Gypsy Tales: The John Sampson Collection


About this ebook

“I came here to seek the leaves that hung but never grew.”


Enter a magical world where ogres and dwarfs exist, enchantments and quests abound, and robbers and witches wreck havoc on heroes and heroines alike in this essential collection of over 40 folk and fairy tales that nurture and sustain the collective memory of the Roma.


Often shared through the exploits of one of the most popular figures found in folktales, a lad named Jack, come and join him as he saves the King of the Fishes and marries the Queen of the Fairies, battles giants and dragons, and much more.


Rooted in the oral tradition made infamous by the Brothers Grimm, discover variants of famous folktales, including those of Cinderella and Aladdin, Hansel and Gretel and Snow White, alongside other tales recounting stories of Master Thieves and Robber Bridegrooms, Wonder Childs and Dragon Slayers.


This collection is a treasure trove of distinctive folk and fairy tales recorded by the folklorist, John Sampson, and narrated by members of the Wood family of North Wales, Cornelius Price of South Wales, and the English husband and wife duo of Johnny and Wasti Gray.


Tales: The Green Man of No Man’s Land; Frosty and His Extraordinary Companions; Goggle-Eyes and the Cinder Lad; Skin and Bones; Jack and His Cudgel; The Gallant Highwayman; Jack and the King of the Fishes; Falling Snow; Foolish Jack and His Many Wishes; The Strong Son; The Leaves That Hung But Never Grew; Jack and His Lantern; The Horse That Dropped Gold; The Pig Maid; The Eighteen Rabbits; The Old Broom-Maker; The Three Priests; The Bottle of Black Water; The Black Madonna; The Shoemaker; Winter; The Fool with the Sheep; The Little Old Woman and Her Little Pig; The Fairy Bride; The Master Thief; The Little Crop-tailed Hen; The Man and Woman with Too Many Children; The Black Enchanted Castle; The Maid of the Mill; The World at Well’s End; The Old Smith; The Three Sisters; The Squirrel and the Fox; Laula, the Gallant Bridegroom; Sinderela, the Little Cinder Girl; The Fiery Dragon; The Black Dog of the Wild Forest; Ashypelt; Jack and His Master; The Tinker and His Wife; The Little Fox; Bobby Rag; The Little Bull-Calf

About the author

John Sampson [1862-1931] was an Irish linguist, librarian, and scholar. His father, James, was a Cornish mining engineer who died in 1872, leaving little money for him and his family. The eldest child, Sampson left school after his father’s death. With the family now living in Liverpool, he was apprenticed for seven years to Alexander MacGregor, a lithographer and engraver. Sampson continued his education, reading widely, and when MacGregor retired, Sampson briefly set up his own small printing business, aged 22. In 1892, he was accepted as the first full-time librarian at University College, Liverpool, where he remained until 1928.

John (Johnny) Gray was the son of John Budd (Jack) Gray and Maria Boswell, and Wasti Gray (b. Vashti Lee) was the daughter of Zachariah Lee and Charlotte Mary Hammond. Norfolk born, husband and wife ended their days in Lancashire, where in about 1890, they encountered Sampson, who recorded then published their narrations as ‘Tales in a Tent’ [JGLS, 1892].

On a camping trip in 1894, Sampson encountered the musician Edward Wood. The Wood family to which Edward belonged were noted speakers of Welsh-Rómani, a Rómani dialect that was to become Sampson’s major area of study.

Through Edward Wood’s brother-in-law, Lloyd Robert, Sampson found Matthew (Matcho) Wood on Cader Idris in 1896. Matthew, the son of Henry (Black Henry) and Saiforella (Mari) Wood, was a passionate teller of folk tales, stories which were related to him by his grandmother, Black Ellen, who supposedly knew two hundred such tales. A handsome fellow with long black curls, Matthew lived near Corwen and Bala, and played his fiddle in their country inns.

Sampson recorded Matthew’s repertoire in Welsh-Rómani and translated them into rather formal English prose, despite Matthew customarily telling his tales in English, according to Esmeralda Lock, whose reminiscences are to be found in one of T. W. Thompson’s unpublished notebooks [MS 2072, Leeds University Library’s Special Collections].

Matthew disappeared a few years later, but Sampson continued to spend his holidays with the Wood family, studying their language—from which stemmed his best-known work, The Dialect of the Gypsies of Wales [1926]—and recording more tales, including those narrated by Henry (Harry) ‘Turpin’ Wood, a son of Matthew and Llwyddan Wood.

In 1897, Sampson met Cornelius Price at Wavertree, Liverpool. A son of Amos Price and Mary Ann Dailey, Cornelius was a South Welsh Gypsy from whom Sampson took down 6 tales, chiefly in English.

From its inception, Sampson was also involved with the Gypsy Lore Society, acting as President in 1915-6. He died in 1931, and his funeral was non-religious with Rómani elements.

Rachel Louise Lawrence is a British author who translates and adapts folk and fairy tales from original texts and puts them back into print, particularly the lesser-known British & Celtic variants.

Since writing her first story at the age of six, Rachel has never lost her love of writing and reading. A keen wildlife photographer and gardener, she is currently working on several writing projects.

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