Bill Rowland interview: Travellers on the Common

Can you tell us about Travellers on the Common?

In 1871 when the Act was first brought in Gypsies were very common on the Common and they were the people who were camped and provided one of the main problems with this open ground. For many years it had gone quiet but in the last five years of the present century we have this problem again but you can’t call them Gypsies now, you have to call them Travellers. We have had a lot of problems with them and they will get on to the Common wherever they can. We have had to dig a ditch right around the Common and mounds to stop them driving on but they still find a way. We have metal gates but they just cut the locks off. Last year in 2013 we had about 30 Travellers encamped on Putney Heath and all they did was bring in lorry and vanloads of rubbish and tip it up.  We had no way of getting them off. We had to go through the system of seven days to wait to get a Section 61. But in the meantime they dumped so much rubbish that it cost Wimbledon and Putney Commons £35,000 to clear up after them. There were piles of asbestos, every bit of rubbish you can think of was dumped on the Common. But since then we have managed to put better laws in place and block off all these gates where they came in with huge big boughs of trees which doesn’t look very smart but hopefully this year we have kept them at bay. 

How did you get rid of them eventually?  

We had to go through due process. The police were involved and said we couldn’t do any more. So we just had to stand back and watch them. It took about eight days in the end to get this court order to move them but they always seem to move the day the order comes out. They moved on to Barnes Common but they tried to come back on again but this time we got a bit heavy with them. We had a tractor and chain on standby and told them if you don’t move now we’ll drag you off. They didn’t like that and moved off. But we are on permanent standby during these few months to see if they do turn up again.