Do you remember the rag-and-bone man with his horse and cart?
The rag-and-bone man, with horse and cart, was once a common sight on British streets as he collected second-hand goods from door-to-door.
These enigmatic figures ringing a brass hand bell and calling out ‘rag n’ bone!’ or ‘any old iron!’ would send people rushing to their doors with their unwanted items.
Here we step back in time and take a look at this historic recycling method:
Rags were sold on for recycling into paper or cloth and bones were sold to be ground and made into glue and fertilizer. Old metal was also collected for scrap.
Rag-and-bone men or Totters would cover a district about once a week and played an important role at taking away unwanted material. They were generally welcomed by residents as not only would they take away almost any unwanted items, but they would pay for it too! Payment was generally very small, not necessarily in money and usually something for the children of the house such as sweets or balloons.
Why rags and bones?
Rag was any form of clothing. As this was before the days of synthetic yarn such as nylon, most cloths were either cotton or wool.
There was a vast market for the rags. Some of its uses included carpet underlay, mattress stuffing, and seating in trains and buses.
Bone was animal bone. And before the days of plastics, buttons on clothes were either bone or rubber. Also, during the 1920’s and 1930’s most people bought meat on the bone such as a leg or shoulder of lamb, or a cut of leg of beef. The meat was roasted and fed the family for two or three days. Then the bones were boiled clean in a saucepan for soup, and then saved for the rag-and-bone man.
The market for the bones was for fertilizer. It was burnt into a powder and sold as bone meal. It is believed that the origin of the word bonfire is ‘bone fire’.
The rag and bone man’s decline
At the outbreak of war people were asked to donate glass, iron, aluminium, glass, old clothing and paper to the National War Effort, as resources for fighting the war which was then collected by the local council. This of course hindered the rag and bone man’s means of making a living. Many of the younger rag and bone men were called up to do their duty and the older ones were seconded elsewhere so many did not survive the war years.
After the war the rag-and-bone man did re-appear briefly, but sadly many of today’s younger generation have never heard the term ‘rag-and-bone-man’ as they have largely all but disappeared from our modern streets.
It was still relatively common however to hear a rag and bone man calling to householders as late as the 1970’s, shouting and ringing their bell. The profession even spawned a hit TV comedy show during the 1960’s and 1970’s in Steptoe and Son with Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H. Corbett starring in the lead roles.
Today we have Council rubbish tips and car boot sales to take all unwanted household articles, a service that rag-and-bone men had provided for hundreds of years.
Did you have a rag-and-bone man visit you? What memories do you have?
Melina - Assistant Editor
Latest posts by Melina - Assistant Editor (see all)
- ‘Doing the step’ with a Donkey Stone - August 13, 2020
- Our love affair with ice cream – but where did it all begin? - August 10, 2020
- Memorable TV Adverts – which is your favourite? - August 6, 2020
- Are you a ‘Silver Streamer’? - August 5, 2020
- Are you inclined to take up the Government’s offer – ‘Eat Out To Help Out’? - August 4, 2020
Leave a Comment!
Community Terms & Conditions
These content standards apply to any and all material which you contribute to our site (contributions), and to any interactive services associated with it.
You must comply with the spirit of the following standards as well as the letter. The standards apply to each part of any contribution as well as to its whole.
be accurate (where they state facts); be genuinely held (where they state opinions); and comply with applicable law in the UK and in any country from which they are posted.
Contributions must not:
contain any material which is defamatory of any person; or contain any material which is obscene, offensive, hateful or inflammatory; or promote sexually explicit material; or promote violence; promote discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age; or infringe any copyright, database right or trade mark of any other person; or be likely to deceive any person; or be made in breach of any legal duty owed to a third party, such as a contractual duty or a duty of confidence; or promote any illegal activity; or be threatening, abuse or invade another’s privacy, or cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety; or be likely to harass, upset, embarrass, alarm or annoy any other person; or be used to impersonate any person, or to misrepresent your identity or affiliation with any person; or give the impression that they emanate from us, if this is not the case; or advocate, promote or assist any unlawful act such as (by way of example only) copyright infringement or computer misuse.
Nurturing a safe environment
Our Silversurfers community is designed to foster friendships, based on trust, honesty, integrity and loyalty and is underpinned by these values.
We don't tolerate swearing, and reserve the right to remove any posts which we feel may offend others... let's keep it friendly!