THOSE GOOD OLD TIMES
The late Denis Harvey, author, illustrator and restorer, first met renowned vardo artist and historian John Pockett 40 years ago at his yard. Denis wrote about the spark of John's 50-year career in the waggon trade.
Gypsy Van Restorer
by Denis Harvey, 1970
I came on Pockett's Yard by chance, following my nose as usual. You get a feeling that there is something of Travellers in the offing which never plays you false, and it doesn't seem to be due to any obvious visual clues. So walking expectantly along the village street at Cookham in Berkshire I came on tall double doors to a yard bearing the names ‘Pockett & Hockett’ in elaborately embellished lettering a foot high.
I looked round the half-open gate and saw a magnificent bow-top wagon that was in process of redecoration. In the background a Dunton-built Reading van like my own stood awaiting repair. I found that Pockett was the sole proprietor; Hockett was a former partner but the name on the gate remains for the alliterative value of the rhyme.
John Pockett is 28 and has been restoring Gypsy vans and fairground gear for about seven years now. He started work at 15 on a farm in Sussex and as soon as he could afford it he bought a Gypsy van to live in. He restored this first van over a period of three years. By the time it was finished he had saved enough to buy a horse and he took to the road, moving about from job to job on farms in Sussex and Surrey.
He eventually settled in a stable yard in Esher where he became a dealer visiting sales and fairs, buying, restoring and selling vans and other horse-drawn vehicles and fairground equipment. After a very difficult time he began to make a small profit and eventually, on finishing his tenth wagon, he was able to move to the premises in Cookham High Street where he has been working for three years.
He is now a first-class craftsman in van restoration and second to none with lining-brush and striper. He has a wide knowledge of his subject and a real love and insight concerning the Travellers' way of life.
This shows particularly in the detailed paintings of Gypsies with which he has decorated panels on the painted furniture in his workshop and in the three-roomed showman's wagon he lives in at the back of the yard.
He traces his interest in the Gypsies to early visits to the annual Gypsy gatherings for the Derby on Epsom Downs near where he lived as a boy.
He is unsure to what extent he may be connected with travelling stock. He had no suspicion of any possible family ties with Gypsies until his grandmother surprised him one day by travelling a great distance to a funeral in East Anglia which was attended by many Romany travellers from those parts. The connection was not explained to him, but Pockett is an unusual name and I note that there are Suffolk Pocketts mentioned in Gordon Boswell's memoirs in the last issue of the Journal.
Most of his work in Berkshire comes from collectors, Fair people and Travellers who want their lorries decorated with horses' heads, scrolls and fine-lining, but he was delighted the other day to get a valuable wagon-painting commission from some young Travellers who were clearly of Romany stock.
“They were really aristocratic Traveller types”, he said, “and very dark. The girl was covered in gold!”
Text / Images copyright Denis E. Harvey 1970.
Image of Denis & John copyright Wolfgang Witzinger. Article first published GLS Journal 1970.
Special thanks to Mrs Rita Harvey.
Edited by GypsyWaggons / UK Vardo Project.
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