Traditionally, the Vardo is seen by many as the travelling home of the Romani race. In Europe they were/are usaully plain wooden vehicles, but in England we know them as brightly coloured and beautifully painted, sadly disappearing from our road sides. Today. more often then not, these vehicles are not owned or driven by our race, but New Age Travellers and alike, so you may never know if you are viewing a real Romani.
However, culturally we are still defined by these travelling homes and, as an integral part of the Romani race, should be perpetuated and maintained even in this modern world.
Before the early 1800's in Europe you would not have seen the Vardo travelling the roads of Europe. Prior to this, we would be seen driving wooden carts containing our belongings and sleeping within tents known as "Benders". These "Benders" have frames made of supple hazel twigs which bend beneath canvas coverings and are still, though rarely, used today. Many a Romani will recount how they were born/slept in these tents. Whilst others will tell you how when there was little room in the Vardo/Bender or no Bender atall, they would sleep beneath the vardo itself. This practice of sleeping beneath the Vardo originates from the days of the wooden carts, where many would sleep beneath the "tilt" or cover of the cart itself.
In the early 1800's Circus and Showfolki could be seen using Vardos in and around the countryside. But by 1850 it was common place to see the Romani race travelling those same roads in these wooden travelling homes. It is believed that the evolution of the Vardo , from cart to home, occured around 1810 in France. But the name "vardo" originates from the Iranian word "vurdon" and indicates that the whilst the wooden Vardo is relatively new, in a historic sense, (as it is barely 200 years old), the concept of a travelling home on wheels is much older.
The Vardo is traditionally bought by the newly married couple at the outset of their married life from craftsman, called builders and can take as long as a year, sometimes longer, to build. It is an expensive "home" and often the newly married couple would start their married life with cart and Bender, whilst saving for or awaiting their finished "home".
Traditionally, children were born in a bender, if it was available, not a Vardo - although these days most are born in modern hospitals. Also the owner of a Vardo was often cremated within it at the time of their passing - but once again, that practice has all but died out.
Too often these days, the only place you are likely to see a restored and preserved Vardo is within the confines of a Museum. This sad epitaph denotes the loss of freedom for not only the Vardo, but more worringly, for our nomadic life - the travelling life of the Romani!
It is not often know, particularly by the Non-Romani, that there are at least SIX types or styles of Vardo. Too often people assume that a Vardo name is made by its shape - this is not so. For example - many refer to the "Bowtop" as a "Round top" - mistakenly assuming that because the canvas top shape is circular, it is called "round".
Infact the names of Vardos such as BOWTOP, BURTON, OPENLOT, LEDGE, READING and BURTON derived from the originator of that style - be it person or place.
It is the BOWTOP and LEDGE which are genrally used by our race, with their high rear wheels, which surround and protect the narrow aisled waggon, they are a safe and ideal design for crossing streams and rough terrain.
Traditionally, we cook on open fires beside the Vardo, However, most vardo contain a stove for cooking and warmth in bad weather. Typically with one room only, the adults sleep in a double berth and children below in a smaller berth behind sliding doors at the rear. Space is at a premium - so the interior is utilised to the maximum, often with a narrow cabinet or dresser for chinaware etc and a hidden"safe" hole for valuables.
The READING is very similiar in design to the LEDGE. Whilst both have slopping walls the READING walls have a much wider top to bottom ratio and this has earned it the nickname of "kite waggon".
The rear wheels of both types of Vardo are aprox one and half feet larger the the front wheels and both have front and rear porches.
Although this Vardo and the READING have a similiar design, the LEDGE has a narrower floor and a ledge at knee level above the wheels.
This ledge creates greater internal space for the upper body, and outside a spindle rack is placed between the ledge and front wheel to hang various items.
This Vardo differs from the previous Vardos, in that, like the OPENLOT, it has a weather proof canvas top over a wooden arched frame.
It is similarly decorated on both its wooden exterior and internal ceiling and also has a rear and front door but, unlike the READING and LEDGE has no side windows.
The difference between this and the BOWTOP is that this is a far more basic version built on a cart base.
Whilst it has a similiar canvas top, there is no front door and it has supporting poles either side of the open doorway.
Traditionally this Vardo belonged to Showfolki, and were amongst the most expensive type of Vardo - heavily decorated and adorned with cut glass and goldleaf.
It differs from the previous vardos in that it has straight walls and with its wheel placed beneath the base, it is much broader and therefore has a larger interior space.
Details of this book can be found on our "BOOKWORM" page.