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The Other Barrow Boys

The barrow, home made from a strong wooden crate mounted on the very best Pedigree perambulator wheels, found at the Fanny-on-the-Hill council tip, our extremely valuable commodity resource centre.
The barrow's usage's were many and varied  often travelling many miles negotiating all kinds of terrain's, from the cobbled streets of the market to muddy, bumpy paths and tracks of the woods and commons. We took turns to push the barrow on our enthusiastic journeys, missions that held the promise of adventure and possible  monitory reward.

One day the mission was to collect  old newspapers, a bulky but readily available commodity that was collected by travelling the local streets and knocking at people's houses and asking for "any old newspapers ?". These would be piled up in the trusty barrow until we got a good load. We would then take them to the rag and paper collection yard that was off of a road near to Plumstead railway station. There they would weigh our load of papers on a set of old cast iron scales, carefully sliding the marker along the bar that indicated how heavy our bundle of papers was. I always watched this sliding indicator with much anticipation in the hope that it would slide as far as possible along the bar, to our monitory advantage and benefit. If we wanted, we could take our bundles of newspapers to the fish and chip shop, usually the one in Lakedale road, opposite the British Home Stores (or was it the Home and Colonial Stores?). We would trade the papers for a portion of freshly cooked  steaming hot chips that we drowned in strong malt vineger that stood on the high up counter.

Another time, if we see it was the local coal delivery day, we might decide to follow the horse and wagon around the local streets on its regular round of coal and coke deliveries. The wagon would be piled high with two tiers of black tarred hessian sacks all brimming high with lumps of shiny black coal. We would follow the wagon and wait as each load of coal was delivered to each house by the black faced coalman who wore pointed blackened head-dresses made from a folded sack, to prevent the coal and dust falling down their necks. This was a good idea because the coalman would back on to the sack of coal, perched up on the wagon, and pull the heavy sack onto his shoulders by tilting  and gripping the top of the brimful sack of coal. He would then carry it and shoot it down the small manholes that led to the cellars of the houses. When the coalman had neatly folded and stacked each empty sack on completion of his delivery and trundled on his way to the next delivery it was our turn. We would pick up the spoils from the curb and path. Lumps of coal that had dropped from the over filled sacks when the coalman tilted the loaded sacks onto his shoulders. As each delivery ended we would add the lumps, big and small, all enthusiastically gleaned and loaded into the ever filling barrow for our grateful mums and dads.

Then there was the bonfire night, Guy fawkes and a penny for the guy season. Where we would trundle the old barrow up to the common and fill it with golden autumn leaves, well trod down till we had a good load. Then, after we had exhausted ourselves playing and fighting each other in the piles of fallen leaves, we went home and stuffed them into our old clothes that we begged from our parents to make our guys. And off to the busy bus stops to ask "penny for the guy mister?" on the cold winter evenings, standing round our masked guy that sat,string tied and silent, in the barrow. At least that was until it miraculously come to life one night, but that's another story again!!
Another time the barrow would be pushed over the common and down through into the woods and up into Bostall Woods and then it would be loaded with the rich peat soil from Lessness woods. This was probably highly illegal, but, never the less, was successfully carried out when our gardens needed a good feed of this rich composted dark black soil. These woods were also a very good source of fire wood and kindling from fallen dead wind blown tree limbs. And again the good old barrow would be loaded with logs and branches to help fuel our warm living room fires.

My favourite trips with the barrow was to the two rubbish tips, at Fanny on the Hill and the tip down under the railway bridges on White Hart Road. To scavenge unashamedly for hours on end, looking for goodies to load into the barrow and take home for myself or some toy for a mate or my wee sister Ann.
 Beresford Square market on Saturday evenings was though the pinnacle event that I most enjoyed. Where I would load the barrow up with the leftover fruit and veggie's and fish that was dumped at the end of the very long market day. The barrow was always loaded, piled high with these goodies. All kinds and varieties of fruit and vegetables plus sprats and other fish wrapped up in newspaper. I would push the barrow home,often in the dark,up the hills and in all weathers and I loved every bit of it, the trip, the expectation, the looking, the finding, and seeing the barrow fill up, all by my very own achievements. The old barrow was quite often bow wheeled from the shear weight of these lovely loads. My small legs and body would heave and push the load all the way  back home. But man, I well remember how proud I would feel at bringing these goodies home  to my parents each week.

The good uses I put the barrow, collecting horse manure for the magnificent sum of 2/6d that I've mentioned in an earlier story. ( see: The True Value of Horses) The barrow was often loaded with laughing giggling kids as well, as we pushed each other along at breakneck speeds, swerving around trees and bumping down kerbs. And at the end of a very long and adventure filled day it was used to carry our tired and weary wee bodies back home, taking it in turn to push each other and our wee mates who sat crouched in the barrow.

A common old barrow used by good Common folk.

Colin Weightman

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