I do believe that the Rag and Bone Man has become extinct, if not, there are very few sightings these days.

Approximately once a month, we children would jump about in excitement when we heard the familiar call, “rag and bones, has anyone got some rag and bones.”?  On reflection I can understand the call for rags, but no one seemed to give bones, unless they were the bones, in ladies’ corsets.  Of course, we were not privy to these most uncomfortable of garments, the only time we saw these, were when they were on the washing line, from early morning to early evening, it must have taken a whole day for them to dry.

All types of utilities and utensils were scarce during the Second World War and some downright unavailable, therefore when the rag and bone man appeared, we used to become very excited as we knew that with a bit of luck we be given a balloon.  It was a great disappointment when very thick pottery cups and saucers were given in exchange, but our mothers were delighted, these were not elegant in any way, but that didn’t matter,

They were always glad to replenish their ever decreasing stock of crockery.   In fact I can remember some families using jam jars from which to drink their tea, we never had to resort to doing that, but no one thought anything about it, it was assumed that with a bit of luck, the rag and bone man would soon rectify that problem.

He was a curious looking little man, no disrespect to him, but he always looked as if his clothes had been handed over, in exchange for precious crockery and he had decided to wear them.  He wore a flat cap, pulled well down over his forehead, I always had the impression that he did not like children, he used to be so surly and would shout at us for no reason.   On reflection, maybe it was the type of work he was doing, it wouldn’t have been much fun for him, walking round the streets of Barnsley, encouraging his poor old horse to keep on plodding, whilst it pulled the cart.  I used to feel sorry for the horse too, I am sure that if it hadn’t have been wartime, it would have already been made into glue, down at the knacker yard, at the bottom of |Old Mill Lane, Barnsley.

The rag and bone man must have had a struggle to earn a living, as there were precious few rags available, even when clothes were completely worn out, usually some use could be found for them.

Another familiar sight was a couple of tramps who used to walk the streets, they had their regular places, where they would stop and knock on the door and ask for a “mashing of tea”.  As far as I am aware, my mother never refused this request, even though tea was a rare commodity as was the sugar, which she would put inside the screw of paper, together with the tea.  There is one tramp that I shall never forget; he was still walking the streets of Barnsley, long after I was married.  He was quite a nice, pleasant looking man, underneath all the grime on his face.

He wore a man’s overcoat, the original colour being fawn, I think, it was held together by a belt of tatty string.  His shoes were battered out of all recognisable shape, dangling from the string, there would be a billy can, in which he would boil the water for his tea.  The worst thing was the fact that he stank like my brother’s polecat, but I felt sorry for him, and he was always the perfect gentleman.  We did not have any fear of him or other tramps at all, if they received a donation of food or tea, they would put a chalk cross on the garden gate, this being the signal that it was a generous household.

There was one event which I used to dread, and that was the annual visit of the chimney sweep, he started his round in our area at the onset of Spring.  This was well timed, Spring Cleaning wasn’t just an expression in those days, and the house was cleaned from top to bottom.  Carpets were put on to clotheslines to be whacked hard with a carpet beater, this usually raised clouds of dust, even though it would have been swept every day.  It was also a way of freshening the carpets and give them an airing.  Prior to this, was the visit of the chimney sweep, his system was to knock on doors and ask for the work, if the householder agreed, then he would put a sign in chalk on the garden gate and he would return the next day to carry out this filthy task. The problem for us was obvious, he needed a cold chimney and a cold grate to work with, therefore from about eight o’clock the previous evening, the fire would be allowed to go out, ready for the next morning.  We children did not need any chasing to bed that night, although it was Spring, the evenings were very chilly.  The morning after was the worst; the house had become so cold during the night, we were glad to be going to school.  I think he charged two shillings and sixpence, which seemed a lot of money, but it was by far the safest way of cleaning the chimney.  It was a common to hear the noise of the fire engine, racing to homes who’s occupiers could not afford to pay for the sweep, instead, their chimneys would stuffed with newspaper and set alight.  It was a very dangerous thing to do, not only would the paper be alight, but this in turn would set the whole chimney on fire, it being packed with soot.  It was lovely to come home from school to a warm and cosy house, where a big coal fire was waiting to welcome us.


music ~"Don't get around much anymore"