Street Traders

There were itinerants, like the man who came round the houses calling “Any tubs to mend? Any tubs?” Every house had a wooden maiding tub for the washing. He would tighten the iron bands for a few coppers.

The knife grinder with his one wheeled barrow, brightly coloured dowel work on it like a piece of fair-ground furniture. He tipped it up on its end and sitting on a cross board pedalled the large wheel belt drive the stones, water dripped from fancy spouted canes on to the stones while he applied the knives, he would grind and set scissors all while you waited.

The salt woman came from Gornal, black dress, white starched apron, a large white bonnet with flounces at the back of her neck. She had a very powerful voice “Ony salt? Salt today lady? Salt, alt like lily white sond.” “Cut yer a block lady?” She carried a block of salt as she went up and down the back entries calling. She would cut a block of salt up on the tail-board of her two wheeled cart, using a hand saw. We had salt cellars with little spoons, no shakers.

Men and women came round the houses and streets at regular intervals offering goods or services. The window cleaner came once a fortnight with his trolley of ladders, a bucket of water swinging between the shafts. Most women cleaned their own windows sitting out on the upstairs windowsill holding on with one hand and cleaning with the other.

The fruit and vegetable men, Fred Davies, who kept his horse and cart in Jervoise Street and had a piece of land where he kept fowl, grew a few things. Frank Evans, who lived at his corner shop in Billhay Street had his stable round the back. Both carts had canopies over them to protect the produce from the worst of the weather. They never seemed to be in the street at the same time.

The milkman who came every morning carrying a hand churn, one rang a hand bell and shouted “Milko, milko!” Serving into your own jug with a pint measure, with a deft twist of the wrist causing a vortex, by which amount you were robbed. The old women cried, “Hey, let it settle.” The large store churn on the two-wheeled cart was chained over the axle.

The breadman came six days a week, ours had a high four wheeled van from whom I begged rides. Another man had a three-wheeled basket trolley. New freshly baked bread was one of the best of smells.

The coalman would deliver coal by the hundred weight bag, care being taken to count the number of bags as they were tipped, and that there were no short weight bags. If a load (1 ton) was ordered it would be tipped at the bottom of the entry and had to be barrowed up to the coal house to be stacked behind cross boards, the bottom board being left out so that the slack could be got at, used to damp down the fire, old tea leaves and vegetable peelings mixed with household rubbish were also burnt. Some coalmen shouted for custom.

A man came twice a year with a bundle of brollies, repair, part exchange or flog. “Any umbrellas to mend today?” as per Flanagan and Allan.

Gypsy women who always had a baby wrapped in their shawls selling pegs, artificial flowers or telling fortunes. “You’ve got a lucky face m’dear. Let’s look at yer hand.” They always took some getting rid of.

A character was our rag and bone man, Mr. Raybould, white beard and hair, stump wooden leg. He had a flat two wheeled cart drawn a donkey, a favourite with the kids. He blew a blast on his tin horn then shouted, “Ony rags, ony ragsa, bonesa, bottles, ony old iron?” Jam jars were almost a coin of the realm. The rags were teased in a mill to make flock used to stuff mattresses and furniture. The bones were boiled to make glue or fertiliser. You have not smelt the full flavour of life if you have not smelt a pile of bones and cow horns on a hot day. Mr. Raybould was a chapel elder, respected dignity in a humble calling.

There were not many days that a street singer did not come round, or a group of war veterans playing instruments or singing, most in various stages of disablement. We did not forget the first war easily, men still wore old army clothes.