- Romany Woodsman living history exhibition comes to the Dearne Valley

Visitors to Worsbrough Mill and Country Park will be able to step back in time this month and experience life as a Romany woodsman.

A new living history exhibition to illustrate the Dearne Valley’s Romany heritage will take place at Worsbrough Mill & Country Park in Barnsley from Tuesday 23 May to Thursday 25 May.

Ruff Around the Hedges, a woodland management and outdoor education organisation, received a grant from The Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership (DVLP) to help run the event - which will see part of the woods transported back to a Romany settlement set in the early Edwardian Era (~1900).

Antony Hill, founder of Worsborough-based Ruff Around the Hedges, will bring to life the way his ancestors lived while working in the woodlands of the Dearne Valley at the turn of the century, demonstrating the traditional ways that Romany people and woodsmen lived and worked.

The exhibit will include cooking over a campfire in front of a bender tent shelter, tethered packhorses and the opportunity to take part in crafts in the woods including basket weaving, peg making by the campfire, traditional fire starting methods and den building.  

Antony will also recount the stories and histories of Romany heritage and share the experiences of his ancestors, including a vivid oral history of Romany people’s culture, their migration out of India to the British Isles, and their superstitious folklore.

Antony said: “My family migrated from the West Midlands northwards to Yorkshire around 1890AD, bringing with them their inherent craftsmanship and knowledge of the natural world. They found work on the land, particularly the management of woodland in the Clayton area of the Dearne Valley.

“Based on census records from 1911, and some oral history, my great grandfather personified the phrase ‘poacher come gamekeeper’, retiring from poaching to not only manage woodlands but rear and care for the game birds and animals in the area for a local landowner. My exhibition brings to life this man’s existence, a culture and my family's history in the Dearne Valley.”

The Romany Woodsman Living History project has been awarded £2,000 through the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership’s (DVLP) Community Grant Scheme, which is supported by National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The scheme provides grants of between £500 and £2000. Other projects awarded grants include a creative writing project with a youth group in Grimethorpe, re-creating Hemingfield Colliery in virtual reality and an outdoor arts project connecting communities with their local green spaces.

All funded projects are required to meet the aims and objectives of the DVLP, which are to protect, preserve and enhance the heritage of the local area, as well as increasing community use and engagement.

Sally Gawthorpe, community officer at the DVLP, said: “After learning about Antony and the stories of his Romany ancestors it’s fantastic to have been able to support this project. The Romany heritage in the Dearne Valley is not widely known so this project perfectly represents its historic culture, heritage and traditions for all to see.

“When assessing applications submitted to our Community Grants Scheme our panel look for community projects which increase awareness and engagement with the environment and heritage of the Dearne Valley. This project is a great example of providing innovative opportunities for people to learn, draw inspiration and get involved in the local environment.”

During the exhibition, morning sessions will run from 10.00am to 12.00pm and afternoon sessions will run from 12.30pm to 2.30pm. Please contact the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership (DVLP) to reserve your place, either by emailing DVLP@barnsley.gov.uk or by calling 01226 772414.