Don Sturgess Memories - 1920s & 30s
How during the 1920s and 1930s up to the outbreak of the Second World War things changed on the streets of Rushden.
In Rushden you very rarely saw a car, most transport for goods was by horse & dray and deliveries were made from Rushden Station to the various shops and factories in the town. Mid 1930s we began to see more of the car, mostly Austin & Morris and then the Ford. Crossing the road was no problem because you could hear the car coming from quite a long way off. What a change today!
Our milkman was Mr Collins whose shop was on the Wellingborough Road. Each day Mr Collins would turn up at 7, Windmill Road with his horse and trap, on the trap was his urn of milk. Grandmother would go to the door when he knocked, carrying a jug and say, 'One pint please'. Mr Collins carried a small urn of milk and a ladle and this ladle held exactly a pint of milk which he would tip into the jug. With a smile and 'good morning' he would be on his way to his next customer. Where do we get our milk today, Supermarkets.
Now as far as I can remember this was the first person to vanish from the streets of Rushden, I think I was about four or five, so it would have been 1926. I never knew the man’s name but he came to the gas lamp in Windmill Road and switched the lamp on and off. This gentleman came on his bike, carrying a long pole with a hook on the end and would pull a small lever which allowed the gas to flow and a pilot light would light the gas mantles. It must have taken him sometime to get round to all the lamps. I must admit, electricity was much better.
This man’s name was Holby and the bakehouse was in Bedford Road. The best time to see the baker was on a cold winter's night about eight o’clock. I remember one night, we had had a fall of snow, I went into the front room of the house and looked out the window up Windmill Road. It was snowing again when down the road the baker’s van came. He sat in the front, high up above his horse, all muffled up. On the side of the van were two large lanterns with candles in, they were to let you know he was coming of course. I have never forgotten that scene and only wish I could paint it. The baker earnt his money. Where do we get most bread from now yes, Supermarkets, shame.
Rags and Bones
There was a rag and bone merchant down Washbrook Road (Bill Bailey’s) but I do not remember going there. The people I remember are the ones who came by horse and cart, they would ring a bell and shout, 'Rag & Bone'. Mum would find a few odds and ends and I would take them to them. My reward, a goldfish in a jar, you were lucky if it lasted a week! Bill Bailey’s was mostly for scrap metal and they lasted quite a few years.
The road sweeper for the Wellingborough Road area was a Mr Scholes and he was a quite man. You didn’t see much litter on the Wellingborough Road. It was a long time before bins arrived to put your rubbish in but times changed and now litter is collected and streets are cleaned by machinery.
This man arrived on a tricycle with a large grindstone which he used to rotate by pedal action. On this contraption he would sharpen knives, scissors, shears etc. and we used him on occasions. I can never sharpen knives but still try, with a steel.
These people didn’t come very often, which was a blessing really as they were very persistent and could become unpleasant. They would try and sell you beads, clothes pegs and artificial flowers and they were not cheap either! If all else failed they would say, 'cross my palm with silver and I’ll tell your fortune'. What a load of rubbish!
Now tramps were still in evidence after the Second World War although my experience of them didn’t occur until the 1950s when we lived on the Bedford Road, opposite John White’s Sports Ground. We would see the occasional tramp go by the house. I believe there was a place in Bedford Road where they stayed and they would then walk to Wellingborough for the next stop.
There was one gentleman named Sam who we got to know and I think most people on the Bedford Road knew him. Sam’s living quarters were in the old pill box on the Northants/Beds border and every day or so he would push his bike, with all his worldly goods on board, down to Rushden High Street. On his way there he would call on us for a drink of water, which of course we gave him and we would find some sort of food for him such as bread and cheese. Also he took the same size shoes as me so I would give him some old footwear etc. Sam was always polite and I never heard a bad word said against him. In Rushden High Street was a baker’s shop and they would give Sam some bread and I think stale cake. What happened to Sam? Well he was getting on in years and one day he left his bike at a neighbour’s house but never returned for it. The police were informed and they found Sam had died in the pill box.
Now I know that sweeps are still about but they are now running around in vans and have machinery to do the job. Our sweep was a Mr Fensome from Glassbrook Road and in my youth was a very busy man. He would start off from his house with his bike and brushes strapped on the crossbar. The cover for the fireplace was laid over the crossbar and also a spare sack for the soot. As Mr Fensome went from house to house the soot sack would begin to fill. Some people would keep the soot and put it on the garden, the remainder he balanced on the frame of the bike. My Grandmother hated having the sweep, they always left the room covered in soot and it would take the best part of a day to get it cleaned up.
Whenever the council dug a trench or hole in the ground a night watchman was employed to see no-one fell in. He was usually a man in his sixties and he would light his brazier (fire) as soon as it got dark and set his lanterns. On a cold winter’s night we would go to him and stand near the brazier to keep warm. You were not welcomed by all of them but we didn’t stay long. One person who would turn up regularly was the town 'Copper', he would soon put the kettle on the fire for a brew.
Walls Ice Cream
'Stop me and buy one' that was the sign on the tricycle pedalled by the Walls man. Dressed in his uniform of white coat and blue cap he always looked very smart and did us kids love to see him. You could get an ice lolly for a penny and that lasted a long time. He would make a wafer* for you and he sold choc ices. I think the Walls’ man went down every street in Rushden, you would know when he was coming, he would ring his bike bell and shout, 'Walls, Walls'. Today if you go out for an ice cream, whatever sort, it costs you the earth and it seems to melt faster. Of course I’m just reminiscing!
*Note: The ice cream wafer was made in a gadget. A flat rectangular shaped metal tray the size of the wafers was on top of a handle. The man would grasp the handle in one hand and lay in a wafer, then he’d take the ice cream with a spatula from the big tub and press it on top of the wafer until the receptacle was full. Then he’d smooth over the surface with the spatula and lay another wafer on top and press some sort of release mechanism which would then eject the wafer, a sandwich of ice cream.