Home Oral History Interview - Josie Riley

Oral History Interview - Josie Riley


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Audio recording of an oral history interview with Josie Riley.

Josie was bom in Ireland, and is a traveller who lives on one of the traveller sites provided by Hackney Council.


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Q. Could you say your name?

JR. Josie Riley

Q. When and where were you born?

JR. Enniskillen. County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland

Q. If we could start off interview just by talking a little bit about childhood, and about growing up and so forth. Could you tell me a little bit about your family? [00.24]

JR. We were travelling people and would always travel around the country, never stayed on sites. Always needed new sites because you couldn't pull in places. It has now all changed now, you have to stay on the sites now, permanently.

Q, When you were travelling around, how many people would there be, or how many vans? [00.46]

JR. There might be four vans or five, usually big families, a few together.

Q. How many people would live in a van?

JR. Well, the father and mother and their own family, six kids or eight kids, whatever. As many as there were in the family.

Q. How often would you move?
JR. Nearly every couple of months, every week sometimes. It depends. If you didn't like the country you move on to a different one.

Q. Where in Ireland did you travel?

JR. All Northern Ireland, Cork, Dublin, Limerick, Galway

Q. Where was your favourite?

JR. My favourite was Cork

Q. Why?

JR. I liked it and the people were very nice in Cork, very polite. I had two children born in Cork. That is one of the reasons.

Q. As a child travelling around, you wouldn't be at a fixed school?

JR. I had no schooling.

Q. Tell me about the travellers approach to bringing up children?

JR. It is different these days, the children are all good scholars. My own children are all good scholars. One is married now, but I couldn't even write my name, I just had to make an X.

Q. Why was that?

JR. We never got the education. At that time your father and mother, the old people, there was no school. Nobody ever come to school.

Q. That has changed now?

JR. That has changed now. Teachers comes in. This last twenty years teachers even where I lived would come and collect the kids for school and bring them home in the evening. It made a big difference. Thank god all children reading and writing.

Q. As a kid what sort of things would you do on an average day?

JR. Just get up in the morning and wash yourself. No school and all that.

Q. How would you amuse yourself?

JR. Mind your brothers and sisters and whatever.

Q. Any games you can remember?

JR. We hadn't even a television.

Q. Boys play football?

JR. They would play hide and seek and in the field playing, swinging on branches and jumping rivers and things like that we did. But there was nothing to do.

Q. Was that good?

JR. At first it was a good life, it was a very good life. A lot more pleasant than it is now, even though there is more accommodation and more things.

Q. More freedom?

JR. More freedom and you weren't afraid to let children out playing, they wouldn't be took or kidnapped nothing would happen to them. You could let them walk a mile to the shop on a lonesome road and there was never no danger.

Q. That was where you were?

JR. Wherever you were.

Q. Tell me what is important to travellers? Why do they have a need to travel? [04.44]

JR. Travellers never settle because it is in their blood. Our fathers and mothers and fathers and mothers before them and went down for hundreds of years, was always travellers. So they were called tents at that time, no caravans. And ponies and carts. There was no vans. That is in the culture.

Q. There is hostility from certain people or from governments in terms of making laws about where you can't stop. How do you feel about that? [05.30]

JR. I feel the sites is very good and a very good idea and we are all very happy in them. Hackney council is very good for providing sites, there is just not enough. My only family now is married and some of them are stuck in houses and they don't want to be. And there are loads of families married, twenty families here. So there could be thirty or forty couples married, we have been here eight year ago. And they’ve no place to go.

Q. They really don't want to integrate and live in the houses?

JR. No. The people is very nice. We have nothing against the people in the houses because they are very nice, nice neighbours and everything, but we can't settle in them. We weren't meant for houses. [06.18]

Q. If you were in a house?

JR. If I was in a house I would go mental the week after. I would be locked prison.

Q. What is it about a house that you don't like? [06.33]

JR. All our life we are out in the open and in the freedom and fresh air and that is the way we were brought up. We wouldn't change it. Not if we tried, we couldn’t change it. [06.42]

Q. The Travellers community gets a bit of a bad deal from the public in terms of how it is viewed. I have met a number of travellers and they are the nicest of people. Is there anything you would like to say?

JR. There is some of the travelling people is like, some of them are good and some of them are not good, but they all get the blame as usual. But you get the bad ones as well as the good ones. Some of them are not the pleasant to people and they do cause trouble and do bad things. They are not all the same.

Q. It is the fault of the small minority, always the way. I have questions about Hackney travelling community. If you didn't live in Hackney you might not know?

JR. We did live in Hackney but it wasn't on a site, it was in camps.

Q. Did you ever live on the marshes as they were?

JR. No we did live in Elms Road and all around Hackney and every place.

Q. Can you tell me about when you came. You lived in Ireland and grew up in Ireland?

JR. Fourteen year in England.

Q. Why did you come to England?

JR. The family was in England. I got married and they sent for us. But apart from that when the kids were small we were in England. My son was born in Bradford, that is over thirty years now.

Q. Why did you come over then?

JR. Because the children got married, they came and settled here. I wouldn't have had anyone at home.

Q. Did you follow and go to Bradford because that was where they were living?

JR. No that was years ago, that was before they were even babies. At the time my husband came over to get a bit of work as there was nothing in Ireland. He was working. You know they pick up the people in the streets in the mornings early for the work. The lorries picks up so many workers.

Q. Where do you think of as home?

JR. Here. Here is home. My own mother and father is dead, my husband is dead and his mother is dead, so there is really no one at home. What you would call home. There is nobody at home.

Q. Fourteen years ago, can you tell me where you went? Your children had come across and got married here. Where did you come first of all?

JR. Kings Cross. Camped in caravans. It was good. Fourteen year ago to what it was now, because the people wasn't giving us no hardship. And then they given us, no dumping rubbish around you know. We would get the blame. [Audio difficult to understand]

Q. How long did you stay there?

JR. Between Harpenden and Dalston and Tottenham and Hackney itself.

Q. Tell me about Dalston?

JR. We were in Dalston in several camps, just behind where the market is in Dalston. And facing it as well at the other side of the road. For months and months.

Q. What was the name of the road?

JR. Flanders way, my daughters was there.

Q. Tell me about near Ridley Road, was that official site?

JR. No. We kept the place tidy and left after six months. The people was very good, even the police.

Q. Did you move on because you were ready to move on?

JR. We moved on because we had to move on, they started building stuff and
selling the ground and we had to go.

Q. Where did you go then?


Q. Where in Hackney?

JR. In Downs Road. And Grantham Avenue, all Hackney.

Q. Once you moved to Ridley Road you stayed?

JR. That whole site.

Q. Tell me about Grantham Avenue?

JR. That was just off Mirror Street, behind Mirror street, a lot of people had been doing it for years.

Q. Was it a site?

JR. No it was just a pull-in place.

Q. How many families there?

JR. There would have been twenty at one stage, I think there were ten families there permanently. But they are gone now, been away for years.

Q. Any memories of that site, a good place?

JR. It was, a nice place to stay.

Q. What was good?

JR. It was near the shops, near the schools, near the chapels for mass, near everything, near the doctors, it was handy. This site here is a bit far, it is a drive to school, a drive to mass.

Q. Frank told me the site was called a family toleration site. Do you know what that means? Council were prepared to let you stay there?

JR. That was it yes.

Q. Where did you go from there?

JR. When we moved from Downs Road we moved in here. We got the site here.

Q. Was this the first site?

That was ever built in Hackney, yes.

Q. Explain why there was a need for a site for the community? [13.39]

JR. There is a need for another three or four sites at least to be built because as I says, all our young people and there are a lot of young people in houses. The houses make them ill, very ill, they need to get sites. My daughter in law for instance has a handicapped baby and she buried three handicapped babies and she is very depressed in the house. She is always in hospital, the baby is always in there and the doctors know that. The house, it is a beautiful house but she just can't settle in it.

Q. Your daughter?

JR. My daughter. If anybody in the world needs a site it is her. I know everybody deserves a site and needs a pitch, but she really needs one.

Q. Why can't the council provide her one?

JR. Well she went to Hackney, seven year ago when her first baby died and they had a poor [inaudible] so then the other two babies. Then about four months ago she went down to Hackney council and said her name was down very low although she was seven year in. But she got a letter from the hospital about her condition and everything and the baby and herself so maybe please god things will go right.

Q. Could you just describe what the site consists of and what the facilities are?

JR. They have running water, hot and cold and a bathroom and toilet of course. And a small kitchen sink to wash dishes or whatever. It is not very big because we don't have [inaudible]. They don't complain they are very good.

Q. What do you get on a pitch? I can see there are two vans?

JR. You are allowed two caravans on a pitch. And of course we build these here because there aren't enough space for the caravans for all the grandchildren.

Q. So you are allowed permanent structures as well?

JR. We are allowed yes.

Q. You live in the vans and use the kitchens?

Yes. If they built the huts bigger we wouldn't have needed them, we could have made a kitchen out of the huts, but they made them a bit small. If they build any new sites they will build bigger kitchens.

Q. Could you say what you have got on your pitch then?

JR. I have a bathroom and toilet, running water hot and cold and a small kitchen sink. Two caravans and our own kitchen.

Q. How would you say this is a better site than the previous places?

JR. Yes it is better, it is a permanent place, the children go to school and everyone has their doctors. Everything is permanent, we have never had before. We have a home.

Q. That sense of home is important as well?

JR. It is very important.

Q. How many families live here?

JR. There are twenty.

Q. Is there a sense of community amongst the families?

JR. Yes, everybody knows everyone.

Q. You feel comfortable?

JR. Yes no problems. There are always kaling one to the other.

Q. Kaling?

JR. An old travellers word. Just as you say visiting, we say going for a kaly.

Q.Would you like to go travelling again if you were allowed to?

JR. No not really, I like more sites for everybody's families and not just myself. As I say, all the young groups and all their children now and they have no place to go and when their children grows up they have no place to go. They put them into houses and the cost of keeping a house with the rent and one thing and another, they should build bigger sites for them, they would feel happier.

Q. Young groups, do you mean the children of the people living on this site?

JR. Yes my own family now. My own sons and daughters are married and they have their children now. My eldest granddaughter is fourteen and will want to be married sixteen or seventeen. Where will they go when they get married? There is no place to go. They won't be left to squat as the council won't allow them. And there is no place anywhere. The only place is a house or a flat,

Q. If you could say if they made more sites and you could keep your pitch here and go off for two months to Ireland or something, would you do that?

JR. Well they let you go for three months if you want to go. But we don't want to go. We don't want to leave here, we want to settle here. You don't want the bother of moving off. They talk about two new sites because this ground has been sold, it’s worth a lot of money. So we are looking forward to our new sites because if the kitchen is bigger and it is a bit more accommodation that we haven’t got.

Q. Looking-to the future that is what you are thinking?

JR. That is what I am thinking, definitely not thinking of leaving.

Q. Have you any idea of where you would like?

JR. As long as it is in the Hackney area