The peripatetic traders of Pontypool

I remember clearly many of the traders in Pontypool who travelled around the town calling at the houses or yelling out their wares as they passed.

I’ve already written about Watkins the tinker so I’ll say no more about him, but another trader who walked around selling her one commodity was the cockle woman. From time to time she would walk along the back lane at Wern Terrace pushing a large wheelbarrow which was full of cockles. When we heard her cry of “cockles” my mother would go down to the lane and get one or two jam jars full of cockles which she would cook as part of our meal.

Another peripatetic trader was the salt and vinegar man. He had a horse and a small cart, the latter being filled with a large barrel of vinegar and a wall of huge blocks of salt which he would cut into any size you wanted. Then he would weigh it on his scales. The usual block of salt was about the size of a loaf of bread; these could also be bought wrapped in paper from the grocery shops. The block then had to be cut into smaller blocks which were usually kept in a jar. When salt was needed for the salt cellar my mother would take out a few lumps and crush them in her hands into grains. This was easily done and sometimes I was allowed to do it.

The milkman, of course, called every day. Ours was Caleb Counsell who was a relative of my friend Elgar Counsell. On his van he had several huge churns of fresh milk. He also had a smaller churn which he kept filled from the larger ones. He called at the front door with the small church and asked my mother how much milk she wanted. My mother would hand him a large jug and say how much she required, then the milkman would use his ladle to measure it out and pour it into the jug. Using this method it was possible to buy an odd or extra half pint if you so wished.

Milk churn and ladles

Mr Marshall, the baker was not a regular visitor at our house because my mother made her own bread – five large loaves every Friday evening. But on occasions when we ran short she would keep an eye open for the approach of his van and would buy a loaf. He usually also had several trays of fancy cakes at the back of his van so I often persuaded my mother to buy some for tea.

Another trader which we saw just occasionally was Mr Brimfield with his hardware lorry. This was partly under cover as he sold carpets, rugs and oilcloth etc. He also sold paraffin and many other hardware odds and ends.

A very unwelcome caller was the gypsy woman who called at the houses from time to time. She only sold a large sort of peg  roughly chipped out of wood and bound at the top with a metal strip.

peg

They were generally in quantities of half a dozen. She was mostly accompanied by a few others who were calling at other houses. She always told my mother how lucky she would be if she bought some of her pegs but my mother was not impressed and generally sent her on her way. There were all sorts of old wives’ tales about the gypsy women putting curses on you if you didn’t buy her pegs. The gypsy families lived in caravans at The Race in Pontypool. They were next to a rubbish tip which always seemed to have small smelly fires burning in parts of the tip.

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3 Responses to “The peripatetic traders of Pontypool”

  1. Meg Says:

    Hi, My Mum always told me there were 2 types of gypsies. A true gypsy wouldn’t come into the house. They had never entered a house and wouldn’t. She would always give them whatever she had in the kitchen, and could afford. A small amount of butter, a bag of sugar, etc. The other type she called didycoys and she would have nothing to do with them. They both sold the curly wood shaving flowers and pegs. I also write a blog about local history.
    http://meg-dragon.blogspot.com. You may want to check it out.
    M

    • clive barnby Says:

      In the 50s I remember the milk was delivered to North road & Brynwern by “Connie the Milk”. I don’t know if he had anything to do with the Counsells. Not sure if there was a Caleb Counsell who went to West Mon., & came to one or two reunion events we had. Dont remember the others mentioned in David’s piece but prhaps things had moved on a bit after the War. However, I remember the gypsy families were living on the Race in the mid or even late 50s.

  2. Glenys Hughes Says:

    I remember Harry who used to deliver from a horse and cart I think he delivered for the twmpath co-op,I lived at upper race and one particular day Harry,s horse bolted with all the groceries in the cart.happy days.

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