Obituary writer Donna-Louise Bishop has trawled the shelves of the Eastern Daily Press achieves this week and is remembering Gipsy Petulengro.  

In the latest in a limited series looking back at some of Norfolk's most noted and notable, we focus on the man who became “King of the Gypsies”. 

Details of his birth and childhood are uncertain, but from the 1930s he was regularly featured on BBC Radio, wrote articles on Gypsy lore and food, and led London hotel orchestras on his violin. 

He grew up in Swaffham and died in Littlehampton, Sussex, on 16 June 16, 1957. His age, unconfirmed, was believed to be “about 87”. 

The EDP reported on August 23, 1957, that “Mr Walter Leon Lloyd Petulengro left £14,981” after his death – worth around £299,128 today. 

Death of Gipsy Petulengro – Boyhood in Norfolk (published on June 17, 1957)  

Gipsy Petulengro, king of Britain’s Romany tribes, who spent most of his boyhood in Norfolk, died yesterday at his home at Littlehampton, Sussex. 

Eastern Daily Press: Gipsy Petulengro

He once said he thought Norfolk people were “the homeliest in the country and the most friendly.” Suffolk, he thought, was one of “the nicest counties.” 

Before and during the war, the voice of Petulengro—who was believed to be in his nineties at his death—became known to countless radio listeners. He had the largest individual mail of any broadcaster. 

Petulengro reigned as Britain’s gipsy king for 20 years. He was born in Rumania, but he was taken at the age of four to Swaffham to live with an uncle and aunt, Romanies who had settled there.  

When he was 15 he left to enlist in the Army but his interest in Swaffham never diminished.  

His mother, Mrs Anyeta Petulengro, who belonged to the Berber Romanies of North Africa, spent her last years in the town and is buried in Swaffham churchyard. 

His interest in Swaffham led to an offer to the Urban District Council in 1948 to build two bungalows for old people. The Council accepted, but owing to building restrictions it was not possible to proceed with the plan.  

Romany king is buried, a gipsy to the end (published on June 22, 1957)  

Gipsy Petulengro, King of the Romanies, who spent most of his boyhood in Swaffham and who became a national figure during the war, was buried yesterday in the churchyard at Viney Hill (Gloucestershire). 

There were no caravans, no Romany ritual and no traditional burning of his possessions after the funeral. Hundreds of Romanies travelled to Viney Hill for the funeral. But they went by car and motor coach, neatly dressed in light summer clothing.  

But Petulengro himself, his embalmed body dressed in full Romany regalia – velvet trousers lined with gold braid, a yellow embroidered shirt, blue and gold bolero and head scarf – maintained Romany tradition to the last.  

A hearse had taken the body to Viney Hill. But there it was transferred to a green-painted float drawn by a pony for the procession headed by members of the Royal. Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. 

The service was conducted by a Vicar of All Saints (the Rev. George Waddington-Jones). It had been arranged after consultation with Petulengro’s' 63-year-old sister, “Princess” Lavanya, who lived with him at his home in Littlehampton (Sussex). 

Gipsy Music

Eastern Daily Press: Gipsy Petulengro

There were no hymns—only Handel’s “Largo” and the Barcarolle from “The Tales of Hoffmann” played by the church organist (Mr. Maurice Johnson). 

Afterwards, as the body was buried in the churchyard, an orchestra played gipsy music. Its members, led by Mr Gerard Snoeck, himself of Romany extraction, at one time played in Petulengro’s own band. 

“Princess” Lavanya told reporters: “My brother died at his home—it is four years since he last lived in a caravan. He was born in Rumania of a Welsh father and a Rumanian mother. None of us can be sure of his age, because we do not keep birth certificates. He is thought, however, to have been about 87." 

Petulengro came to Swaffham at the age of four. Eleven years later he left to join the Army, but his interest in Swaffham never diminished.