I have seen Gypsy Vanner horses in the breed show at Devon, their coats gleaming and their white feathers floating as they move. The Gypsy Vanners in Greenwich are distant relatives.They may be next door to the Olympic horses stabled at Greenwich Park but they are a world away. While the Olympic athletes are groomed, and pampered with massage therapy, physio, and the best in food and accomodation the Gypsy Vanners at Thamesmead are living in the true gypsy tradition.
Thamesmead is an area of social housing developments built in the 1960's and designed around futuristic ideas. The buildings are concrete and red brick and due to a history of flooding in the area all the accomodation is on the first floor and above, with the ground floor used for storage or garage space. There are also overhead walkways leading from one building to another. Thamesmead housing has featured in several films. Does anyone remember Clockwork Orange? Some of that was set in the concrete of Thamesmead. This area was originally built for working class families who moved out from the crowded Victorian housing in central London. Even at the beginning it was not really an attractive place to live and public transport was distinctly lacking. Some if the original problems have been addressed but the area is absolutely not going to be a "must see" for visitors to Greenwich Park. Nonetheless it is home to some 50,000 people . It is also home to a number of Gypsy Vanner horses.
The horses belong to "travellers" ( gypsys or tinkers as they used to be known). It is not clear if they do much travelling nowadays but the horses are left over from the time they wanted a small sturdy horse to pull the colorful vans they lived in and with a temperament that would allow their children to ride them. Now the travellers have horse fairs and breed, train and sell the horses. In Thamesmead the horses are tethered on grassy areas or randomly wander about. They may not be perfectly groomed but look quite healthy and in fact are still living out their lives in the traditional way.
I've added some photos of the horses at Thamesmead taken by my son Pere Willoughby Brown. My thanks to Omega Alpha for presenting my Olympic blogs.