Based on childhood recollections
of working class life in north London in Edwardian times.
The roads were not tarmac but flints or stone
broken into pieces by men in the
workhouse and casual ward, thrown down by workmen with spades, and then sprayed with
tar. Then the steam roller would come along to crush the stones to make a flat
surface. It wasn't long, though, before the stones worked their way up. Young
children often fell over on the roads and got nasty cuts. In fact most young
children had scabs on their knees as a matter of course.
A water cart in the early 1900s. It carried water
which it sprayed onto the road behind through a perforated rod.
In summer, the water cart would go round
the streets. Imagination or not, summers seemed warmer and drier when I was
a child in the early 1900s. The roads were different then with horse-drawn carts,
and there was more dust around. So in the hot summers, the water cart was very
welcome. It was a horse-drawn cart that carried water. Along the back of the
cart was a perforated rod that sprayed the water onto the road. We children
would try to run into the spray without getting wet. How we laughed! When the
driver heard us he would crack his whip over his shoulder, not to hurt us but
to fob us off - but we always came back for more.
The telegraph boy would bring the
He had a uniform of red and he wore a pill-box hat. He rode about on a
red bicycle. Just the sight of him would be looked on with apprehension, particularly
during the 1914-18 war because it probably
signalled that a young man in the family had been killed in action.
The road sweeper was employed by the Urban
District 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 I recall ever seeing much rubbish in them. Everyone
seemed to act responsibly about not leaving rubbish around. The road sweepings
were mainly silt which, if not cleared, would run into the drains when it rained
and block them. This silt had its uses. When my father was rooting plant cuttings,
he would collect the silt, make a mound of it and peg the cuttings into it.
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. This was even the
case when it snowed. Householders were expected to clear it; it was not regarded
as the council's problem.
A restored gypsy caravan in Milestones Museum, Basingstoke, showing its typical bright colours.
What I really liked about gypsies was their
caravans which were very picturesque and colourful. They were horse-drawn and
would travel miles.
We children were discouraged from talking to gypsies, though.
No doubt they were harmless but they were like a race apart.
Gypsy caravans - detail from an early 1900s
photograph of a gypsy camp. The black and white photo accurately shows style but cannot do justice to
the brightly painted colours - which I (Pat Cryer)
remember from my own childhood in the streets in the 1940s.
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.