WHEN TRADESMEN WERE WELCOME
‘We Do Not Buy Or Sell At This Door’ is a notice often seen on front doors today. I can remember, however, a time when commercial visitors were actually welcomed to homes where they provided a touch of colour to the humdrum routine of every-day life.
One of my favourites of these tradesmen of yesteryear was old Tom, the Catsmeat Man. On the back of a small horse and cart, he would bring his wicker baskets full of pieces of horse-meat skewered on sticks. He did a brisk trade among the cat-lovers in the street and ours seemed to thrive on the diet.
Then there was the Egg Man. I never knew his real name, everybody just referred to him as the Egg Man. He delivered every Saturday another basket filled with free-range eggs of immense size. There was no need to grade them in those days – they were all large.
The Egg Man owned an ancient Austin Seven and, in the summers just before the war, he would chauffeur our family of four to the Isle of Wight for our annual holiday. Fortunately for our comfort, he needed to make many stops on the way to top up the radiator. It was very cramped. He was called up in 1939 and we never saw him on his rounds after that.
Another frequent caller, especially in the winter, was the Muffin Man. He always made his presence known by ringing a bell and carried his ware on the top of his flat cap in a basket.
Knife sharpeners still plied their trade in many places. Ours combined this with the sale of vinegar and hardstones which, when applied wet to doorsteps and hearths, left a magnificent white finish. We children made sure we avoided stepping on these for the next few days in fear of our lives.
The most sought-after trades person in our street however, was the ‘Cat Woman’. She didn’t actually sell anything but loved and was very knowledgeable about cats. Any problem or illness suffered by the cat population in the neighbourhood, she would know a cure for. If the situation appeared truly desperate she would carry the cat off to her own home. She kept about a dozen cats herself and, within a week or so, she would bring it back, as often as not, completely cured. She never made a charge but would recommend a donation to the RSPCA by her more affluent customers.
I don’t remember seeing any Lamplighters as a child, although I do remember gas-lit street lamps and rooms illuminated by gas mantles which made a soothing hissing sound. My parents used to speak of the Lamplighter with his long pole which fixed on to a clip on the lamp-post to light the lamp.
Then in summer, ice-cream was sold from tricycles, the ice cream being kept in a cool box attached to the cycle.