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About Vardos (Wagons)
A vardo is a traditional horse-drawn wagon used by English Romany people (Gypsies). The design of the vardo included large wheels running outside the body of the van, which slopes outwards considerably towards the eaves. Originally Romnichals would travel on foot, or with light, horse-drawn carts, typical of other Roma groups or would build "bender" tents - so called because they were made from supple branches which they bent inwards to support a waterproof covering.
Wagons as a form of living accommodation (as opposed to carrying people or goods): Undecorated wagons were first used in France in 1810 by non-Romany circus troupes.
Large transport wagons combined storage space and living space into one vehicle, and were pulled by teams of horses. By the 1800s wagons became smaller, reducing the number of horses required, and around the mid- to late-nineteenth century (1840-1870), Romnichals in Britain started using wagons that incorporated living spaces on the inside.
PAINTING OF BOW TOP VARDOS ARTIST UNKNOWN
One half of it... was carpeted, and so partitioned off at the further
end as to accommodate a sleeping-place, constructed after the fashion
of a berth on board ship, which was shaded.
The other half served as a kitchen, and was fitted up with a stove, whose small chimney passed through the roof.
It also held a closet or larder, several chests, a great pitcher of water, and a few cooking-utensils and articles of crockery. These latter necessaries hung upon the walls.
The vardos were typically commissioned by families or by a newlywed couple from specialist coach builders. Building the vardo took between six months to a year; a variety of woods including oak, ash, elm cedar and pine were utilised in its construction.
The general design evolved over time and they were named after the home's owners, as in (Brush), for their traditional style (Ledge), for the town of its construction (Reading), or for the name of the builder.
Vardos were elaborately decorated, hand carved and ornately painted with traditional Romani symbols. Romanichal would participate in the ornate carving and decoration, being skilled woodcarvers themselves, but would leave the main construction to a professional specialised coach builder. Much of the wealth of the vardo was on display in the carvings, paintings incorporated aspects of the Romani lifestyle, including horses ,birds, lions,Griffins, floral designs, and vinework including elaborate scrollworking heightened by the extensive use of between 4-15 books of gold leaf applied as decoration. Each individual maker was identified by their particular designs.
Vardos can be categorised into six main styles;
The Brush (Fen) Wagon
It was built to with racks and cases fitted on the outside to carry Brushes Brooms and Baskets. Doors and steps were at the rear, it was a straight sided wagon,it lacked the Mollycroft ( Skylight) on the roof.
The exterior was equipped with racks and cases fitted on the outside frame and chase of the wagon allowing the owner to carry trade items like brushes, brooms, wicker chairs and baskets. Additionally, three light iron rails ran around the entire roof, and sometimes trade-name boards, used for stowing bulkier goods. The wagons were elaborately and colorfully painted.Some
times they had glass-display cases on the sides used to display wares ,it was a working wagon.
This is a wooden van with windows at the side and back and small decorated windowsbyside the front door.
It has sloping side walls which are wider at the top, because of this design it was nicked named " KiteWagon".
It has front and back porches with carved side brackets. There are portable steps leading up to front door,which is split and opens top and bottom.
At the back would be a cratch ( hay rack for horse) fixed below the back window and a kettle box swings beneath the wheels to carryironware. Running along the centre of the roof is a raised mollicroft ( Skylight) with fitted windows and a chimmy on the right side of the roof,this was done for a reason as we drive on the left side of road ,it would avoid trees.
It dates from (1870) and is synonymous with the original builder Dauton and Sons of Reading where the vardo takes its name. The wagon was highly prized by the Romanies for its design, beauty and practicablity to cross fords, pull of the road and over rough ground, something smaller-wheeled wagons like the Burton were unable to do.
The Reading wagon is 10 feet long. The rear wheels were 18 inches larger than the ones on the front.
Similar to the Reading in design,but the sides are not so sloping and the floor is narrower. the chimmy is also more central
The characteristic design of the ledge or "cottage shaped "wagon incorporated a more robust frame and living area that extended over the large rear wheels of the wagon.
Brass brackets supported the frame of the wagon and solid arched roof usually 12 feet high, extended over the length of the wagon to form porches at either end and panelled with tongue in groove boards. The porch roof was further supported by iron brackets, and the walls were highly decorated with ornate scrollwork and carvings across the length of the wagon.
Bow Top(See picture at top of page)
This is based on the design of the Ledge wagon, the Bow Top is significantly lighter, and less likely to turn over in a strong wind. The design incorporated a light weight canvas top, supported by a wooden frame: a design reminiscent of the older “bender tents” used by the Romanichal. Both back and front walls of the wagon were decorated in scrollwork and tongue and groove and the wagon was painted green to be less noticeable in woodland. ( although to day those seen here are highly decorated)
The inside of the Bow Top also contained the same high scrollwork, with a stove, table and double bed.
Popular with Romanis, as well as showmen families, and circus people, the Burton wagon is the oldest example of a wagon used as home in Britain. Originally, with its undecorated van, the Burton wagon evolved into an elaborate Romani vardo, but due to its smaller wheels it was not suited for off-road use.
Almost identical in size and construction of the Bow Top wagon, the Open lot or Yorkshire Bow featured the same design but with a curtain instead of the door characteristic of other wagons. The wagon's entrance was covered by a curtain for privacy.
Athough families had various Vardos they usually had several tents depending on the size of the family and kin who travelled with them.
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