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Gipsies’ last resting place

PUBLISHED: 18:09 21 October 2009 | UPDATED: 17:17 25 August 2010

A few readers have spoken to me about the Scandal of Corke s Pit , the impoverished gipsy encampment at St Paul s Cray that was in the news almost every week during the harsh years of the 1950s. Robert Trim, of The Beeches, Offham, writes: I grew up i

A few readers have spoken to me about the "Scandal of Corke's Pit", the impoverished gipsy encampment at St Paul's Cray that was in the news almost every week during the harsh years of the 1950s.

Robert Trim, of The Beeches, Offham, writes: "I grew up in St Paul's Cray in the 50s and 60s, and went to school there. I have always had an interest in the local gipsies, and can well remember them at school.

"No attempt was made to teach them. At secondary school, regardless of their age, they were herded into a single classroom, and left with toys and games, under the supervision of a teacher who had been an ex-army drill instructor. He was known to be the only teacher in the school who could control them.

"Interestingly, they were excellent fighters and were never bullied. They were a fearsome lot, and made no attempt to mix with non-gipsies. They always stuck together and had to be admired for that.

"They had a strange assortment of names - Waynus and Belcher Lee, Hodger Hilden, Nelson and Noah (can't remember the surname), and they mostly lived just across the road from Corke's Pit in Millfield Close, and at Hearnes Rise and Star Lane, St Mary Cray.

"There was always a gipsy horse or two tethered on a long chain on the green in Millfield's Close, and from time to time one or two caravans would be parked illegally, until moved on by the police and the council."

Robert mentions the cemetery in Star Lane. Gipsies from all over Kent are buried at the top end, some in highly ornate graves, and always well maintained. He tells me he was struck by how young some of them were when they died - particularly the men - perhaps an indication of health problems arising from the harshness of their upbringing.

"You may be amused to hear that, during a recent visit, I walked past the end of one such grave, and was startled by a loud wolf-whistle," he writes. "Looking around to investigate, I saw that it came from a large plastic garden gnome standing at the foot of the grave!

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