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    Tottenham Street Salesman and Doorstep Service Providers



As many residents of Tottenham both past and present, but being of a certain age will readily recall, back in the days when they were kids in Tottenham, there used to be a steady stream of traders who would ply their wares or services around the streets. This is a thing of the past and nowadays the ‘Elf and Safety’ brigade would no doubt clamp down on most of these activities.

Prompted by our readers’ stories of milk carts and paraffin dealers, we thought perhaps it would make a good feature on our website to both list and recall many of these traders and doorstep services. Sadly these day-to-day activities on our streets back in the early post-war years are largely long forgotten and most of the younger generation would be totally unaware that these jobs and people once existed. Therefore it is good that we are able to capture this information as an historical record.

This is by no means a complete list and we are sure that you will remember many more. So please let us know of any additional traders that can be added to the list
Please note that the photographs are generic and not necessarily from Tottenham !


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The sale of paraffin around the streets of Tottenham became a frequent sight in the 1950s following the introduction of paraffin heaters to warm your homes. One of our regular contacts, Ray Warren, recalls that many vehicles were ex RAF or military tankers and says ’We lads quite literally worked at the run, house to tanker to house and rode between the streets standing on a small low platform on the back holding on to whatever we could. At thirteen, fourteen or fifteen it was all great fun - and there is nothing like a paraffin flavoured cheese sandwich!!
In addition to the Esso ‘Bloo’ dealer you could also purchase Aladdin Pink paraffin.

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Ray warren also recalls that he had a part time weekend job for about six months as a milk delivery roundsman's 'helper'. Up at some ungodly hour, along to the depot to help load the cart with freezing cold crates of red, silver or gold top plus sterilized [stir]. The delivery carts were battery powered, steered by a swan necked tiller bar complete with a hooter button and he plus milkman walked. [He can only remember him doing most of the running back and forth! The onset of winter quickly convinced him that a milkman's life wasn't for him and so he ‘resigned’.
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The coalman were always to be seen delivering coal and coke around the street of Tottenham. There were many companies such as ‘Charrington’ ‘Reckitts’ ‘Lebon’ and ‘Bromleys’ to name but a few. It was amazing that these men would lug 1 Cwt sacks of coal into houses and gardens, and often up and down stairs, all day long only to repeat the exercise again when their rounds took them to the same streets a week later.
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Many of the kids of Tottenham once had a paper round as a means of earning pocket money. I had a round at ‘Plaxton’s’ in Philip Lane for nearly a year and it was hard work. Few people today would realise just how many different newspapers there were that have long since gone out of circulation. Daily Sketch- Daily Herald -News Chronical – Reynolds News to name a few. The majority of people would have newspapers delivered and often they would be waiting at their gates to snatch their copy before heading off to work. When you started your round the sack was like a ton weight and it was such a relief when you reached the end of the round as the sack was lighter. Having a bike could be useful but at times it was a hindrance keep getting on and off so frequently.
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The knife and scissor grinder was one of the street merchants who came round the streets. He only came two or three times a year. He was always welcome, because although knife and scissor blades were made of steel, they were not the stainless sort that kept their sharp edge. They blunted quite quickly and needed to be sharpened regularly. The knife and scissor grinder travelled on foot with a handcart with three wheels, one in front and two at the back, and he covered a large area. Goodness only knows where he slept. He had a grinder with a large wheel inserted into his cart.


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A tinker or tinkerer was originally an itinerant tinsmith, who mended household utensils. Pots and pans were not as disposable as they are today and people would seek to repair them rather than throw them away. The Tinker would cut out and clean the hole in a saucepan and then solder in a patch as a repair. I was also intrigued as a kid by the small circular discs that they would place both top and bottom of a hole in a kettle or pan and then tighten to seal and make watertight.
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The rag and bone man would cover a district about once a week. So anything we thought he would take was put to one side for him. These were days of extreme hardship for many people. Nothing was wasted or thrown away. His familiar call was ‘Old Iron & Lumber’
He took anything that he could sell on: old metal for scrap; old clothing; empty glass jars and bottles. He carried a small hand held scale and he would weigh the sacks to determine what price he was prepared to pay. He played an important role of taking away unwanted material We sometimes referred to rag and bone men as Totters. Where this name came from I have no idea.
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The road sweeper was employed by the Borough Council. He had a large broom, a shovel on a long handle and a small cart to put the rubbish into. He wouldn't just sweep the roads, he would also sweep the gutters - not that there was ever rubbish in them. Everyone seemed to act responsibly about not leaving rubbish around. Pavements were always swept by householders, and it was a matter of pride to keep the pavement outside one's own house clean and tidy.
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The only source of heating for most homes prior to the 1950s-60s was from open coal fires and after a while there would be a concentration of soot build up in the chimney. You could be sitting in front of the fire when suddenly Whoosh! and a whole cloud of soot would fall down the chimney and often extinguish your fire as well as cover the room.
This was the tell-tale sign to get your Chimney swept!
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The old Victorian gas lamps were once a regular feature in the streets of Tottenham and were frequently maintained by the lamplighter to reset the clocks or replace the mantles.
However for the kids of Tottenham they had far more interesting uses because they could be used for climbing and to create improvised swings. They made excellent stumps when playing cricket in the street and could also be readily converted to a maypole by tying several ropes to the top


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Well before the days when most people had Bank Accounts to settle their bills the accepted way to pay for your Gas and Electricity supply was the use of Coin-in-the-slot meters. They would typically take a Penny or a Shilling to top up your supply. You would frequently hear the cry ’Have you got a Penny for the meter?’ when the money ran out and you were plunged into darkness. When the Meter man called you would sometimes qualify for a rebate and the kids would squabble over who gets a couple of pennies that could be used to buy sweets.
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Long before the National Lottery became everyone’s preferred method for a ‘flutter’ the Football Pools were the way people had a weekly gamble. Predicting the results of the following weeks football matches using a pre-printed coupon (form) and giving rise to terms such as perm any 8 from 10 and the good old score draw. The ‘Pools Man’ would go round to people’s houses to collect their coupons and money and leave them the coupons for the next week
There were a number of main Football Pools companies – Littlewoods, Vernons. Zetters and Copes (Who were based in Commercial Road)
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These were very often seen outside of pubs as the organ player turned the handle to rattle out a selection of well-known tunes from the time. Sometimes the organ player would have a pet monkey that sat on top of the organ hence the old saying ‘Don’t pay the Monkey pay the Organ Grinder’. It was not unknown for the Barrel Organ man to venture around the streets playing his organ.
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Other regular traders to be found outside of pubs were the Seafood and Shellfish sellers. They would also sell Jellied Eels which were loved by some but despised by others. However it was the hand cart that was walked around the streets of Tottenham on a Sunday afternoon that many people will remember. Shrimps and winkles were a favourite for Sunday tea and the kids would be charged with picking out the winkles with needles and dousing in vinegar and then removing the heads and tails from the shrimps.
In the Summerhill Road, Clyde Road and West Green area many people would remember ‘Harry’ (pictured left) who would walk the streets wearing his brown warehouse coat and carrying a large basket covered by a crisp white sheet that contained his wares. He would greet every housewife with his familiar call - ‘Hello Lady’. His brother ‘Jacko’ would more often be seen pushing a cart or riding a bicycle with a basket in front that would be propped up on a stand.
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The fruit and veg stall could be found on many street corners or open markets in the Tottenham area. My Aunt actually ran one for years in Walthamstow market and in all weathers. We had a trader named Wally West who lived in Summerhill Road in the 1950’s and operated his stall at the corner of Westerfield Road and West Green Road. As kids we would often all run down West Green Road at about 6pm at night to help Wally push and pull his cart home to his lock-up. We were rewarded with the odd bruised apple, brown bananas or overripe cherries or strawberries but did we care? Of course not!


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Not a regular sight on the streets of Tottenham, and obviously more popular in the cold winter months, you would find the Chestnut man with his hot oven located at street corners and open market areas. You would also see them outside of some of the local railway stations and outside the Spurs ground. I can recall seeing them many times at Seven Sister’s station entrance when it was located in West Green Road.
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In the early post war years you would occasionally see an ice-cream man riding a three-wheeled tricycle with a refrigerated box on the front but it was somewhat limited what he could carry. Colletta’s ice-cream from Willow Walk and Culross Road in West Green was a particular favourite of the local children. It was not until the mid-late 1950’s that the more familiar ice cream van first made its appearance on the streets of Tottenham and indeed right across the country. There were two main rivals as I can recall Tonibell and Rossi’s and suddenly you could buy soft ice-cream with multiple flavours and all manner of sauces and nuts etc. Prior to this the ice-cream was either cut from a block to provide a wafer or a small circular packet was unwrapped to provide a cornet.
And of course you now had the familiar chimes that peeled out when the van arrived on your street. To deter constant demands from their kids I can recall somebody telling their child that when the bells chimed it meant they had run out of ice cream.
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Who could forget the ‘Corona’ lorry that was once a regular visitor to the streets of Tottenham and indeed throughout the country? The unique Corona bottles had china stoppers with a wire hinged top to retain the pressure within the bottle. Bottles of drinks were sold door-to-door. They had many child-friendly flavours, such as orangeade, dandelion and burdock, limeade, raspberryade and lemonade. My personal favourite was raspberryade but my sister loved cream-soda particularly when served with a scoop of ice-cream.
The Corona depot (Thomas & Evans) was based at Stamford Hill on the right hand side just beyond St Ignatius Church in South Tottenham.
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In post-war London there was a great deal of demolition work on bombed buildings and of course the resulting construction sites when new buildings replaced them. Once they received building access, contractors were responsible for all maintenance. They often had to board building openings (particularly after they had removed windows and doors for salvage operations) and hire night watchman for security. The night watchman would occupy his small hut with a burning brazier outside to keep him warm. These activities helped protect against vandalism, fire, accidents and other nuisances that perpetually plagued unoccupied buildings. Night watchman also manned large roadwork sites.
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Another frequent visitor around the streets of Tottenham was that of the window cleaner. They could often be seen riding their bikes with ladders perched precariously on their shoulders and buckets drooped over the handlebars. Using just chamois leathers and cloths they would leave the windows sparkling and back in those days they had no squeegees, safety harnesses or lightweight ladders. One well known Tottenham resident was Ben Robson who combined his job as a window cleaner with his hobby as an artist and he produced a series of wonderful sketches of life around Tottenham captured over a period of 70+ years. Please follow this link to find more information on his fine drawings:

  Click HERE for Ben Robson Sketches of Tottenham


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Many deliveries of beer to local pubs were made by horse and carts otherwise known as drays. Barrels of beer were dropped on to coiled rope mats and then sent down a wooden chute to the pubs cellars.
One of the past residents of Summerhill Road was a man named Bill Potter who worked for one of the large London breweries. We were overjoyed when Bill would drive his dray and team of horses along Summerhill Road. Bill was a very accomplished horseman and he appeared annually at the’ Horse of the Year Show’ in London. Pictured left is Bill Potter receiving an award from a very young Queen Elizabeth.

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The majority of people both pre-war and early post-war did not own their own houses and instead rented their property from a local landlord. There were often more than one set of tenants who shared rooms in the same house. The rents were collected weekly by the rent collector who went from house-to-house to collect the dues. Times were often hard so in many a household they would pretend to be out when the rent man called to give them a little more time to pay.
the_insurance_man.jpg (24010 bytes) THE INSURANCE MAN
Most working-class people had life insurance because it was a dreadful stigma for there not to be enough money for a proper funeral. The insurance started as soon as a new baby was born, when the parents who could afford it would take out what was called a penny policy.
There was also insurance for the contents of the house but not for the house itself because many of the houses were rented and not owned.
An agent from the insurance company would call at the house every month to collect the money, and he (never she) would enter the payment into a book that he carried. We had 3 Insurance man call. The Prudential -The Royal London and The United Friendly.
provident_cheque.jpg (14531 bytes) THE TALLY MAN
The designation 'Tallyman' covered anyone who offered credit and then came to collect the repayments. In many parts of London the tallyman visited each week to collect the payments for goods purchased on the 'never-never', or hire purchase. They would walk the street, or sometimes on bicycles, knocking on customers doors with a large ledger book tucked under their arms. The most popular tally man was the man from the 'Provident' who would provide you with a Provident cheque that could be exchanged for goods only at approved dealers. Our Mum had an account at ‘Smith & Newport’ a small department store in Tottenham High Road close to the boundary.
gipsy_flowerseller.jpg (42368 bytes) GYPSIES
Gypsies would sell pegs which they had made themselves from the wood of the hedgerows, and they also sold lace which they had made themselves. They mostly had a baby hitched to them who of course would arouse people's sympathy. They would come round and knock at doors wanting to tell women their fortunes if they crossed their palms with silver for luck. Lots of people were frightened of them because they would put a foot in the door to stop it being closed on them. "Come on, lady", they would say to the women, "You've got a lucky face", and then they would mutter a curse as they walked out if she refused to give them any money. Some gypsies would come round selling white heather "for luck"


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The cat’s meat man would come round the streets with meat for dogs and cats, reputed to be horse meat. He had it in slices on a skewer. We did not see him very often as cats and dogs were mostly fed on household scraps. One resident of Summerhill Road named Bert Jordan owned a small pet shop at Scotland Green along Tottenham High Road and he would often be seen riding his three wheeled cycle cart selling cats meat around the streets of Tottenham.
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Horse manure was very much sought after by keen gardeners to put on their vegetable plots or their prize Chrysanthemums and Dahlias. The moment that any tradesman’s horse should leave a deposit on the road you could be sure that someone would rush out of their house with a bucket and broom to collect it up. There were however people, presumably from local stables, who would drive a small cart around the streets to sell this unlikely product to any number of enthusiastic gardeners.
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Policemen, known as 'bobbies', were once a common sights on the streets of Tottenham because they 'walked the beat'. They walked alone rather than in pairs and were well-known in the local community. They knew the families and the families knew and trusted them. They were able to feel the pulse of the community and know what was going on in order to prevent criminal activities.
The police box was another well-known sight and I can recall the one that stood on the corner of West Green Road and Lawrence Road. Nowadays they are only known to ‘Dr Who’ fans!
SPARE Awaiting to add any other traders that plied their trades on our streets!


SPARE Awaiting to add any other traders that plied their trades on our streets!






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Background Image_ West Green Road c1911

Article preapared by Alan Swain June 2014