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Vardos of the United Kingdom
Picture Library 7
Vardo History County

Reading waggon

As the 24 carat gold porch brackets glisten in the evening sun, there's a celestial look about this reading waggon.

It's been completely rebuilt. Derek and his wife started three years ago with a rotten relic almost beyond re-incarnation - which was bought for the princely sum of £50. After a lot of visits to museums and much research, they have ended up with something they feel proud of. Very little of the original base remained, but they would not have attempted it if  they had to start from scratch.

Derek carried out all the reconstruction work, and his good lady did the decorating and gilding.

Once started, it become a bit of an obsession as they worked on it practically every day. There's still more to do but so far It looks very well for a reconstruction, and full credit for saving this vardo.

Pics special thanks to Derek and good lady.


 A Bowtop with a Difference!

A vardo with a difference. This one has a Continental feel about the artwork. It's been hand-built by craftsman on a hardwood chassis using original waggon axles. These were widened to take the bowtop body, and this vardo runs on wooden wheels.

The half-glazed hardwood door is leaded, and there's a cratch at the rear.

The waggon has pattern fabrics on the interior and finely handpainted decoration in a style of its own inside and out. You don't often see one breaking tradition - different!



Early Living Waggon

Beautiful living wagon, just restored and completed.

New top built on original 4 wheel carriage (circa 1900) with unusual spindle porch. Original turntable / rear brakes / axles.

Inside is bare, ready to be fitted out and designed.
Exceptional workmanship - nice new build.

Pictures courtesy of John.



Solid bowtop waggon finished in crimson lake and cream on artillery wheels - very nicely decorated.

Deep porch, 12-hooped bowtop, and a good size, with nice curved steps.  Built by Mel in 2006/07.

Pictures courtesy of Mel.

South Yorkshire

Openlot - Bowtop 
Donohay Brother, Thurles

Having been in a barn for the last quarter of a century, this openlot maybe a bit dusty but it's brimming with character.

Believed to have originated in Ireland - the bow was probably built on top of an Irish dray  by Donohay Brothers of Thurles. This vardo was taken to Holland 25 years ago for someone getting married and has now returned to the UK,  which is good to know after Chris brought it back home.

Beautifully constructed with unusual but well executed scroll decoration throughout, plenty of deep butterfly chamfers, with galloping horse scenes depicted on the sides boards. Tyres are rubber channels.

Pictures courtesy of Chris.

West Yorkshire
Ledge Waggon

Built in 1999 by Andy Ball of the Gloucester Wheel and Carriage Company, this beautifully ledge vardo was specially commissioned.  It has since been featured in the book Free Wheeling Homes by David Pearson, published in 2002.

Demonstrating how waggon roofs always need constantly maintaining - in June 2007 the vardo was fitted with a new canvas by its original builder.

Its decorative touches and elegant wheels make it a stunning sight.  Built to the traditional design, it includes spindle racks (bantam cages) and a decorative spindle-turned cratch.  The interior is fitted with a tiled fireplace complete with chimney, bed, lockers and glazed cabinets grained in mahogany.  Both interior and exterior are beautifully hand-painted in traditional colours.

A great example of a modern build.

Pictures courtesy of Susi.


Bowtop - "Lucy's peg waggon"

"Lucy on the drom with Bess" - a 13/2 fell mare. This openlot bowtop Lucy calls "her little peg waggon" built by her dad. He originally started building it for her to spend Christmas 2006 in but then bought another waggon so this one was shelved till later and only finished this summer (2007).

Constructed mainly out of scrap bits and bobs the back window is a cupboard door, the shafts are steel, the springs are car springs, and the chimney stove is an old exhaust off a dust cart. The stove is home-built, but once lit is very cozy.

The waggon looks kushti enough anyway and "Bess the grai" is more than merry as she plods along to the "atchin tan" - stopping place.

Pictures courtesy of Lucy.



Window n door style. This one has fretted weather board designs, with cream unders and red body, scrolled artwork with large fixed carving of bunches of grapes adorning the front, on wooden wheels.

Picture copyright - Tom Philo.


Concept Trailer Showman

Unusual but a well built modern trailer showman on a traditional body on modern tandem trailer axles - one answer to the fast British highways - mixing old traditional design with modern mobility.

It looks carefully designed and constructed. If anyone knows any more about its construction, please let us know .

Picture courtesy of Andy Charles.


Traditional Bowtop

Fine example of a traditional window n door style bowtop, probably built on an early original dray base as the axles are stamped 1912. It's been completely restored and decorated to a traditional style - Brunswicks green body and primrose unders.

The front of the bowtop has a neat panel effect, and this vardo has matching 14-spoked wheels all around, a set of slow curved steps, and shafts.
Unusual decoration to the interior.

Pictures special thanks - Nat Smith.


A "Waggaddon"  We had to show this.

Don't ask! Only in the States could you see this.   It's what GWaggons can only describe as a
"wagg add on" - a vardo extension to someone's lodgehouse, now awaiting wheels and decoration. Watch out for this mush next year making its way to Appleby or Stow Fair! 

Picture courtesy Unkn.


Celestial Bowtops

Three win/door style bowtops in typical traditional body colours, ornately decorated to the highest standard. Coral is from a well known Yorkshire travellers family and proud of her heritage. Once brought up with vardos, she naturally understood the "slower Romani way of life" - so sadly missed today by so many.

Picture courtesy of Andy Charles.


Ledge Waggon

A tired-looking old ledge waggon, possibly under restoration by the looks of things - if this waggon was completely painted green you can see how easily it would have melted away in to a woodland backdrop - the Roms would have been well concealed in peace and private, like "moths on the bark of a tree ". You'd have a job finding this vardo tucked away in a thick woodland.

Picture courtesy UnKn.


2 Bowtops for Appleby - overnight in the atchin tan.

Fish Lowther of Bradford overnighting at Kirkby Lonsdale on his way to Appleby Fair 2007. After what looks like a busy day on the drom, Fish finally rests on the steps of his openlot in the warm evening air. Lovely waggon, lightweight, on rubber-tyred wheels, excellently decorated to a very high traditional theme.

Parked by the side of  Fish's waggon is this striking red and primrose openlot, which looks outstanding. This one belongs to John, his son.

Apart from the vardo looking very well built, it's decoration oozes with quality. Two vardos from the North of England - the traditional land of the bowtop.

Picture courtesy of Gerry.



Win/door style bowtop believed to be originally built on a Hardman dray circa 1930s. Running on newly restored wheels, this waggon has for the last 6 years been travelling the drom, making its way back and forth to Appleby Fair with two 15 hand cobs - a 200 mile round trip.

This sort of image would have been more in keeping with what you would often have seen on the roads in the 1950s - nothing flashy or over-painted but just doing its job - keeping the familia mobile and helping them to survive the rapidly changing era.

Picture courtesy Kenneth Berry.


1930s - Phillips Showman's Waggon

Charles D Philips (1845 -1912) was a man of many talents - engineer, farmer, even a JP. He started out originally manufacturing tents but never managed to see the first waggon under his name as he sadly past away in 1912.

His sons took over, and the credit has to go to them for building the first showmans - records show a waggon was output for sale in 1919 but of poor unders. It wasn't until around the 1928 period that the Philips Bros finally reached the grand build for sheer quality and splendour. Main workshops were in Wales at Newport and Cardiff with others in Gloucester and London.

This waggon has been completely restored; new roof, new panelling both inside and out, new floor, new Esse stove with oven, new bed and dressing table.
Exterior ply has been used on all external panels.

The original mahogany furniture inside remains in excellent condition, complete with many diamond- etched original mirrors, all of which have been re-silvered.

There are three secret drawers and two more which are not quite so 'secret'. There's a writing desk come office inside one of the dressers. The other dresser has a hidden cupboard behind.

All internal paintwork is now 'country cream' with gold on the fancy beading.

The four bedroom panels are painted by a botanical artist to represent the four seasons. The main room ceiling is decorated with sprays of country flowers and ribbons. There are gold-leafed panels on the bedroom walls and a decorative dado throughout which has gold highlights.

All added furniture is mahogany.

Pictures special thanks to Marguerite Harris.


Showman - Burton Type

Maker unknown - there's very little history I'm afraid.

Bought from a field near Wrexham, North Wales around 40 years ago, the waggon was then moved to Merseyside where it was renovated by Steven's father in law, and it's been kept on Merseyside in his rear garden ever since.

Sadly now in a very sorry state and weather-beaten, Steve's sold it on (2008) to a restorer who will hopefully save the vardo and some of those beautiful carvings. This looks like it was a very well-made waggon in its time, with some lovely chamferwork weaving its way around the unders.

Be good to see it finished one day!

Images special thanks to Steven.

258 Bowtop on the Drom

How it should be. Great turnout, traditional well-built bowtop, win-door style, beautifully decorated.

Picture Unknown (info welcome).

Quarterlot - Shetland

A strikingly fine miniature vardo. A unique Shetland-sized openlot - completely handbuilt from scratch by the owner Joe apart from the wheels, which were acquired from an antiques fair. Finished in crimson lake with cream unders.

The "kusi vardo" displays fabulous fruitful decorations throughout, painted by  the up and coming vardo artist - Gypsy waggon painter John Gilroy. He's quickly becoming in demand for his excellent brushwork, and we're sure you'll be seeing much more of his vardo art in the years ahead.

Joe's next project is a small-sized reading waggon - look forward to seeing it.


Pictures courtesy of Joe Windas.


Ledge Waggon

Interesting early looking ledge-style waggon with fret work  - "rotor" wheel design to the porch brackets, long dainty spindles adorn the rear cratch, along the waggon sides and to the spindle boxes. The door has a white cobs head and shoe motif design.

Finished in deep red. Note the on-body decoration is absent of any heavy scroll work / fine lines and inter-ribbed carvings - this was typical of the very early vardos built in the latter half of the 1800s. Waggon features are picked out in lilac, white and primrose yellow to create the decoration effect.


Pictures courtesy of Eron.


Bowtop - Openlot

Great looking openlot bowtop traditional style and finished in deep crimson lake. The vardo has a blaze of colourful and intricate decoration adorning the whole bodywork, including a pair of the fanciest spindle racks you'll ever see on any waggon. Try painting all those spindles right round, but then perhaps "easy done" compared to attempting to decorate the "ribbed labyrinth" of a Bill Wright pot waggon!

You could also say a vardo without steps is like a   "spaniel without ears". This one's more than splendid though with fabulous curvaceous steps giving this Romani dragon a tongue.

When the travellers of old would finally arrive to make down for the day at their designated "atchin tan" or stopping place you would often see them prop the ends of the waggon shafts or "rods" - as travellers may call them - level in the air by using two upright struts (see first picture).

Apart from keeping the ends of the rods out of the wet muddy ground to stop them from rotting they were also clever for hanging items on - especially the leather harness.

Let's finish here fokendi by saying this bowtop has equal-sized, solid, well built wheels all round!

Pictures courtesy Clive Ross.


Rustic Gloucester Waggon (circa early 1900s)
"Muscle of the Drom"

These sad looking photos are of a long forgotten"van cum vardo" discarded to nature many decades ago - hidden and now propped up by wild trees.

It was built by the Gloucester Carriage Company around the 1910s/20s probably as a commercial furniture van and then at some point converted into a living waggon. Note the large rear wheels recessed into the body and the cranked rear floor. The waggon is about 17ft long, extremely heavy and would have been pulled by a pair of heavy horses. Look at the large planked sides. There are double doors to the rear and a low floor for loading heavy objects. The interior is double skinned. No Gypsy waggon that's for sure!

Local legend has it that  in the Second World War a German prisoner of war lived in the vardo on the farm. The brass hubs are stamped 'Rally Waggon, Gloucester Waggons Co. It was moved to the farm in Staffs in 1938, and a year later the GWC seemed to cease trading. The Company built plenty of these types of commercial vans and waggons to carry out the country's daily maul of heavy goods and materials.

Was it decorated? - Well the van's base colours so Steve informs us were dark blue and red and it was fine-lined, but there would have been no fancy decoration for this muscle of the drom. The juggernaut of its day perhaps!

Photo special thanks to Steve.



Kusi Vardo - Built by Savage of Plumstead

A fine example of  a scaled-down showman waggon built by the late Mr Savage of Plumstead.

Originally of the pre-war company Savage Wheelwrights and Coach Builders, it's believed they once built some full-size waggons. However in the later years of his life Mr Savage built these ornamental vardos, mostly for other travellers, and the one in the photo was destined for the USA. The fine puro di - lady - in the photo is his wife Kizzia Savage (maiden name Lee) of the Romani Lee/Boswell fokendi.

Mr Savage was a good friend of  the great Henry Botton, who did the fine lining for him when he was local.

Photo special thanks - Steve Wright.


Bowtop - Openlot

Open lot on easy clean wheels. Once fully decorated could stand out quite well.

Picture courtesy of Susan.


Romani Bowtop

About 50 years old, 10' long, craftsman-built.

This lovely wagon is embellished in maroon and cream, ornately hand-painted and opulently upholstered.

Exquisite detailing to the interior and to the chassis/cradle and shafts.  Artillery wheels with pneumatic tyres.

Romani-owned and maintained, a cherished traditional caravan. 

Pictures/text courtesy of Eddie.


Square Bow

Built 1930/40s and recently restored.  This waggon has been to Appleby several times and features in Mick Barrett's video production.

Height 8' 6", width 5' 7", living length 8' 8", and total length 9' 3".  Roof and side overhang at the front shelters two lovely seating platforms either side of the door.

Finished in primrose yellow with gold highlighting on the heavily carved scalloped undercarriage.  Wind-on brakes with gold hand brake at the front.

Spoked artillery wheels in primrose with gold hubs on pneumatic tyres.

Interior walls are of crossed gold framework and decorated with rich purple and gold fabric, heavily embroidered in gold.

The bed is framed with scalloped carvings highlighted in white on gold lacquer, plus ruched gold embroidered curtains, red veil, and red and gold tassels, creating a romantic lavish boudoir. 

The gold bay window at the rear is also framed with complementing gold fringing and painted scrollwork.

Pictures/text courtesy of Bo.


Whoopee Waggon

Traditionally called the whoopee waggon by the romani fokendi they were often seen in the 1950s at appleby and stowfair. With todays busy roadways making horsedrawn travel virtually impossible the whoopee is in revival - unusual builds of all shapes and sizes - a compromise to the tradition Bowtop.

Greg was inspired to build this waggon - a contemporary car-trailer bowtop - after seeing a similar build at the colourful Shambala Festival in Northamptonshire.

Having become completely captured by what he saw, he now runs a business building bowtops on new caravan chassis ready for today's demanding roads.

Pictures courtesy of Greg.


"The Captain's Dunton Ledge" (Repro)

To become an airline captain and fly an aircraft is one lifetime challenge that most of us only ever dream about - to build a full size Dunton ledge to the original style could be another!  For one ex-airline captain these two dreams became an amazing reality. Retired and sleeves a-rolled, the wooddust started to fly too!

Two years and one week later and here's the result - a classic new replication of a Dunton ledge Gypsy waggon. This traditional styled English vardo is a magnificent example of craftsmanship. Made using only the finest traditional materials - seasoned oak, ash and elm. The rich body colour is crimson lake - decor of goldleaf, green, red, and lined out in straw.

The captain cut no clouds when detailing this waggon - beautifully handcarved porch brackets, inter-ribbed carvings, gilded floral wood moldings and fine etched glass, blue and gold painted ceiling panels, and original Waterford crystal cut-glass door handles are some of the many examples. Much time was also spent searching the antique fairs to secure richly ornate finishings.

The axles were specifically engineered, and the captain craftsman even took on the brave task of constructing the wooden wheels himself with the aid of an old time wheelwright who coached him throughout whilst sharing his skills. Traditionally it's always been this way, passed down for future generations - no gleaming here.

The interior is no disappointment, with beautiful mahogany woodwork, padded upholstery seats in gold velvet with matching curtains. Premier cast iron stove. Enamelled panel fireplace with etched mirror and brass guard, ornate oil lamps etc.

On completion of the Dunton the vanner horses came from Ireland and together with the waggon were trailered over to France. Once there the captain and his good lady travelled through France and Belgium.

Pictures special thanks of  waggon owners.


Square Bowtop

Crimson lake square bow on artillery wheels. Undercarriage in yellow with decoration on the axles of red, green and gold. Awaiting decoration on the main body and having wide-profiled ornate weatherboards - a tidy little vardo.

Pictures courtesy of Mark.


Ledge Style waggon

Acquired from a lady who bought it from Appleby Fair.  A plain ledge waggon once owned and used by a family in Ireland - this vardo has had some restoration work carried out  but now requires finishing and decorating.

Still on its original wooden wheels, once refurbished it should make a classic traditional ledge.

Pictures courtesy of Meg.


Whoopee Waggon

Traditionally called the whoopee waggon by the romani fokendi they were often seen in the 1950s at appleby and stowfair. With todays busy roadways making horsedrawn travel virtually impossible the whoopee is in revival - unusual builds of all shapes and sizes - a compromise to the tradition Bowtop.

Built in 2007, this unique bowtop was original made for horsedrawn but for convenience it was turned into a whoopee waggon - the new build was mounted onto a caravan chassis for today's practical use and manoeuvre. A lightweight construction estimated at around 500kgs - it makes for easy towing even for a medium-sized car and can boast a comfy towing speed of ? - we won't say in print but it's nippy!

The bowtop's decoration has been assigned to the professional brushes of Sarah Harvey, a talented vardo artist whose steady freehand scrolls Gypsify the body of this buttermilk beauty.

Made to a high standard, it's a great example of a modern alternative to our motorway world, where sadly our horses dare not tread! Should last for years provided we still have petrol, if not then get the shafts and grai out prala.

Pictures courtesy of Jon Snow.


Bowtop - UK weatherised and ready for restore

Nick Dow, the northern vardo builder, first built this now sad-looking bowtop around 15 years ago for a pub called The Yew Tree at Freith who wanted an 'empty' caravan - with no interior furniture - for the punters' children to play in.

More recently it has been used as a feature on a large country estate, but unfortunately the vardo fell into a classic state of  decay and now requires a complete overhaul. This is typical of what happens when a vardo is not maintained and just left to mother nature. If you get 7 years out of a calico canvas you're doing well.

Most of our finest Romani and showman vardos from the golden days have sadly ended up travelling down this moldish path - what have survived today are just the lucky few. It's a stark reminder of a Romani culture also now being ignorantly wiped out by this failing British system.

Pictures courtesy of Liam


Openlot Bowtop

This openlot vardo was bought at Appleby Fair in the mid seventies, then sold on 14 years later, and the waggon underwent extensive renovation 5 years ago.

Very distinct wheels, crimson lake body colour with scroll work to the bodypanels.  The interior has been personalised with cream and silks, and would be snug on a rainy ratti night by glowing queenie stove.

Pictures courtesy of Mr Penfold.


Horse-head Bowtop

Window and door style.

Circa 1900s, this waggon runs on old wooden artillery wheels.  Don't get mixed up - before the metal ones they were wooden spoked!

Many old traditional vardo exteriors used to be left finished in their natural wood grain and varnished off instead of lead-painted in enamel.  Sadly, a style you don't see much these days.

The decor on this old waggon is varnished woodfinish to the main bodywork, with green weatherboards and primrose yellow wheels and windows.  A horse head motif freshens the front door panel, and spot scroll work has been added between the front ribs and to the panels.

Pictures courtesy of Mike.


Bowtop in waiting

Window and door style, completely new build, and now awaiting the skilled curvaceous hand of  a vardo artist to enchant this neat and tidy waggon. Be nice to see the finish.

Pictures courtesy of Gary Wright


J. Leach of Leeds Openlot

Originally made in 1911 by J Leach of Leeds and stamped on the axle.  The wheels still have their original hubs, although they have been professionally rebuilt and now benefit from having rubber channel tyres.

The unders are all original, with a large swept lock, turn table, helper spring and wind-on brake.

The top was rebuilt about 10 years ago and is finished in woodgrain inside.  On the exterior is a deep, rich, red body colour with many chamfers in need of re-painting and panels awaiting scrollwork and lining.  Buttermilk shutters, cratch and kettle box ready for some decoration too.

A lovely light waggon for the drom.

Pictures courtesy of Matt May.


Whoopee Waggon

Traditionally called the whoopee waggon by the romani fokendi they were often seen in the 1950s at appleby and stowfair. With todays busy roadways making horsedrawn travel virtually impossible the whoopee is in revival - unusual builds of all shapes and sizes - a compromise to the tradition Vardo.

Unique Gypsy caravan which was hand-made recently on a 4-wheel steel trailer chassis.

All wooden construction with felted round roof. Windows on each side and rear stable door.

Hand-painted cream and red with unique design, including fruits, flowers and horses.  Matching interior and carpet.  Internal cupboards, bunk and side seats.  Also matching bucket, wooden chest and grocery bin.

Ideal for fetes, shows, gymkhanas, etc and can be used for sleeping, display or even fortune telling!

Pictures courtesy of Robert Pile.


Halfway House

A wooden van with great style but in need of loving restoration.

The mollycroft has been repaired by the previous owner and the front door has had a new ash frame. But alas someone's upped with the bed and the floorboards!

Originally from Sandwich, Kent it spent a short time in Walsall. Now it resides in Anglesey, Wales with its new owner, Phil Cordey, who has the restoration project well on its way.

This waggon has had its unders overhauled, new floor fitted and furniture now being refitted as you can see in the bottom picture. Tools in progress!

An unusual feature of this waggon, it has what appears to be dolphin heads on the porch brackets.

Good luck Phil with the rest of the restoration.

Pictures courtesy of Phil Cordey & Paul Wilkinson.



Window and door style bowtop, sitting on a trolley believed to be from around the 1940s.  The top, recently renovated and painted by Mat, is at least 20-30 years old.

A striking green finish on the body, with cream scrollwork and yellow painted chamfers, surrounded by a rich red halo.  The weatherboards are neatly fine-lined.

Pictures courtesy of owners.


Miniature Openlot

Minature horse drawn openlot.  Built around 2004 in Halifax.

Playful colours.  Deep red body with primrose unders and striped wheel axles of red and green.

Simple inside.  Primrose cupboards and bed area, with some spot decoration in gold.

Pictures courtesy of Crystal Jane Howe.

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Gypsy caravans of the UK