The Blessing of the Road-born Child is an art song from the Cracked Voices song cycle, set for soprano and clarinet in A written by Graham Palmer and Jenni Pinnock.
On Thursday 1 December 1904 five refugee families made landfall next to the Tower of London. Displaced, they were escaping from harsh new laws that the German government was enacting against travellers (a process that soon saw all gypsies fingerprinted and eventually led to
Hitler’s death camps). Some in Britain were welcoming, but most were not. Although the border was open, at Westminster the politicians were arguing over a new Aliens Act which would for the first time limit immigration. No one knew who these uninvited visitors were and, since there was fierce fighting in the Balkans, the sensationalist press were quick to label them ‘Macedonians’.
Local authorities wanted nothing to do with them and around London and East Anglia great crowds came out to gawp at the gypsies as they were forced to move on by the police from one county to another. When they crossed the county line at Royston the entrepreneurial Robert H. Clark was there with his camera and the postcards he produced ‘had a very large sale’ (Royston Crow). At Epping the gypsies were stoned and one child suffered a bad head wound. At St Albans a crowd of around 800 gathered and it was only the presence of large numbers of police ‘that saved them from being roughly treated’ (Official Police Report).
In the snow of that spring, one of the women gave birth. The apparently healthy baby girl quickly developed such bad catarrh that she could not feed. Despite Anna Holtzmann’s desperate efforts, her daughter slowly starved to death. On 13 March 1905, eight-day-old Maria was buried at Great Brickhill. The Luton Times and Advertiser commenting, ‘Such folk would not be allowed to land in the United States, but until the long-delayed Aliens Bill is passed, other places will have the experience of Great Brickhill.’
Britain was turning inward. The Aliens Act – the first legal curb on the freedom of displaced people seeking refuge – became law on 11 August that year. Its effect is still felt today.