Essex may indeed be an invention (The long read, 27 June), but not always as currently caricatured. Henry Spyvee (Letters, 29 June) rightly acknowledges its Roman heritage and the fact that it is “Constable country”. But even these are open to selective representation, depending on political standpoint. The Essex working class may be caricatured, but Gypsy residents are tolerated only if frozen on canvas in the 19th century, rarely as living persons. The MP for Harwich and North Essex, Bernard Jenkin, said in his 2010 election leaflet: “This is a precious corner of England. Our countryside is precious … wind farms, traffic, phone masts, gypsy sites: local people should be able to decide these issues.” No matter that this precious landscape depicted by Constable in The Vale of Dedham has a tent-dwelling Gypsy woman and baby in the foreground. It is displayed in the distant Scottish National Gallery.
Prof Judith Okely
Author, The Traveller-Gypsies, Oxford
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