Who Came Round Your Doors?

Who Came Round Your Doors?

Who came round your doors? If berets, Gaulloise, Gitanes and pedal bikes stir memories for you, this post from David Wardell is a must read. Who Came Round Your Doors brings evocative reminiscences of the old ways and what seem like simpler times. Who do you remember from this list?

  • The Pools Man
  • The Salvation Army
  • The Poppy Sellers
  • The French Onion Man
  • The Gypsy Woman
  • The Tinker
  • The Bin Man

This article is the second in this series and follow on from David’s post Who Was Round Your Street.

There were many collectors for the pools, insurance and ‘Tally’ companies who all collected regular and often weekly payments to ease the cost for their clientele. Remember Littlewoods, Vernons and Zetters pools, purveyors of much hope for those who did them, but hope led to dismay each week as a win was seldom seen locally , just like with the Lottery today. The big win amount that was dangled in the adverts was then a vast £75,000 on Littlewoods but I recall my father being highly exhilarated having cleared a ‘huge win’  of 13s 4d . It only happened once over numerous years but at least the hope was there for him. 

There were also all the charity organisations collecting for their respective flag days or perhaps leaving their little collection envelopes hoping they would be filled with more than a few  buttons..  The Salvation Army collector was a common visitor.

Sometimes we would get a knock on the door from the Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to make a doorstep conversion and offering copies of the Watch Tower and other religious tracts.  The run up to Remembrance Sunday always brought out the familiar poppy sellers. 

The French Onion Seller

The French onion man was another iconic sight in the 50’s and 60’s.  Clad in his signature beret, riding a bicycle laden with strings of  onions and sometimes some smaller strings of garlic, he was a common sight . Often known as French Onion Johnnies, (so many were named Jean – French for John) They arrived in England in the summer to peddle their onions round our British doorsteps coming here from Brittany in northern France renowned for it’s  special pink tinged onions which had a sweetish taste and a long storage life . They would travel door to door from July to December, then returning home to Brittany. 

Our Onion man , a regular for several years and naturally named ‘Jean’ , would come in to our house when he called to speak with my Mother, who was disabled and couldn’t make it to the front door. He was a fairly short stocky man wearing jeans with cycle clips at the bottom of each leg and a leather blouson type of jacket which had seen many seasons of use.  He possessed slightly thickened lips which would be accentuated by his French pronunciation of his words.

A very kindly man he would happily stand and talk to my Mother for some time and would tell how he and his wife came over from France each year with a large load of onions which they stored in one room of their rented accommodation.

There they would sit in the evenings and tie the onions together forming the familiar strings. He said that they had special areas at home in France where they would regularly go and cut the reeds which formed the basis of each string which was then bound with raffia. They only had one other room within which they slept and lived.

An invitation to go over to France and stay with his family was sometimes made by him but was never taken up as I was still quite young.  Shortly before they had sold all their onions another shipment would arrive from France and every day except Sunday they would trek out, in all weathers, to sell their onions, often with one of the familiar rather smelly French Gaulloise or Gitane cigarettes dangling from their lips.

The District Nurse

Sometimes the district nurse and/or midwife would be seen making her calls,  many of them at that time still dependent on their bicycles ,  she would be out in all weathers.  Hardy souls who cared for much of the public’s medical needs supported of course by the family doctor who was never reluctant to make house calls at all hours and had never even heard of Zoom and WhatsApp Video calling to deal with his patients.

Once in a while a gypsy woman might show up, offering small sprigs of ‘lucky’ white heather and clothes pegs for sale . It was thought to be unlucky to refuse to buy from her , however we didn’t usually succumb. 

Hot on her heels might follow a gypsy ‘tinker’ offering to mend our pans and sometimes we would also see the nomadic knife grinder with his sharpening stone mounted on a single bicycle wheel. He would take our knives out to the street to sharpen them treadling away furiously at his wheel but I’m not convinced that they were any better when he had finished with them.

The Bin Men

We were all dependent on the regular weekly collections by the bin men. 

( Waste management Operatives  …..for our younger readers)  They came in all weathers often bearing a leather patch on their shoulders where they hefted the heavy metal dustbins. No wheelie bins in those days. Their bin wagon passed by our back doors and the men would enter the back yards and take out the bins and any extra refuse set beside them.  

No fussy regulations then about having to place a bin at the kerbside and with the lid down flat, and a refusal to take items that were not in the bins. They also managed to return the bins unlike today where they are left scattered across the roads, commonly some distance away from where they were collected from.

They even managed to do some recycling, having an open caged trailer behind the bin wagon for ‘salvage’ as waste papers and cardboard were then termed. I understood that it helped towards the Xmas bonus for the bin men but have no evidence of such.  Our bin men would all crowd in to our back yard and stand in the covered area by the back door, controlled by the driver who was the boss of the gang,  as Mother would ply them with cups of tea and a biscuit. It was always a good idea to keep your bin men happy.

Who Was Round Your Street?

  • The Coal Man
  • The Rag and Bone Man
  • The Pop Man
  • The Milk Man
  • The Paper Boy
  • The Post man
  • The Lamp Man
  • The Laundry Man
  • The Ringtons Tea Man
  • The Fruit and Veg Man

Catch up with these characters in David’s post Who Was Round Your Street?

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