In the mid thirties, a lot of our requirements were delivered to the house. Bread came from Price’s Bakery in a horse-drawn cart. The horse was called Whiskers because he had a perfect colonel’s moustache. Whiskers won first prize, in his class, at the Regents Park Horse Show for several years and each time he would come on his round, the following day, with his cart and himself still decorated with their competition livery. The greengrocer was a Mr. Cadd who was succeeded by the Bates Brothers. They would come round with their horse and cart which was painted in bright colours with all the fruit and vegetables on display, at an angle, all round the flat-top. The actual Bates Brothers’ cart, in blues and yellows and reds, can be seen to this day in the entrance hall of the Museum of London. I found it by accident.
One day when going into the Museum to do some research, I sat on a seat in the entrance hall waiting for my pass. I spotted the cart and I thought “That looks just like the Bates brothers cart”. I walked over to it and read the display notice which stated that it had, indeed, been donated by the Bates brothers, of Tottenham, to the Museum. Fish was delivered weekly by Mr. Murrell who lived three doors away and who was in the business of supplying fishmongers in North London direct from Billingsgate. He always left something on the truck for us. Of course we took delivery on a Friday morning. Milk was delivered first by a milkman called Ray. He had a milk churn on his two-wheeled, horse-drawn, cart from which he would ladle out a measured pint into the customer’s jug. Later he would obtain an electric powered van. Later still, milk bottles were delivered by the Co-op each morning, except Sundays.
A few times a week, the “Rag and Bone” man would come round. His call would bring out the housewives into the street. Quite often my mother would go out carrying a small sack. In the sack would be a few jam jars and perhaps some unwanted cloth. She would get a penny or two for her offering. Every so often we would take a delivery of coal. The coalman, from Rickett’s, would drive his horse and cart round the streets call out for people to come out into the street to take their supply of coal. The coal cart was of unusual design. It was a four-wheel flat top with a barrier or fence which was about four feet high, this was to prevent the sacks of coal falling off. The fence was wider at the top than the bottom and reared up at the front to resemble the front of a Roman chariot. We had a coal store outside the scullery and the man would bring the hundredweight sacks through the house carried on his shoulders. He wore a distinctive headdress which kept some of the coal dust out of his hair. The leather head cover, something like a cowl, fell down his back to his waist, presumably to protect his clothing. To me he was almost totally black, all his clothes, his hands and face, I do not know why he bothered to protect himself. Every autumn, we would call in the sweep. He was a Mr. Pardoe. He would come into our kitchen. All the furniture would be moved away from the fireplace to allow him unhindered access to the chimney. He would place his brush into the fire-bowl. He would then place a large cloth over the whole fireplace and wedge it into position with laths. In the middle of the cloth there was a slit which enabled him to put his rods in, he would then screw the brush head on to the first rod and start to push. As each rod got close to the protective cloth, he would screw in another rod. He knew exactly how many rods were needed to push the brush out of the chimney, but he would ask the children of the house to go outside and shout when they saw the brush appear. This was most exciting. Because of the coal in use at that time, there was a lot of soot in the chimney. When the brush got close to the top, there would be a tremendous bang when large chunks of soot would fall. In spite of the protective cloth, soot dust would fly all over the room and piles of soot would lie in the fireplace. The sweep would shovel the soot into his collection of sacks and take them to his cart for disposal. It would take my mother several days to clear up the layer of dust which lay over everything. She did not have a vacuum cleaner.
In contrast, during the summer, we had the ice cream man come round. The first was Walls’ Ice Cream. On offer was a triangular shaped lolly, like a frozen orange drink. This cost one old penny. He also had on offer ice cream at two pence, six pence and even a large block at one shilling and sixpence. However, I never even saw these as all we could afford, and not always, was a penny lolly. Later in about 1937, Walls had opposition in the form of a company called Dailly. They sold a small cylinder of ice cream that fitted neatly into an ice-cream cornet. It cost one penny and became very popular.
Apart from Mr. Murrell of the fish, all the tradesmen had a cry, to call out their customers, that could be heard from inside the house. In the thirties, these roundsmen were the successors to the Victorians who also sold muffins round the streets.
The other street service we had was provided by the man who sharpened the knives. He would come round with his odd looking cart which had a big flywheel on the top. With a foot pedal he would rotate the flywheel at speed and then apply the knife to the rotating carborundum wheel. In a few minutes, all the kitchen knives would be finished with a fine blade. Sharp blades are safer than blunt ones.
I almost forgot another one of the roundsmen, the man who came round on a Sunday morning selling cockles and winkles. He probably sold mussels and whelks as well, but we used to have the winkles. At tea-time on a Sunday, we would all sit round the bowl of winkles armed, each, with a pin with which we would retrieve the winkle from its shell. This required a deft twisting movement of the hand. Then we would remove the ”cap” which was located on the top of the winkle and then we would eat the winkle with bread and butter.
Those were the days.
Next chapter: Chapter 7: A Staple Diet