Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Rag and bone

We regularly have a scrap van going down our street...shouting out ''scrap iron' through a megaphone, sometimes blowing a very out of tune trumpet. What an old trade, probably started in the middle ages or has there always been people collecting other peoples rubbish so they can put food on their table ?.
The rag and bone man with a horse and cart or old pram used to be a regular feature in cities and towns. The rags they collected were often separated into different colours and qualities. Most were cotton and wool so it was easily recycled. Rags were sold to firms to make a cheap fabric called 'shoddy' hence the phrase shoddy work etc, and some fabric was used to make paper. Bones were turned into glue, knife handles, toys and ornaments. . Bones were also burnt into a powder, called 'Bone Meal' which could be used as a fertiliser. Rabbit skins could be used to trim gloves and hats and empty glass jars were used again by jam producers and other producers.
The name Totter is also used. A tot used to be a slang term for a bone, so a 19th century totter was a bone collector.

Henry Mayhew wrote a report in 1851 called 'London labour and the London Poor'..he wrote ''The bone-picker and rag-gatherer may be known at once by the greasy bag which he carries on his back. Usually he has a stick in his hand, and this is armed with a spike or hook, for the purpose of more easily turning over the heaps of ashes or dirt that are thrown out of the houses,and discovering whether they contain anything that is saleable at the rag-and-bottle or marine-store shop '

The men would sometimes give goldfish, a balloon or simple china to a householder  that gave them a good load. In 1936 a public health act said that they were not allowed to give children under the age of fourteen any article, but goldfish were declared not to be an article.

The trade declined in the 1950's but now the increased price of scrap metal has led to more being collected..some people are complaining of the noise..

The most famous Rag and Bone men have to be Harold and  Steptoe, and their horse Hercules ....from the 1960's TV series.
do you know when I moved in here my neighbour jokingly asked when was Hercules arriving....I suppose it must have looked quite funny. Instead of the usual removals van I had Robs open truck with a sofa, grand father clock and fairground horse on board..! good  conversation for the  for curtain twitchers !

Twenty years ago there was a man near Wigan that drove a horse and cart collecting anything but lately I haven't seen any....Do you know of any?
Here are some lovely old films showing the old Rag and bone man with his horse and cart .
Getty Images http://poetrypoem.com/cgi-bin/index.pl?poemnumber=992418&sitename=poet5170&displaypoem=t&item=poetry

Scrap metal collection and rag and bone man in the 1950's, film


Mitcham Rag and Bone man, Tom, on Magpie in 1979


Dolly The Last Working Horse in Dublin


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