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Rag and Bone Man

Updated on December 30, 2016


I spent my early childhood in Yorkshire; the North of England (in the 50's). The Rag and Bone man came around twice a week with his old horse pulling a dilapidated cart. His loud cry would echo as his horse clomped slowly up the cobbled street; “Aaaraaabooons” he would cry out in a long wail (or, something vaguely similar). We all knew he was shouting “Any Old Rag and Bones?” but over-use tended to simplify and drag out the words, even to the point of incomprehensibility, although we always knew who it was. (This was satirized by the comedian Marty Feldman in his "Ay-oh frye" sketch, where he played a rag-and-bone man who, when asked, said he had no idea what his call meant).

We would give him old clothes, sheets, blankets, beds, toys and large appliances we couldn't deliver to a dump. These goods weren't worth anything to us, but the rag and bone man would pay a couple of shillings for them, knowing he could pass your rubbish along elsewhere or recycle it. His cart often had balloons fastened to it, so if we gave him a reasonable amount of rags, (or bones) we would be rewarded with a balloon. You could also purchase the odd household item from his cart for a few pennies.

The rag-and-bone men were an important component of society before we all had two cars. We had limited ability to travel to collection points to get rid of heavy items, so we relied on the rag-and-bone man to take them away, or to provide us with odds and ends we hadn’t the transport to collect. We also had the butcher van coming up our street and stopping outside each door, as well as the fishmonger and occasionally, the baker's van. Milk was delivered to our doorstep and so families only needed to go to the corner shop for the odd tinned item, or the green-grocer for fresh vegetables. The increasingly widespread use of cars made these dealers unneeded in many areas.

During the late 60’s and early 70’s, some rag-and-bone men traded their horses for a lorry or pickup truck. Other social changes, such as the tendency for all members of a household to work outside the house (not to mention higher levels of traffic) made street-by-street pickup impossible.

Just writing this story brings a smile and a hankering for the ‘good old days’ (and I’m not that old)! Whilst times were hard, there was much more of a community spirit. Everyone knew everybody’s business in our neighborhood. This might be seen as nosey, but no-one would go hungry or die alone; it was a caring community. The butcher, baker, milkman, grocer and rag-and-bone man were a constant; and I never realized until writing this story, just how secure that made me feel.

I miss hearing “Aaaraaabooons” twice a week and rushing to the bottom of the garden with odds and ends ~ in exchange for a bright red balloon.


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    • Putz Ballard profile image

      Putz Ballard 7 years ago

      Loved your hub, great story

    • brightforyou profile image
      Author

      Helen 7 years ago from Florida

      Thank you Putz ~ I am glad you enjoyed it!

    • Tom Cornett profile image

      Tom Cornett 7 years ago from Ohio

      Wonderful story...I had never heard about this....thanks! :)

    • I*n*v*i*c*t*u*s profile image

      I*n*v*i*c*t*u*s 7 years ago

      Lovely story. Really enjoyed this, thank you!

    • brightforyou profile image
      Author

      Helen 7 years ago from Florida

      Thank you for your kind comments and for stopping by to read my hubs!

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 7 years ago from Michigan

      I've learned something new today! Thanks so much for this story; it was fascinating!

    • brightforyou profile image
      Author

      Helen 7 years ago from Florida

      Hi Rose, thanks for your kind comment ~ I appreciate you stopping by and glad you learned something new.. take care!

    • petermdhart profile image

      petermdhart 7 years ago from Cornwall, UK

      Yes, I remember the Rag-and-bone-man. I couldn't help but laugh as you described his call. Ours used to call out something like aaa-oooo-rahhh--booo in a deep raspy voice and scared the heck out of us kids. Your hub brought back memories and I know what you mean about how close and connected the communities were back then.

    • brightforyou profile image
      Author

      Helen 7 years ago from Florida

      LOL! Good old days eh... thanks petermdhart

    • The Indexer profile image

      John Welford 7 years ago from UK

      Our man (in Poole, also in the 50s) shouted "rag BONE" with the second word much louder than the first! We also had regular visits from a fishmonger, also with a horse-drawn flat wagon, with his shout of "WEYmouth mackerel"!

      The things you remember 50 years on!!

      Incidentally, where I live now (a village in Leicestershire) is still visited by a scrap iron merchant (as in "any old iron"). And very useful he is too - we got rid of an old radiator last month that was causing us quite a problem over its disposal.

    • brightforyou profile image
      Author

      Helen 7 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for your interesting comments The Indexer, I you're still living in good ol' Blighty (the village in Leicestershire sounds lovely). These scrap merchants are extremely useful.

      Luckily, here in Florida, you can leave anything out for the garbage (rubbish) and I mean anything. I personally have left old dishwashers, pieces of furniture carpet and other large items.

      In fact, I know someone who makes a living from selling second-hand goods. She takes her pick-up to all the 'elite' areas early morning before the garbage disposal van comes along. She has found all kinds of wonderful things ~ I personally found two 1950's tennis rackets out for the rubbish (still in the wooden tension frame). I sold them on ebay and made $217!

      Yes, the things you remember 50 years on, and yet I can't remember where I put my glasses or keys today!

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 6 years ago from Australia

      My Dad used to say that my mother would buy --it if it was for sale and one day the rag and bone man came up our street, the horse dropped a trail of manure, he shoveled it into a bucket, sold it to my Mom for five bob and proved my dad right. I remember the council providing orange juice in a bottle the size of cough mixture. With two brothers and a sister we'd get a tiny amount of the delicious juice. Cheers

    • brightforyou profile image
      Author

      Helen 6 years ago from Florida

      Hi attempted humour LOL - love your story; indeed we did buy manure (and still do) but love the way you tell it.. I also remember the little bottles of that sweet orange juice which I had totally forgotten - there was six of us, so like you, we got the tiniest amount and it tasted like "nectar from the Gods" - thanks for the memory.. Cheers!~ I look forward to reading more of your humorous hubs

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      What a great hub. It is so interesting and nostalgic so I am bookmarking it into my 'favourite hubs slot'.

      Thank you so much for sharing Helen.

      Take care

      Eiddwen.

    • brightforyou profile image
      Author

      Helen 6 years ago from Florida

      Hi Eiddwen, how are you doing? Thanks so much for bookmarking this hub! So glad you enjoyed it, hope all is well for you - :-) Helen

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