Sophie Legg (1918-2007)

Article excerpt

Sophie Legg, was the last of her generation of the Orchard family of West Country Travellers. Her father, Edwin, lived in Plymouth in his youth, his parents having settled in Coxside, from where they hawked around the city. Edwin took a job shovelling coal from the railway sidings into the gasworks, but after his marriage to Susie (also Orchard) in 1899, the couple worked on fairgrounds to raise the money for a horse and wagon, and then they took to the roads of the south-west selling basketware and haberdashery. Sophie, the last of their seven children, was born in a tent on land belonging to Susie's family at Hatt, near Saltash, in 1918. Edwin bought land at Launceston, and it was here that they regularly overwintered--in tents--enabling Sophie to get much of her education at Launceston school (where a fellow pupil was Charles Causley). The family had a bungalow built in Launceston in 1934, but continued to travel.

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Music and dancing were central to the family's life. Both parents sang, and Sophie's mother and elder sister Betsy were good step-dancers. Betsy, her other sister Charlotte, and her brother Jim were also noted singers, while her brother Eddie played the banjo and accordion. Sophie learned 'tuning' for step-dancing and songs, mainly from her mother, who sang as she worked; but songs also came into the family from other sources at fairs, weddings, and other gatherings. Fashions were changing, however, and Sophie--the youngest by some years--grew up at a time when the old songs were falling from favour, and country and western was coming into vogue, and she was called upon to sing less often. The family had long travelled with a wind-up gramophone, and by the 1930s they also had a radio, which was often tuned in to Radio Luxembourg. Sophie became a fan of Jimmie Rodgers and Carson Robison's Oxydol Pioneers, and also developed a taste for sentimental Irish songs, but she continued to value her family repertoire. …