The Gypsy Vardo

The Gypsy Vardo

If you ask about “Gypsy wagon makers” probably one of the first names to spring to people’s minds would be the great northern builder William “Billy” Wright (1844 – 1909) of Leeds. This vardo was one of the first to be constructed by Wright, and legend has it that it was among the best in the country, it was classed as the “creme de la vardo” in its day. It is a fine example of a Leeds-type wagon .

Being individually built, no two wagons are exactly alike. The vardo is always one-roomed on four high wheels, with door and movable steps in front (the Brush wagon the only exception), sash windows, a rack called the ‘cratch’ and a pan-box at the rear.

Inside the wagon the atmosphere is snug and homey, and the finer vans have an almost regal splendor. Almost everything one needs is to hand. Even in winter you need never be cold. The fire in the stove, if built up with windows closed for half an hour, will so heat the rails near the roof that they will be too hot to hold. One of the Coopers once claimed that he could bake a cake in his van by stoking up the fire, shutting the windows, and leaving the mixture in the tin on the table!

Internal layout, which varies little from type to type or van to van, has not changed for a century. The basic needs of the resident are the same and, in such confined space, there is only one sensible way to meet them. The fireplace is always on the left as you enter, for on that side the chimney pipe is in less danger from roadside trees.

The great Vardo Rai, William “Billy” Wright

Filling in the back of the van is a two-berthed bed-place, the top bunk just below the rear window, and beneath it are two sliding doors. These in the daytime shut away a second, shorter bed-place in which the children sleep.  Light is supplied from a bracket oil-lamp above the dresser.

Nowadays, there is a revived interest in the authentic Vardo, partly for its antique value. Also, entrepreneurs are setting up horse-drawn holidays or letting out caravans to film or TV companies. small businesses who deal in original and replica Vardos are doing a brisk trade.

From The English Gypsy Caravan by C.H. Ward-Jackson and Denis E. Harvey 1973 Edition
William “Bill” Wright of Leeds with his “Creme de la Vardo” by Perigwyn Tilston
Photos from

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