Fitting send-off for ‘great ambassador’ of Romanies, Gordon Boswell of Spalding

The funeral cortege for Gordon Boswell arrives outside St Mary and St Nicolas Church, Spalding, with a horse-drawn hearse pulled by Jacob and Hendrick.  Photo by Tim Wilson.

The funeral cortege for Gordon Boswell arrives outside St Mary and St Nicolas Church, Spalding, with a horse-drawn hearse pulled by Jacob and Hendrick. Photo by Tim Wilson.

  • ‘What was it about Gordon Boswell that made him unique and what is it about his legacy that I believe is so important?‘
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Two of the centrepieces at the funeral service for Gordon Boswell were the singing of hymns The Old Rugged Cross and Praise My Soul, The King of Heaven.

But the main highlight was a tribute by family friend Tom Walsh who said: “Everyone here today has their own special memories, recollections and anecdotes about Gordon Boswell.

“I know I am just one among his many friends and admirers for Gordon lived a full and varied life and was well-­known, indeed in the end, famous inside and outside the English gypsy community.

“What was it about Gordon Boswell that made him unique and what is it about his legacy that I believe is so important?

“As we all know too well, since their arrival in England during Elizabethan times, the settled world has treated the gypsy community with fear and suspicion.

“But in later Victorian times, some academics started to take a more sympathetic interest in the mystery of the gypsies and their closely-­guarded inheritance.

Donny and Lewis Boswell on their brothers favourite lorry and cart pulled by Mandy.  Photo by Tim Wilson.

Donny and Lewis Boswell on their brothers favourite lorry and cart pulled by Mandy. Photo by Tim Wilson.

“It was Gordon’s great­-grandfather Sylvester who helped initiate this after he was befriended by the academics Charles Smart and Henry Crofton, revealing to them some of the rudiments of the Romany language and some of the traditions and stories that were passed down.

“This bridge­-building tradition was continued by Sylvester Boswell, Gordon’s father, who published his life­ story, ‘The Book of Boswell’, in 1970.

“It was a best­seller and opened up to a fascinated, new generation the trials and tribulations of a proud gypsy man, adapting to, and making his way in, a rapidly modernising world.

“Sylvester re­settled his family in Spalding in the late 1950s and they have been a familiar part of the community ever since.

Gordon Boswell lived a full and varied life and was well-­known, indeed in the end, famous inside and outside the English gypsy community

Tom Walsh, friend of Gordon Boswell

“Gordon, side by side with brother Donny, in due course took over the family business of waste management and secondary metals, extending it successfully. Never, though, did they turn their back on their knowledge of the travelling life, horse­lore and roadside trading.

“Out of love for that life and its traditions, Gordon had built up a collection of wagons, carts, other vehicles and artefacts linked to the gypsy way of life.

“This, in the end, demanded that they be exhibited as a record of a vanishing era and so the logical outcome was the founding of the museum, dedicated to his father Sylvester and which opened its doors on February 25, 1995, the centenary of his father’s birth.

“People would approach Gordon because they recognised him from countless images, photos, films, books and videos, especially once he had developed his signature curly moustache.

“Gordon had become, in effect, a gypsy ‘celebrity’, as we call it these days.

“But he never let it go to his head and when visitors would often say to him ‘It’s a very nice museum, Mr Boswell’, he would always answer ‘That’s not for me to say, it’s for other people to judge’.

“May we never forget to give honour to the memory of this man who was a great ambassador for the English Romanies and a true-­hearted, learned, gypsy gentleman.”