Origin of the Gypsey Race

LINDA writes: In the May 1 edition a letter from S Jordan asked how the Gypsey Race acquired its name.

Many thanks to Bridlington historian David Mooney, who has supplied me with information on many occasions, for his very informative explanation.

David writes: The Gypsey Race, the name derives from the old English 'Gypsia' meaning to suddenly spring into life usually in the spring of the year when sudden heavy showers on the high Wolds run off the ground and join together to form a fast flowing stream.

The word 'Gupos' from the Greek means chalk springs. The source of the stream is at Wharram, which then runs West to East and flows into Bridlington Harbour, though the water supply is very intermittent and can dry up for several years before once again springing forth.

The very word 'Gypsey' when used to describe Romany-type travellers comes from the same Etymological source, meaning people that derive from Egypt and appear in spring time, but are gone before the winter.

The water rises at Wharram and after copious rainfall it runs on the surface, just above the Kimmeridge Clay at the base of the Wold Chalk line, then goes underground until the Clay can no longer contain it and out it springs forming a sudden Gypsey.

This spring then runs as a fast flowing 'Race' but then can disappear underground for a few years and then the stream bed is dry.

The comings and goings of the stream are forever fixed in our local folklore as either good or bad luck. The 'Woe Waters' when the stream was in flood foretold disasters for the country.

It ran as a flood before the Black Death, before the Civil War, at the execution of Charles the First, in 1861 the year of the bad harvest, the two World Wars and also the bad winters of 1947 and 1962.

But in 1530 it was lucky for Prior Willy from Bridlington when he was chased by wicked fairy types at Willy Howe because he managed to jump his horse over the stream and escape his pursuers (fairy folk can't cross over fast-flowing water!)

The stream also gave a good fortune to Queen Henrietta Maria when she sheltered in its banks at Beck Hill from cannon balls whilst in Bridlington in 1632.

The children of Burton Fleming used to 'Race' the stream when it burst forth and ran again through the village after a dry period and floated sticks on its surface. But on February 19 1827 we find "William, the 11-year-old son of Will and Faith Major, drowned whilst racing the Gypsey, but his three friends who also fell in were all saved, as in the scriptures".

I can remember attending a raft race at Rudston a few years ago and, of course, some villages such as Burton Fleming and Boynton still organise annual 'duck races' using plastic bath time ducks to raise charity money, so they are in fact still following the old traditions of "let's race the stream" and long may it continue along the Gypsey Race.

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