How Princess Diana’s step-grandmother fought for a home for travellers

How Dame Barbara Cartland battled to protect gypsies: Princess Diana’s step-grandmother got hate mail as she fought to find travellers a home – that they named ‘Barbaraville’ in her honour

  • Novelist Dame Barbara Cartland fought to win land for travellers in Hertfordshire
  • Dame was the mother of Raine, Countess Spencer, Princess Diana’s stepmother
  • The travelling community were so grateful they called the camp ‘Barbaraville’ 
  • The eccentric novelist received hate mail while she served as a councillor 

Princess Diana’s eccentric step-grandmother has been revealed as the little known saviour of a home counties travelling community.

Novelist Dame Barbara Cartland led a campaign to secure land for traveller families in Hertfordshire, a new documentary has revealed.

The step-grandmother of Princess Diana, known as the people’s princess, was just as concerned with changing lives as William and Harry’s mother, it emerged.

Dame Barbara who was a household name after writing a staggering 723 novels was elected a councillor on Hertfordshire County Council.

She used her power to lead the charge for land to be given to people constantly moved away in the home counties.

Presenter Damian Le Bas revealed on A Very British History: Romany Gypsies, she was so popular, the site was nicknamed Barbaraville.

He said: ‘Gypsies in Hertfordshire had an unexpected ally.

‘Gypsy families were being thrown off what was common land

‘Dame Barbara who was a councillor took on the battle to find somewhere for them to stay.

‘Dame Baraba and her allies secured an area on the outskirts of Hatfield.

‘They called it Barbaraville.’

Dame Barbara (second from right) visited the families and pledged to help them to secure a piece of land 

Dame Barbara’s parasol was a hit with the travelling women who adored her and thanked her for her support of their community

Dame Barbara died in 2000, at the age of 98.

The campaigner was the mother of Raine, Countess Spencer, who was Princess Diana’s stepmother. There is no mention of Raine in the will.

Her books were said to have sold more than 600million copies worldwide and her wealth was always estimated in at least seven figures.

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Dame Barbara lived and worked since 1950 at her beloved Camfield Place, formerly the home of Beat-rix Potter, a ten-bedroom mansion set in 400 acres of farmland and woods near Hatfield, Hertfordshire.

She signed a 51-year lease on it in 1964 – the remainder of that now goes free of tax to her younger son Glen McCorquodale, a 61-year-old stockbroker.

She was born in 1901 and died 14 months shy of her 100th birthday 

Dame Barbara Cartland, stepgrandmother of Princess Diana, lived to the age of 98

Her son Ian McCorquodale said the travelling families hoping to secure a spot of land in the county ‘always liked her parasol’ which she carried in the summer. 

On the BBC 4 show on Monday evening the Dame’s son revealed she was unpopular for what she did to help. 

He said: ‘It was definitely prejudice. It was really, really nasty.’

He adds: ‘My mother had a lot of hate mail and people were rude to her, but she persevered.

‘She was not one to be deterred my mother in any way. She stuck to her guns.’

The show revealed how lives for the traveller community has changed over the past 500 years.

Mr Le Bas said: ‘The 1960s were a difficult decade for us. For much of it we were like outlaws on our own land.

The Dame who wrote more than 700 novels was the step-grandmother of Princess Diana (left)

‘Old prejudices and new legislation nearly wiped out our way of life.’

But he said the gypsies are ever evolving people – going from making pegs and ‘hopping’ in the fields in the summer, to dealing in scrap metal to make money.

‘Thousands have had to go into houses and end their life on the roads because of the difficulties faced by their communities.

‘For the first time in the 2011 Census we were registered as an ethnic group.

‘There were 63,000 Romany and Irish travellers but the numbers are likely to be higher

Dame Barbara’s son Ian McCorquodale was interviewed for the show in which he revealed his mother was targeted for helping the travelling community

Damian Le Bas revealed the community was saved by the Dame who fought to get them a home in Hatfield

The site saved by the Dame was eventually called ‘Barbaraville’ by those who lived on it

‘Three in four live in houses and the majority are in trailers on authorised sites.’

However, there are still some centuries old traditions which are continued to this day.

Billy Welch, the man dubbed the ‘Shera Rom’ or head gypsy was interviewed.

He said Appleby in Cumbria, where the annual horse fair is held, is a sacred place for gypsies who still maintain proud traditions.

‘This is pure gypsy,’ he said.

‘Your children would rather come here than Disneyland,Florida –no contest – more important than Christmas

‘It gives us a sense of our history.’

Romany Gypsies is the first part of a four-part BBC Four series, A Very British History, which explores key moments in the 20th century for minority communities across Britain.

The series also includes episodes about the Jewish community in Leeds, Afro-Caribbeans in Birmingham, and Ugandan Asians in Leicester and beyond. Fronted by presenters from those communities, the series explores the highs and lows that many faced when making their home in modern Britain.



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