Thursday, 21 August 2008

Street Cries of Old Hanwell

The rag and bone men would come by occasionally. Their horse-drawn, four wheel cart, would be piled high with old bicycle frames, mangles, spin-dryers, mattresses, vacuum cleaners - any old junk beyond repair. As they progressed along Croft Gardens to the clip-clop of hooves on asphalt, they would call out to householders eager to dispose of junk. I could never work out what it was they were shouting. "RI-to" (that's an "i" as in "bit", "o" as in "cot"), it sounded to me. Certainly not "Any old rags and bones you wish to dispose of, missus?"

The institution of the rag-and-bone man (or totter) was an early bottom-up recycling initiative, not dicatated by the council but by the market. I'd guess that most parts of London would have had their 'round' served by rag-and-bone men, who'd have been doing this since Victorian times.

The TV series Steptoe and Son, about two rag-and-bone men and set in Shepherd's Bush (just a few miles up the Uxbridge Road from us), was aired on BBC TV between 1962 and 1965, when I'd have been to young to watch. The second run (1970 to '74), in colour, was already nostalgia, as by then we'd moved to posher Cleveland Road, the rag-and-bone men and their horse-drawn carts had gone.

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