The influence that the Scottish Border gypsy language has had on the Northumbrian tongue is often undervalued or overlooked. While the lingering Norse and the guttural rolling ‘r’ of Harry Hotspur fame are celebrated, words such as bari, cushty, deek and gadgie are all of Romany origin.
There is even evidence to suggest that the great Scottish gypsy Kings of the past – the Faas, or Falls, were in fact Northumbrians and their celebrated leader King Willie Faa once lived in Rothbury.
It was an unfortunate incident with Laird Clennel, of Clennel hall up the Coquet Valley, that seems to have been the pivotal moment that saw the Faa gypsy tribe move over the Cheviots to their more famous home at Kirk Yetholm, where the pink cottage known as the Gypsy Palace still stands.
Willie Faa had fallen out with the Laird of Clennel and after raids following counter reprisal raids, Faa finally up the stakes and kidnapped the laird’s three-year-old son Henry.
Clennel’s men were in hot pursuit down as far as the Thrum Mill at Rothbury, where Faa threatened to throw the bairn in the dark, swirling deep waters unless his pursuers gave up the chase.
Soon after the Faas were gone from Rothbury and never seen in the hills around again. The rest of the intriguing story can be read in Wilson’s Tales of the Border, which also has some illuminating insights into the people of Rothbury in the past, who loved football and cockfighting.
Jamie Allan, the Duke of Northumberland’s piper, was a gypsy born in Rothbury and William Winter, who was executed at Westgate in Newcastle and his body hung at Elson in Redesdale, where the grim gibbet still stands, was also an ‘Eygptian.’
The towns of Morpeth, Alnwick, Wooler and Berwick all have dialects that contain many Roma words and phrases that resound with old Willie Faa’s voice ringing down the generations.
Category: Northumberland History