Betsy Whyte answers questions about the Traveller lifestyle...
Date 11 October 1985
Track ID 82053
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Betsy Whyte answers questions about the Traveller lifestyle and traditional cures.

Betsy Whyte answers questions. Before the schooling act [Children's Act, 1908], Travellers were generally illiterate. She talks about her own schooling and prejudice against Travellers. Travellers made a living by making baskets and horn spoons, hawking, selling rabbit skins, and doing farm work, on a piecework basis in order to keep their freedom. Most have now been forced into houses or static caravans. Traditionally, Traveller families avoided other families with a bad reputation.

Travellers had a fear of doctors. Whisky was a cure-all. Betsy gives an account of an occasion when she and her sisters were in hospital with diphtheria. The nurses didn't understand their cant words. Betsy speaks approvingly of bonesetters. Her mother used to buy leeches from the chemist to treat bruises. Bramble leaves were used for stomach ailments. Buttercups were avoided in case they aggravated cuts. Watercress was an antidote when a boy made himself sick smoking. Diarrhoea was treated with a root that Alan Bruford suggests might be tormentil.

Betsy recalls eating beech mast, hawthorn leaf buds, nettles, haws, sloes, sourocks [sorrel] and dandelions. Rosehips were good for anaemia. Whitlows were treated with a poultice of flax seeds. Flax was grown in Perthshire for parachute manufacture during the war. Now mechanisation has replaced most of the farm work that Travellers used to do, and cattle are fed silage instead of swedes.

Item Notes

Travellers' fear of doctors arises from the murder of itinerants in the 19th century to supply bodies for dissection. Travellers were particularly vulnerable to these burkers.