All over Europe, horse trading has historically been an important source of income for Romani people, making horse fairs important occasions not only for them to meet each other but also for them to interact with non-Romanies. As spaces of tourism and entertainment, the fairs were opportunities not only for buying and selling but also for performance.
In 1906, the worlds of German and British Romanies came together in a spectacular way – and many of their encounters were at horse fairs. In April 1906 the British Home Office began to receive reports from Scotland that large groups of German visitors, then referred to as the “German Gipsies”, were entering Scotland from ships departing Hamburg. Romani people from Germany and other parts of Europe had already been crossing to Britain for several years, often on their way across the Atlantic. But in Germany they were now under pressure from increasingly restrictive police measures, such as the 1906 Prussian “Directive on the Struggle Against the Gypsy Nuisance”.
A transnational movement of hundreds of German Sinti and Roma began, with groups travelling across the UK with the purpose of trading horses at local fairs and also to perform acrobatics and other shows. The visitors became a media spectacle and the so -called “invasion” was documented and followed across the country by newspapers, police, photographers and the public, right up until the visitors were eventually transported back to Germany (Hamburg) via Grimsby in late November that same year. During this migration we find traces of some specific people and groups making their way through the country. This map highlights a small selection of the documents and stories generated by the events.