Photography & words: © Anna Rubingh
They are a thing of beauty; the old wagons carpenter Rollo Dunford restores in his workshop in the Cotswold Hills. The wagons make a great eye-catcher in any garden or yard, as a place to enjoy, relax and feel a little wagon-living freedom in our rushed daily lives. And they are fantastic quirky alternative to a shepherd’s hut.
As dark clouds form over the sunlit hills, moody 1930ths jazz fills Rollo’s workshop. It is like stepping back in time as he brews coffee in an old, battered enamelled coffee pot and tops it up with boiling water from the wood burner. He returns to his wood carving. There are 3 old wagons lined up for restoration, all have beautiful details. Some are more elaborated than others, but all have their own personal stories. “If only those wagons could talk…” Rollo laughs.
Gypsies and Travellers did not always travel in wagons. “The wagons only came into use about 100-150 years ago, life in a wagon was better than in a tent but did still give nomadic freedom.” But as modern times passes, those wagons are on the verge of disappearing. “I rescue them, restore them, and bring them back to life, a new life with new happy owners.”
“Some are barn finds and this one I literally pulled out of a hedge.” He points to a beautiful small green wagon. Inside the wagon, all woodwork is decoratively painted. There are different species of birds singing in hedgerows, cockerels, fruit, and flowers. “The artwork is the best I have ever seen inside a bowtop.”
“And the gorgeous big elaborate wagon, with all its beautifully wood carved details?” I ask him. “Well, that’s my personal project. A wagon build by Thomas Tonge from around 1900. It was as good a wagon as you could get. Thomas Tonge was one of the most famous Gypsy wagon builders around. A wagon, a work of art really, like this is extremely rare. Someday I will live in it myself. But before that happens, it will need a lot of work.”