logo Enthusiasms No 62
A collection of shorter pieces on subjects of
interest, outrage or enthusiasm ...

Traveller Times
an on-line resource

Traveller Times - issue no 36 summer 2008.  See it on-line at and click on 'download issue no. 36'  Look at pages 5 and 7 and then read this:

This lavishly illustrated magazine, with a large number of photos and short articles is always full of interest, both in its chronicling of the deprivations that continue to be suffered by the Gypsy traveller community and in its celebration of the community's achievements.

In addition, there are usually some references to the singers, musicians and storytellers that are of such interest to this site.  This time there are three early, lovely photos of a different branch of The Stewarts of Blairgowrie.  These photographs are supplied by Alex 'Toby' Stewart, nephew of Belle and Alex who as a 12 year old was recorded playing the accordion by Hamish Henderson (1954) and two tracks of his magnificent playing are included on the early American LP Folksongs & Music From The Berryfields of Blair (Prestige International INT 25016).

The first is of Toby.  I met Toby briefly at one of those very early Blairgowrie T.M.S.A. Festivals.  I remember thinking that nothing about his speech, prosperous dress or demeanour suggested that he was a traveller.  He told me that he was living down in Eccelfechan and working playing the accordion with top names in the Scottish Variety Hall circuit.

The second is also reproduced as the first photo in Sheila Stewart's book The Queen Amang The Heather though interestingly, Alex's brother John is shown here on the other side of the horse and he is cropped out of the photo in Sheila's book.  Also in the photo are Belle and Jeannie, sister of Alex.  According to the caption in Sheila's book, Jeannie is 'teaching Belle dookerin' '  Oh Yes?  I spoke to Belle on a number of occasions about dookerin' (palm reading/fortune telling) and she was vehement that dookerin' was complete nonsense and that she would have nothing to do with it.  In fact, at times, it could harm the person whose fortune was being told.

But the third picture is the best of all.  Toby tells us that it was taken Dumfries in 1926 and we see fourteen members of the extended Stewart family.  Toby only identifies one person in the photo; the man on the extreme left is Toby's father John.  The only person that I can identify is John, father of Alex, John and Jeannie who is clearly the patriarch and must be the same man as the one in the 'four generations' picture on the cover of MacColl and Seeger's Till Doomsday In The Afternoon.  He stands with one foot raised on a very new and expensive looking showman's wagon.

In fact given the year and the fact that this is a traveller family, all look quite well nourished and well dressed and old John has something of the look of the squire about the way he is dressed.  Compare this photograph with contemporary photographs of Scottish travellers that Timothy Neat reproduces in his recently re-published Summer Walkers and you will realise that - at this moment in time at least - the Stewarts look like that they are not short of cash.  Apart from the wagon there are two motor cars in the photo which are not bottom of the range models and the way they are climbing over them both suggests ownership.

In the background there is what looks like a marquee and that reminds me that Belle told me that when she and Alex travelled in Ireland, they had a showman's wagon and a small marquee and they travelled to outlying villages, set up their marquee and showed silent films on the projector that they owned, I wonder if this the wagon and marquee she was talking about.

None of the three men in the picture looks to me like a younger Alex, just guessing, but I suppose he could be the one taking the photo.  The expression of the faces quite a number suggests to me that it was someone that they knew the person taking the photo.  I wouldn't like to say, either, that one of the women looks like Belle, but the woman immediately to the right of old John looks to me exactly like what Sheila Stewart looked like when I first met her in the mid- 1960s, so I suppose that could be her mother, Belle.

There are two children, a boy and a younger girl in the photograph and in 1926 they would have been about the ages of Belle and Alex's two oldest children, John and Cathy, but it also looks to me as though, apart from the ones that I take to be the grandparents, there are three couples of child-bearing age in the photo.

I have spent a long time looking at this photo and virtually all I have written is speculation, so I would welcome any comments, information, suggestions that other people may have.

I was so long looking at the photo that so that after writing the above, I had failed to notice Toby Stewart's phone number along with the article and I phoned him.  He did not have that third photo in the house, but he could help me with a few things from memory.

Vic Smith - 24.11.08


Rod Stradling - e-mail: rod@mustrad.org.uk  Tel: 01453 759475
snail-mail: 1 Castle Street, Stroud, Glos GL5 2HP, UK

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