Galloway Travellers

Andrew McCormick's 'The Tinkler-Gypsies of Galloway' was published in 1906. It was one of the first books to look at the life and culture of Scottish Traveller communities and is now regarded as a classic of Galloway literature.
'The Tinkler-Gypsies' is a fascinating mixture of folk tale, popular anecdote, historical research and social observation which McCormick described as 'some gleanings along a literary Gypsy by-path.' In it he looked at the origins of the area's Travellers and explored the myth and reality of Billy Marshall, the self-styled King of the Tinklers who, together with his band of Travellers, was the focus of many Galloway folktales. But the main value of the book today is its depiction of Traveller life in the early years of the 20th century. McCormick visited Traveller camps, talked to individual Travellers and listened to their tales. He also tried to record the 'cant' or dialect of the Galloway Travellers and found many words related to Romany, the Gypsy language. This convinced McCormick that Galloway's Travellers shared a similar cultural background with the Gypsy communities of England and Europe and led him to coin the term 'Tinkler-Gypsy.' 

Traveller families like the Marshalls, MacMillans, Kennedies and Stewarts had been in Galloway for generations. Surviving on the margins of society, they earned a living through hawking, horse dealing, making and mending pots and pans, basket-making, horning, cockling, shellfishing and seasonal farm work. Most local Travellers had a permanent winter base, often in a house, but in spring they took to the road, selling their goods and labour as they moved through Galloway, and coming together with other Travellers at some of the region's long established camp sites. 

Andrew McCormick (1867-1956) was a successful lawyer, a member of Newton Stewart town council and Provost of the burgh. How did someone like this, a pillar of Edwardian middle class respectability, develop such a fascination for Travelling communities? Perhaps by studying and writing about Travellers he was able to escape, at least in spirit, from some of the social constraints of small town Scotland. 'I have grown Gypsy-like,' he wrote in the book's Preface, 'for I have roamed about far and near to rescue and record some of the meagre information still obtainable about our tinkler-gypsies.' 

A genuine interest in Traveller society can be traced back to George Borrow who wrote about and occasionally lived with the English Gypsies. His autobiographical works 'Lavengro' (1851) and 'Romany Rye' (1857) were hugely popular and in 1888 The Gypsy Lore Society was formed to promote the study of Gypsy culture. McCormick was influenced by Borrow and the 'gypsyologists' and was obviously keen to continue their work by looking at Traveller communities in his native Galloway. 

One of the delights of 'The Tinkler-Gypsies of Galloway' is its extensive use of illustrations, including a large number of photographs taken by McCormick himself. In 1999 Andrew McCormick's daughter, Margaret, came to Stranraer Museum with a collection of over 100 glass negatives, lantern slides and prints which had just been found in a safe at the firm of McCormick and Nicholson in Newton Stewart. These were some of the original images used in 'The Tinkler-Gypsies'. Miss McCormick readily gave her permission for the collection to be copied by the Dumfries and Galloway Museums Service and a selection is reproduced in this booklet. Passages from 'The Tinkler-Gypsies of Galloway' are shown in italics. 
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