About Gypsy Palace
There are various legends about why Scottish Romanys first settled in Yetholm in the early 1700s, but the village had become the home of the Faas, hereditary monarchs, by the mid-1700s. The first Faa, ‘Lord and Erle of Littil Egipt', appears in Scottish records in 1540. By 1800 it is said there were over 100 Romanys or ‘gypsies’ living in Kirk Yetholm. They made a living as itinerant traders – selling, among other goods, pottery mugs (‘muggers’) and tinware (‘tinkers’). The roads on both sides on the upper green in Kirk Yetholm were known as ‘Muggers Raw, or ‘Tinkers Raw’. There was also extensive poaching and smuggling (of whisky and gin), the border in the remote hills being conveniently close-by.
The palace was built for Queen Esther Faa Blythe. Esther was the daughter of King Charles Blythe I and grand-daughter of King William Faa I. She married a gypsy called John Rutherford (‘Jethart Jock’), who was transported for theft in 1847. Esther herself had something of a criminal record, but was a witty and resourceful woman. When her father died in 1861, Esther won the title of ‘Queen of the Gypsies’ in a fisticuffs fight with her sister, Helen. Helen retained the old ruinous gypsy palace (which has long since disappeared) and a new cottage was built for Esther on the opposite side of the upper green. Here Queen Esther became something of a tourist attraction receiving visiting gentry and summer tourists with great dignity and grace. Esther died in 1883, a pauper in Kelso, but her funeral in Yetholm was attended by a huge crowd. Unfortunately , her gravestone has disappeared from the kirkyard.
Queen Esther was replaced in 1898 by her son, Charles Faa Blythe. The Gypsy Palace was refurbished and a porch added for him. The ceremony, complete with a robes, carriages, a crown, a procession and a proclamation in the Romany language was largely organized by the parish minister and the schoolmaster with an eye to attracting visitors to Kirk Yetholm. The ceremony was a huge success, reported in newspapers across the world, with crowds of visitors lining the route of the procession.
By 1898, the Romany traditions were dying out in Kirk Yetholm. A very active minister, the Reverend John Baird, had raised funding for a school for Romany children in 1843. The school is now the Friends of Nature House, below the lower green in Kirk Yetholm[grid ref: 55.547948/ -2.2771204]. The children were boarded in the homes of villagers while their parents travelled. So successful was this scheme that by the 1880s, it was becoming difficult to distinguish, by their way of life, those of Romany stock from other villagers.
King Charles II died in 1902 and there have been no more Gypsy kings or queens in Kirk Yetholm since then, although memories of their stories and traces of Romany words in the local dialect live on.