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A Gypsy Girl by George Elgar Hicks (1899)
Regions with significant populations
 United KingdomNo reliable numbers; UK census data gives fewer than 58,000, though this may be unreliable[1]
 United States164,000 (estimate)
 South Africa14,000 (estimate)
 Australia6,600 (estimate)
 Canada3,900 (estimate)
 New Zealand1,500 (estimate)
English and Angloromani
Romani mythology, irreligion
Related ethnic groups
English, other Roma
especially Welsh Kale, Scottish Lowland Travellers, Romanisæls, Finnish Kale, Sinti, and Manouches

The Romanichal (UK: /ˈrɒmənɪæl/ US: /-ni-/; more commonly known as English Gypsies) are a Romani subgroup within the United Kingdom and other parts of the English-speaking world. Most Romanichal speak Angloromani, a mixed language that blends Romani vocabulary with English syntax. Romanichal residing in England, Scotland, and Wales are part of the Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller community.[2]

Genetic, cultural and linguistic findings indicate that the Romani people can trace their origins to Northern India.[3][4][5]


The word "Romanichal" is derived from Romani chal, where chal is Angloromani for "fellow".[6][7]


Nearly all Romanichal in Great Britain live in England, with smaller communities in South Wales, Northeast Wales, and the Scottish Borders.[8]

The Romanichal diaspora emigrated from Great Britain to other parts of the English-speaking world. Based on some estimates, there are now more people of Romanichal descent in the United States than in Britain.[9]

In Great Britain, there is a sharp north–south divide among Romanichal. Southern Romanichal live in the Southeast, Southwest, Midlands, East Anglia, and South Wales; Northern Romanichal live in the Northwest, Yorkshire, Scottish Borders, and Northeast of Wales. The two groups' dialects differ in accent and vocabulary.[10]


The Romani people in England are thought to have spoken the Romani language until the 19th century, when it was largely replaced by English and Angloromani, a creole language that combines the syntax and grammar of English with the Romani lexicon.[11] Today, most Romanichal speak both English and Angloromani, with only a small minority believed to speak the traditional Romani language.[12]

There are two dialects of Angloromani: Southern Angloromani (spoken in the Southeast, Southwest, Midlands, East Anglia, and South Wales) and Northern Angloromani (spoken in the Northeast, Northwest, Yorkshire, Scottish Borders, and Northeast of Wales). These two dialects, along with the accents that accompany them, have led to two regional Romanichal identities forming, these being the Southern Romanichal identity and the Northern Romanichal identity.[13]

Many Angloromani words have been incorporated into English, particularly in the form of British slang.[14]


The migration of the Romani through the Middle East and Northern Africa to Europe
A Romanichal encampment in Essex, England (c. 1898)

The Romani have origins in the Indian subcontinent, specifically Rajasthan,[15] and began migrating westwards in the 11th century. Travelling through Western Asia and the Balkans, they migrated through regions such as Armenia and Turkey, before reaching modern-day Bulgaria, Serbia, and Romania. Due to conflicts in the region, particularly during the Ottoman conquest of Southeastern Europe, they continued their migration farther north and west.[16][17][18]

A Romanichal family in Derby, England (1910)
A Romanichal family in Epsom Downs, photographed with their horse (1938)

There are records of Romani people having migrated from Spain to Scotland before arriving in England in 1512.[19]

During the reign of Henry VIII, the Egyptians Act 1530 banned Romani from entering the country and required those already living there to leave within sixteen days. Failure to do so could result in confiscation of property, imprisonment, and deportation. During the reign of Mary I, the Act was amended by the Egyptians Act 1554, which removed the threat of punishment if Romani people abandoned their "naughty, idle and ungodly life and company" and adopted a sedentary lifestyle, but increased the penalty for non-compliance to death.

In 1562, a new law offered Romani born in England and Wales the possibility of becoming English subjects if they assimilated into the local population. Despite this new option, the Romani were forced into a marginal lifestyle and subjected to discrimination by the authorities and by many non-Romani. In 1596, 106 men and women were condemned to death at York for being Romani, and nine were executed.[20] Samuel Rid wrote two books about them in the early 17th century.[21]

From the 1780s onwards, the anti-Romani laws were gradually repealed. The identity of the Romanichal was formed between 1660 and 1800, as a Romani group living in Britain.[22]


Hostility and discrimination against Romani people is still present in the UK.[23][1] In 2008, it was reported that the Romani experienced a higher degree of racism than any other group in the United Kingdom, including asylum-seekers, and a Mori poll indicated that a third of UK residents admitted to being prejudiced against Romani.[23]


The authorities began to deport Romanichal, principally to Norway, as early as 1544.[24][25] The process was continued and encouraged by Elizabeth I and James I.[26]

The Finnish Kale, a Romani group in Finland, maintain that their ancestors were originally a Romani group who travelled from Scotland,[27] supporting the idea that they and some of the Scandinavian Travellers/Romani are distantly related to Scottish Romani and English Romanichal.[28][29]

In 1603, an Order in Council was made for the transportation of Romanichal to the Low Countries, France, Newfoundland, Spain, and the West Indies. In many cases, those deported in this manner lost contact with other members of their ethnic group because of the separations after the round-up, the sea passage, and the subsequent settlement as slaves. At the same time, voluntary emigration began to the English overseas possessions. Romani groups that survived continued their expression of the Romani culture there.

In the years following the American War of Independence, Australia was the preferred destination for penal transportation of Romanichal. The exact number of Romanichal deported to Australia is unknown. It has been suggested that three Romanichal were carried by the First Fleet,[30] one of whom is thought to have been James Squire,[30] who founded Australia's first commercial brewery in 1798, and whose grandson, James Farnell, became the first native-born premier of New South Wales in 1877. The total Romani population of Australia seems to have been extremely low, reflecting the fact that British Romani people probably made up just 0.01 per cent of the original convict population of 162,000.[30] However, it has been suggested that Romanichal were discriminated against under the transportation laws and may well have been undercounted.[31] Fragmentary records suggest that at least fifty British Romani may have been transported to Australia.[30] It has been suggested that transportation was particularly harsh for Romanies:

For Romani convicts, transportation meant social and psychological death; exiled, they had little hope of returning to England to re-establish family ties, cultural roots, continuous expression, and validation that would have revived their Romani identity in the convict era.[30]

At least one Romani returned from Australia to England: Henry Lavello (or Lovell) was repatriated with a full pardon and was accompanied to England by a son born to an Aboriginal woman.[30][31]

Indentured labour and slavery[edit]

In the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell's government shipped Romanichals as indentured labourers to plantations in North America.[32] From a later period, there is documentation of English Romanichal being enslaved by freed blacks in Jamaica, Barbados, Cuba and Louisiana.[26][32][33]


Traditional Romanichal vardo and artwork at the Great Dorset Steam Fair (2007)
Romanichal performers at Appleby Horse Fair

Romanichal belong to the wider community of Romani people.[34] Important cultural celebrations include International Romani Day, commemorating the inaugural World Roma Congress, held in London in 1971.[35] Romanichal in the United Kingdom have a distinct ethnic and cultural identity apart from the non-Romani population, whom they refer to as Gorjas, or country people.[36][37] Prominent features of Romanichal culture include emphasis on the importance of family and extended family, adherence to traditional gender roles, birth and death rituals, emphasis on hygiene and household cleanliness, respect towards their older generations (including by referring to older members of the community as 'aunts' and 'uncles', a common tradition in many Asian cultures), and a traditionally nomadic lifestyle (although many Romanichal are now settled).[36] Romanichal social customs have traditionally been influenced by the concept of marimé, or mochadi (ritual impurity).[38][39]

The majority of Romanichal in the UK are Christian, with religion often playing an integral role in their culture and celebrations.[40][41] 71.8% of Romani in England and Wales identified as Christian in the 2021 census.[42]

Historically, Romanichal earned a living doing agricultural work and would move to the edges of towns for the winter months. There was casual work available on farms throughout the spring, summer, and autumn months. Spring would start with seed sowing and planting potatoes and fruit trees, early summer with weeding, and summer to late autumn with the harvesting of crops. Of particular significance was the hop industry, which employed thousands of Romanichal both in spring for vine training and for the harvest in early autumn. Winter months were often spent doing casual labour in towns or selling goods or services door to door.[43]

Traditional economic activities include gardening,[44] fortune telling, hawking, selling, and collecting scrap.[45] They have also produced notable boxers such as Henry Wharton and Billy Joe Saunders, as well as some notable footballers like Freddy Eastwood.[46] Mass industrialisation of agriculture in the 1960s led to the disappearance of many of the casual farm jobs Romanichal had traditionally carried out.[47]

Didicoy (Angloromani; didikai, also diddicoy, diddykai) is a term sometimes used to refer to a person of mixed Romani and Gorger (non-Romanichal) blood but is often considered offensive.[48][49]


A British Romanichal family living in a vardo (1926)

Originally, Romanichal would travel on foot or with light, horse-drawn carts, and would build bender tents where they settled for a time, as is typical of other Romani groups. A bender is a type of tent constructed from a frame of bent hazel branches (hazel is chosen for its straightness and flexibility), covered with canvas or tarpaulin.

Around the mid- to late-19th century, the Romanichal began using wagons that incorporated living spaces on the inside. These they called "vardos" and were often brightly and colorfully decorated on the inside and outside. In the present day, Romanichal are more likely to live in houses or caravans.

Over 60% of 21st-century Romanichal families live in houses of bricks and mortar, whilst the remaining 40% still live in mobile homes such as caravans, static caravans, or trailers (with a small minority still living in vardos).

According to the Regional Spatial Strategy caravan count for 2008, there were 13,386 caravans owned by Romani in the West Midlands region of England, whilst a further 16,000 lived in bricks and mortar. Of the 13,386 caravans, 1,300 were parked on unauthorised sites (that is, on land where Romani were not given permission to park). Over 90% of Britain's travelling Romanichal live on authorised sites, where they pay full rates (council tax).[6][50]

Romanichal in Warwickshire, England (1905)

On most Romanichal traveller sites, there are usually no toilets or showers inside caravans because in Romanichal culture, this is considered unclean, or mochadi. Most sites have separate utility blocks with toilets, sinks, and electric showers. Many Romanichals will not do their laundry inside, especially not underwear, and subsequently many utility blocks also have washing machines. In the days of horse-drawn wagons and vardos, Romanichal women would do their laundry in a river, being careful to wash upper-body garments further upstream from underwear and lower-body garments, and personal bathing would take place much further downstream. In some modern trailers, a double wall separates the living areas from the toilet and shower.[46]

Due to the Caravan Sites Act 1968, which greatly reduced the number of caravans allowed to be pitched on authorised sites, many Romanichals cannot find legal places on sites with the rest of their families.[51]

Like most itinerant groups, those Romanichal who are not settled travel around for work, usually following set routes and set stopping places (called atching tans) that have been established for hundreds of years. Many traditional stopping places were established before land ownership changed and any land laws were in place. Many atching tans were established by feudal landowners in the Middle Ages, when Romani would provide agricultural or manual labour services in return for lodgings and food.

Today, most Romanichal travel within the same areas that were established generations ago. Most people can trace back their presence in an area over a hundred or two hundred years. Many traditional stopping places were taken over by local governments or by settled individuals decades ago and have subsequently changed hands numerous times; however, Romanichal travellers have long historical connections to such places and do not always willingly give them up. Most families are identifiable by their traditional wintering base, where they will stop travelling for the winter, and this place will be technically where a family is 'from'.[52][53][54][55]

See also[edit]



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  2. ^ Acton, Thomas; Acton, Jennifer; Cemlyn, Sara; Ryder, Andrew (2016). "Why we need to up our Numbers Game: A non-parametric approach to the methodology and politics of the demography of Roma, Gypsy, Traveller and other ethnic populations" (PDF). Radical Statistics (114). Retrieved 7 January 2024.
  3. ^ Marinov 2020, p. 31.
  4. ^ Silverman 2012, p. 49.
  5. ^ Snodgrass 2016, p. 260.
  6. ^ a b Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition 1989, "Romany3, n. and a."
  7. ^ Borrow 2007, p. 85.
  8. ^ "Gypsies and Traveller Policy in Wales" (PDF). ec.europa.eu.
  9. ^ "Angloromani". Ethnologue. Retrieved 9 August 2019.
  10. ^ "Migrant Roma in the United Kingdom: population size and experiences of local authorities and partners" (PDF). www.salford.ac.uk. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 May 2019. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  11. ^ University of Manchester Romani Project. "The Anglo-Romani project". Archived from the original on 18 February 2007.
  12. ^ "BBC – Voices – Multilingual Nation". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 18 May 2024.
  13. ^ Brian Foster; Peter Norton. "Educational Equality for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Children and Young People in the UK" (PDF). Equalrightstrust.org. Retrieved 10 May 2021.
  14. ^ John Ayto (2006). Movers and Shakers: A Chronology of Words that Shaped Our Age. Oxford University Press. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-19-861452-4.
  15. ^ Carol Silverman (14 February 2012). Romani Routes: Cultural Politics and Balkan Music in Diaspora. Oxford University Press. p. 259. ISBN 978-0-19-991022-9.
  16. ^ "Migrations of the Romani People" (PDF). The National Geographic Society. Retrieved 16 May 2024.
  17. ^ King, Arienne (2023). "Romani Migration in the Middle Ages". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16 May 2024.
  18. ^ Taylor, Becky. "Romani gypsies in sixteenth-century Britain". Our Migration Story. Retrieved 16 May 2024.
  19. ^ Smart, B C; Crofton, H T (1875). The Dialect of the English Gypsies (2nd ed.). Covent Garden: Asher & Company.
  20. ^ Timbers, Frances (20 April 2016). The Damned Fraternitie: Constructing Gypsy Identity in Early Modern England, 1500–1700. Routledge. p. 96. ISBN 978-1-317-03651-7.
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  29. ^ Allan Etzler (1944). Zigenarna och deras avkomlingar i Sverige: Historia och språk. H. Geber. cited in: Fraser (1995)
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Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]