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Historian remembers Belvedere floods

PUBLISHED: 13:59 24 January 2013 | UPDATED: 13:59 24 January 2013

A chain gang mending the break in the river wall at Erith with sandbags during the flooding. Pic from Bexley Local Studies and Archives

A chain gang mending the break in the river wall at Erith with sandbags during the flooding. Pic from Bexley Local Studies and Archives

Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre

Simon Evans, an acclaimed historian on gipsies in South London and Kent, describes how the floods affected the local traveller population.

“The deluge which hit Belvedere marshes in 1953 was a devastating blow for the gipsy community.

Numbers had been dwindling there since the 1930s but there were still 1,600 or 1,700 who settled there every winter.

People lost all their worldly possessions and had to leave the area, most never returning.

There was a reason houses weren’t built on the land.

If you read first-hand accounts, people talk about the speed with which the water rose.

It must have been very frightening.

There had generally been mistrust from the civilian population towards gipsies but when the floods hit you saw a real coming together with the public, emergency services and the council who gave them temporary accommodation.

But it was the start of a difficult time as it was hard to find somewhere else to stay.

A lot of big stopping places were closing down as more social housing was built. A few still came back despite the floods but numbers were minuscule and the floods effectively put an end to Belvedere marshes as a stopping place.

Just after the Second World War it had been the largest site of its kind in the UK.

The legacy is still there though – a number of gipsies drifted into houses in Belvedere and Abbey wood and still live there with the generations that followed.”

Simon is the author of Stopping Places: A Gypsy History of South London and Kent

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