Robert Dawson Romany Collection

Reference: D BDDate: 1870-2001Extent: 32 boxes, ca. 1000 volumes, ca. 80 journal titles

Robert (Bob) Michael Dawson has spent over 50 years researching and writing about Britain’s Traditional Travellers – Gypsies (Romanies), Scottish Travellers and Irish Travellers and has written over 50 books and booklets about their History, Language, Way of Life, Traditions, Culture, Folk Lore and Families, some under his pen name, Stanley Wallcliffe Tarno. Dawson is the President of the Romany & Traveller Family History Society, (R&TFHS), former Treasurer of the Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group, a member of the National Association of Teachers of Travellers, an honorary member of the Romani Association of Australia, and a member of Romany Roots and other related organisations.

The Robert Dawson Romany Collection was donated by Dawson to the R&TFHS in 1998, the Society deposited the Collection at MERL to make it easily accessible to R&TFHS members and other researchers.

The collection consists of papers relating to Gypsies and Travellers including research and writings by Dawson, press cuttings, material concerning Gypsy Societies and Gypsies and government legislation, teaching packs, publications including reports and academic papers, sheet music, illustrative material including photographs, drawings, posters, postcards and cigarette cards and plans of caravans.

The Library collection is made up of over 1000 books and pamphlets, a sizable number of periodical titles and a good selection of published audio-visual materials. 

The Dawson’s library includes classical historical works, such as George Borrows’ dictionary of the Gypsy language (Romano lavo-lil, 1907) and Walter Simon’s A history of the Gipsies (1865); some particularly rare titles, e.g. The Gypsies by Samuel Roberts (1836) and Études sur les Tchinghianés, ou, Bohémiens de l’Empire Ottoman by A. Paspati (1870); and general reference books, e.g. A gypsy bibliography by George F. Black. (1971 reprint) and Dennis Binn’s A gypsy bibliography (1982-89). 

The subject range spans from children’s illustrated stories and Romani readers to short memoirs and literary collections by lesser-known GRT authors; from biographies of famous GRT people and history books on the Romani Holocaust to EU reports and local authorities’ booklets dealing with the issues of discrimination, education, health and site provision for Travellers. It also extends to religious themes, particularly the translation of biblical texts into Romani languages; genealogy and family history; the origins of the Roma people and their customs with special emphasis on horse fairs in England, Travellers’ crafts and wagon building; traditional activities such as boxing, herbal remedies and fortune telling; and Gypsy folklore in general. 

Robert Dawson’s own writings and his publications are included (he started a publishing business after his retirement as Headteacher). The periodical collection is representative of his wide involvement in various GRT associations both in the UK and abroad. His subscriptions ranged from well-established titles such as Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society and The Romany magazine, to lesser-known and short-lived magazines, including newsletters of local associations and charities. There are also single issues of mainstream periodicals featuring articles on GRT-related topics and materials aimed at teachers and school-age children. 

The related Object Collections have still to be catalogued.

More Information

Associated collections

R.B. Law Photograph Collection (P DX345)

This collection consists of 41 postcards and 2 photographs supplied R B Law, showing gypsies and their caravans, 1962-1990. There currently is not a list of these images, but many of them are featured as a sub-section of the main Robert Dawson Collection. You can view a record for this collection online.

Maxie Lane Collection (MS 1403)

This collection consists of a typescript entitled “Maxie Lane, Woodchopper, Andover”. The text appears to be a short autobiographical account of a Gypsy family, as described by the son. He describes his father, as an “Irish Tinker”, called Con or Connamarra, and details some of the duo’s travels through Wales. The manuscript annotation suggests that the author of the account is Maxie Lane, author and sculptor. You can view a record for this collection online.

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