sit about 1/3 down the horses back, this making this cart able to fit a 14-16 hand horse, and still maintain a level pull.
For a gypsy horse breeder, this vehicle, along with a living waggon, are the only types of vehicles a gypsy horse should be proudly presented in a turn-out.
There is a complete construction and finished gallery on my web site, showing all the detail that went into building this cart. www.zanevillemanorfarm.com