Street Traffic: Rag and Bone Men, Grinders and Onion Sellers

We lived on King Edwards Gardens, In Acton. It was a typical West London road, crammed with narrowly separated two storey houses; detached they called them. It was a quiet and decent neighborhood then. It is probably still very nice, but expensive, now.

In the 1950’s and early 1960’s a parade of tradesmen, commercial folk, used to traffic down the road. Every now and again an old man, an old horse and an old cart, combined in a slightly unsavory ensemble, would creak along the street in the nice neighborhood, often leaving unnice turds in the street. “Raagboooonesss! Raagbooonesss!” the old man would yell, perhaps banging on a tin pot. He was the Rag and Bone Man. His job was to take away unwanted junk and old stuff households wanted to get rid of. If we kids were naughty we may be told that we would be given to the Rag and Bone Man. A Rag and Bone Man’s yard was a recycling center of sorts; he was an equestrian recycler with a low carbon footprint. The Rag and Bone Men were immortalized in the TV series “Steptoe and Son“, a frequently shocking expose of lower-class and wanna-be-middle class, Young Man-Old Man, Tory-Labour, Monarchist-Republican tension with sharp, sexist/racist/religious barbs. The series was one of those refreshing, fabulous British comedy series soon adapted by American TV, in this case into “Sanford and Son“.

Another character to visit our neighborhood was the Scissor Man. This chap rode on a bike mounted with his grinder. If you wanted your knives, lawn mower blades or scissors sharpened, he would magic his grinder and bike in such a way that while peddling his stationary bike the grinder would turn and he would sharpen, sparks flying.

My mother enjoyed the Spanish Onion Man. He also cycled – his bike was festooned with strings of onions. He was Spanish and spoke in Spanish dialect that must have been sufficiently Celtic that my mother, speaking Welsh, could talk with him. She had only rare opportunity to speak Welsh so we would likely have onions with supper that night.

About Ed Medley

Ed Medley has been on a random walk for over 50 years. Many scribbles and snapshots at this site are from his vagabond transits; others are from his decades of international experience in geological and geotechnical engineering, academia, and mineral exploration prospecting.
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