Yesterdays – Some Other Ways Of Earning a Living by Dulcie Wing

I wonder if any of our readers can recollect the sandman? I first knew of him when I went to stay with my Aunt Mary at Canonstown. One morning she said to her father, “I’m taking Dulcie up to Blights shop with me, I’ve put two pence on the mantelpiece so when the sandman comes you can buy a bucket of sand for me.” At the back of Auntie’s cottage was a lean-to shed with a hard packed earth floor, in this shed she kept a table, wooden wash tub, washboard, broom, garden implements etc., this floor was strewn with fresh sand, which when soiled was broomed off and fresh sand put down. I expect this man got his sand from Godrevy or Hayle Towans, it would be brought round by pony and cart, the vendor shouting, “Sand Ho! Tuppence a pail!” and out of their doors would go the purchasers of this commodity, or if he knew of one, too old or frail to carry a heavy pail, he would go to the door to fetch and carry for them. Regularly a travelling shop would call, either from Penzance or Hayle, this was an early type of van, with slanting shelves, one side of the van sliding back to display the cloam, tea sets, glass ware, soap, brushes and pots and pans, kettles, primus stoves, even paraffin oil and methylated spirit. Some of his goods had coupons on the packets which Aunty would save towards a bit of cutlery at times.

I know she bought some translucent glass fruit dishes, milk jug and sugar bowl, they were amber coloured, with rainbow hues, (like shot silk) in them, much prized by collectors today; she also purchased bone handled cutlery from this same “van man”, keeping her nicer goods to use when she had summer visitors. Aunty worked very hard in those days, caring for her blind father who had the “princely” pension of five shillings a week, 50 pence today to exist on. She also went out cleaning, and was never in debt, even paying for their own pew in chapel.

Grandad worked the bellows for the organ, and my dad, one of the fallen in 1916, First World War, has his name on the corner stone of the chapel. The “Rag and Bone” man came at times, yelling out “Rags un‘ Bones!” he would also purchase rabbit skins from housewives, paying them a penny or two for some. Aunty would tell me, “Don’t go to near him! He’s ‘eavin in fleas, like currants in a saffurn bun!” an old Cornish saying, but we never caught any fleas from him. Where we lived in Swanvale, Falmouth, was a beautiful pure stream, coming down from Bickland Water; a lady used to pick watercress from there, which she would sell from door to door.

Last time I saw the stream it was filthy, a housing estate built around it and a garage next to it. One off shoot of this stream ran into a little pool, once a habitat for dabchicks, frog tadpoles and newts, at one time otters would be around, many birds, including kingfishers, and shimmering dragonflies hovering over… joys of yesterday. Another seasonal door to door seller was a person selling mushrooms or blackberries. Mushrooms are cultivated today, you cannot go out in the fields and pick them, that would be theft today. As a child of ten years of age, on a Saturday morning, my little friend Thora and I would set off across some fields from St. Mawes to Percuil at 6am. and pick baskets full of button mushrooms, go back to Thora’s home and weigh them out in quarter pound bags and sell them to the folks who lived in Tredenham Road area. This was before the 1930s. Thora’s dad and my step-dad were unemployed, so we made pocket money for ourselves, and gave our mothers a couple of shillings to put in their purses toward shoe repairs or clothes for us. In nearly every hamlet or village of yesterday, one would be sure to come across a blacksmith’s forge.

How interesting it was for a youngster to slip inside the forge and watch the smith at work. How patient he was, the great shire horse and the others so trusting, as he lifted up their hooves against the knee as he fitted on the new horseshoe. After he had pared or burnt off the old growth from the hoof, he would shape the red hot new shoe, taken from the fire with large pincers on his anvil, after cooling it in a stone water trough, and then nail it to the horse’s hoof. I only saw one horse kick and buck, the man who brought it in said it was frisky as it had not been broken in. I could not see it broken anywhere and the smithy, with patience told me what the expression meant. Such was life in our yesterdays. Blacksmiths are in business today, their methods of shoeing I expect similar, but with more advanced techniques.