- GYPSIES -
In a field adjoining the Tan House lived a family of
Gypsies, Mr and Mrs Isaac Dixon and their thirteen children, eight
of whom lived to adulthood, six boys and two girls. Rueben, the oldest
of the family, served with the Eighth Army in North Africa during
World War II and won the Military Cross. Righteous, the second son,
also served in the Army, but was badly injured. Then came Isaac and
Ivor. Douglas was also in the Welsh Guards and made a smart soldier,
he was so tall and straight. Nicholas was the youngest of the family.
Laura and Wemma, the two girls, married and left Caerleon.
Mrs Dixon was a true Romany Gypsy, a kindly person with a tall very
slim lithesome figure. She and her sister, Mrs Parker, of the same
build, could be seen walking to Newport with baskets of pegs on their
arms, both very smart walkers neatly dressed in long black skirts,
high laced up boots, aprons and shawls over their shoulders, smoking
clay pipes with the long stems cut very short. The pipes were black
from much smoking. They were very discrete when smoking in public,
covering the pipes with their hands.
Mrs Dixon was quite a herbalist, she always had a remedy for cuts
and bruises etc. I remember my father having a very bad leg. He had
a deep cut on the shin which had turned septic. Mrs Dixon came with
an armful of marshmallow, a tall plant with a mauve flower growing
wild. She made a poultice and applied it to the wound. Each morning
she would come with a fresh bunch and apply a fresh poultice. It proved
very successful, the wound healing beautifully clean.
I used to take her a pint of milk each morning. She noticed I had
inflammation in my eyes, I had been poulticing them with tea leaves.
So she gathered a bunch of ground ivy, it had a large pointed round
leaf, similar to the violet leaf, unlike the ivy we are familiar with.
She told me to put it in a jug and pour some boiling water over it,
let it steep over night, next morning strain and use the water to
bathe the eyes to clean them, again very successful.
We were all very fond of Mrs Dixon, she was unable to read or write
so she would go to Megan who worked in Caerleon Post Office at that
time and say, "I haven't had a scratch of a pen from our Reuben.
Would you write a letter for me?" So Megan would write the letter
as Mrs Dixon dictated. Eventually, when she did receive a letter,
she would take it to Megan for her to read it to her. Megan did many
kindnesses for people like this. She was always so helpful.
Mr Dixon was a skinny little man, with bow legs. He had a horse and
a flat cart and went about wheeling and dealing. He was rather a quick-tempered
man. If he had had a good day's dealing, he would arrive home after
having a few drinks. He would start shouting and quarrelling and fighting
with the family. The pots and pans would be sent flying with such
a clatter taking place. We as children were sent to bed early, but
on hearing the rumpus, would rush to the window and enjoy the entertainment
until someone would rush to fetch his mother known as Granny Dixon
who lived in a cottage facing the River Usk near the Hanbury Arms.
(The cottages were demolished many years ago.) Although 'Granny' was
elderly, she was a strong, tough lady and would soon sort Isaac out,
and peace would reign once more.
One of the Gypsies' favourite meals was hedgehog pie. After catching
and killing the hedgehog they covered it all over with thick mud then
left it to dry thoroughly. The mud was then peeled away, and the bristles
came away too, leaving the flesh clean to make the pie.