Gypsy Trailer Caravans
"The Height of Flash"

By Kenneth Mayhew

Modern trailer caravans reached the peak of 'flash' in the 1970s but smaller, lighter trailers were being produced in flash style up to the end of the 80s.

The premier builders in the late 60s and 70s were Westmorland Star (always known by Romany Travellers as Westmornin' Star!) and Vickers.  These trailers were the modern equivalent of Dunton, Wright, Tong, etc, vardos - vastly expensive and individual.

A really flash trailer could cost as much as £20,000 in the late 70s, which is equivalent to over £112,000 today.  Just like in waggon times, the trailer was a visible status symbol, exhibiting  a man's wealth and success.

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Romanies were very traditional in their taste, and the interiors of the trailers were a nod to times past.

Only the best Crown Derby, Royal Worcester and Aynsley china filled display cabinets, and lead crystal bowls and vases were also popular.  In the early 70s large solid silver bowls were much in vogue.

Deep button-backed bunks were adorned with Welsh blankets and elaborate cushions.

Beautiful cut mirrors with designs of bunches of grapes, garlands, baskets of flowers, etc, adorned every available space.

Windows were often engraved with the same design as the mirrors.  They were festooned with scalloped and tasselled roller blinds, expensive Nottingham lace curtains, and fringed or bobble-edged curtains looped back behind.

Stainless steel water jacks, bowls and wash stands were displayed outside.  It was all show!

 

The trailer's greatest enemy is the rain, and Romany ladies clean down their vans every day.  If left alone, streaks and runs from the rubber trim stain the paintwork and the chrome quickly  dims.  A neglected trailer soon gets shabby.

Even today, with the much plainer and modern  vans, if you buy one from a good Romany family, it will be just as new.  Travellers never remove the plastic coverings on their bunks, or if they do, it's to replace them with very expensive custom-made ones!


Other notable builders in the 70s were Jubilee, Portmaster and Aaro.  Some vans were very ornate, but they were never in the same league as Westmorland Star and Vickers.

In the late 70s, due to the slump in the scrap trade, travellers no longer needed the big lorries required to tow the heavy trailers and almost overnight they became out of fashion.  The old established builders closed down.

New makers adapted to the new requirements and smaller lighter vans were built, such as the Buccaneer and Roma.  Eighteen foot and nineteen foot trailers were common.  They were still built in the flash style, and some were quite exquisite internally.

 

The late 80s saw the demise of flash - younger travellers didn't want what their parents had, and vans became much plainer over a fairly short period.  Finally, much lighter and cheaper German trailers became available, and these were soon taken up.  In the UK the last builder to cater for travellers closed down in 2004.  Another end of a chapter!

You can see more of these flash Gypsy trailers at :-
http://gypsytrailercaravans.webeden.co.uk

 
Article and images with special thanks
to Kenneth Mayhew

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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