BNP leader Nick Griffin, who last week branded gypsies “anti social and criminal”, can trace his roots to travellers hawking cheap goods from a horse and cart.
The controversial MEP’s great-grandfather George Griffin roamed from town to town in a horse-drawn caravan with his wife Esther and their children, selling china and crockery. Census reports show he spent years living the gypsy life, never settling in one place because as an impoverished traveller he was on the margins of society and never fully accepted anywhere.
Last week Griffin, 50, who condemned attacks on Romanian gypsies in Northern Ireland, said: “We have to bear in mind that the gypsy community is notorious for its extremely high rate of criminality and antisocial behaviour. Everyone in Romania and eastern Europe knows this and it is one reason why their governments are so keen to encourage them to come over here.”
Yet between 1868 and 1874 records show his great-grandfather represented just such a minority. He travelled in one caravan with his family while his business partner, Mary Ann Hollis, travelled in another.
George habitually lied about his age, describing himself as 25 in the 1871 Census, 41 a decade later, 47 in the 1891 Census and 58 in 1901. He plied his precarious trade in Devon and Cornwall and could often be found parked outside the London Inn pub in Liskeard. The 1871 Census shows the caravans were parked next to the Cornish pub, noting: “Six persons not in houses”. In the column marked “Houses” it reports them as living in vans.
While George lived with Esther, 22, and his 10-month-old son George Junior in one, Mary Ann Hollis, 37, was in the second with George’s three-year-old daughter Mary Ann Griffi n and a William Huxham, 16.
He is described as a servant but probably earned his keep selling wares. In the Census column marked “Rank, profession or occupation” George is a “licensed hawker dealing in china and crockery ware”. His lifestyle would not have fitted with the intolerant views of Mr Griffin and the British National Party which does not accept black people as members. Griffin has called for an immediate halt to immigration, and voluntary resettlement of immigrants legally living in Britain.
When told this week of Mr Griffin’s heritage, shocked BNP deputy leader Simon Darby said: “That will please him.”
Genealogy expert Nick Barratt added: “George Griffin travelled around, scratching a living. His group will have roamed from street to street like ragtag travellers trying to survive on their wits and selling their wares. And it is highly likely he spent many more years living the life of a traveller before he married. Today we would call his group travellers and just like today they would have been marginalised on the edge of society and seen as outsiders. They will have been treated with a degree of suspicion and as a minority.”