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Gypsy, Traveller and Roma Collections

Romany Collection guide

Our Gypsy, Traveller and Roma Collections are made up of a number of separate collections that reference a variety of both ethnic (eg Romany/Irish Traveller) and non-ethnic (eg New Traveller) communities with a nomadic culture, history or lifestyle.

With particular focus on the UK and Europe (USA, Canada and India also feature) the Collections span the 16th century up to the modern day and are one of our Designated Collections.

They include a large number of published works (over 3500 print items) and archive material that includes letters, manuscripts, papers, press-cuttings, art work, research material, photographs and case files.

Find Gypsy, Traveller and Roma material in:

History of the Collections

The Collections began in 1950 when poet and dramatist, Dorothy Una Ratcliffe (niece-in-law to Lord Brotherton) donated her own private "Gypsy library" of print items and archive material along with funds to make further additions.

It became known as "The Romany Collection" and grew into three sub-collections: with the original deposit known as "Romany 1"; later (post 1962) acquisitions of individual items being known as "Romany 2" and print material from both periods listed under BC Rom. These now appear in the catalogue as Romany Collection (1), Romany Collection (2) and Romany Collection print material respectively.

The funds also enabled the purchase of some smaller collections in the 1970s belonging to:

  • linguist, author and activist/scholar Donald Kenrick (National Gypsy Council)
  • author/educationalist Robert Dawson
  • Gypsy Lore Society members T.W. Thompson and Rev George Hall

In 2001 the Collection of author/scholar, Sir Angus (McKay) Fraser was donated and later additions included the collections of more contemporary activists Jenny Smith (Bristol area Councillor and Labour Campaign for Traveller Rights) and Diana Allen (Solicitor and Rights Campaigner).

While each Collection reflects a role of an observer, (none themselves were Gypsies, Travellers or Roma) they provide a snapshot of historic attitudes towards and relationships with these communities and collectively offer a chronology from the romanticism of early twentieth century "collectors" to the realities captured by more modern "scholars" and "activists."

The Collections offer a wealth of research opportunities; covering subjects such as art, literature, history, culture, language/linguistics, philology, sociology religion, law, politics, human rights, activism and geography.

In 2017 the Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange (GATE) community collaborated with Special Collections to create a short video introduction to the collections.

How the collection is catalogued

In 2016/17 the entire Gypsy, Traveller and Roma Collections were catalogued (Smith/Allen) and re-catalogued (Fraser/Romany 1 and 2/Kenrick/Dawson) with funding from the National Cataloguing Grant.