Gypsy Petulengro

Xavier Petulengro, more often referred to as ‘Gypsy Petulengro’, was a British Romanichal horse trader, businessman, broadcaster, violinist, and writer, known to most as the ‘King of the Gypsies’. He was born on 25th December 1859 in Rochdale, England, yet despite his later fame, very little is known of Petulengro’s childhood. Many claim he spent his early upbringing in Romania, where his father traded Welsh ponies. Unusually for Romany families at this time, Petulengro learnt to read and write. He later asserted this was through the assistance of Admiral Arthur Wilson of the Royal Navy, as well as Martha Clark a farmer’s wife in Whitehaven, Cumbria. The name ‘Petulengro’ derives from the Sanskrit ‘Petul’, meaning Horseshoe and ‘Engro’ from Romani, meaning man or thing; hence ‘Blacksmith’ – and Xavier followed the family business of horse trading as a young man, also serving in the British army for a short time. In the 1920s, while living in Manchester, Petulengro was invited to aid in the re-establishment of traditional Romany gatherings at Baildon in Yorkshire. These had taken place in the area for centuries previous, however, the tradition died out in the late nineteenth century. By the end of the 1920s, Petulengro helped make the annual parties a triumph and the tradition was revived, including ‘real’ Romany families as well as local townsfolk who attended dressed up in costume. It was after this success that Petulengro started broadcasting on the BBC, becoming a regular feature as ‘the famous broadcasting Gypsy’ on the programme In Town Tonight. He also wrote articles on Romany lore and food, publishing his first book, Romany Remedies and Recipes in 1935, followed two years later by his autobiography; A Romany Life. Under his title ‘King of the Gypsies’, Petulengro officiated traditional Romany weddings, including that of his own son in 1937. The wedding was filmed by Pathé News for showing in the cinemas, as well as covered by several newspapers. This fame was a highly novel occurrence, both for the Romany people and mid-twentieth century Britain more widely; however, the press, the public, and the Romany community co-existed amicably. On his death on 16th June 1957, Putelengro’s funeral (arranged in traditional Romanichal style) was attended by over 1500 sightseers in addition to the 100 invited mourners. He died in Littlehampton, Sussex, aged 98 and was buried in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.

All books by Gypsy Petulengro