More Street Characters

  • 1 Feb 2019
  • Worcester People and Places
  • Back

The Shambles by day attracted the street musicians, if one could generously call them that, for a few could generally play or sing. One played a concertina outside the Butchers Arms (now the site of Marks & Spencers), and his repertoire consists of The Old Rustic Bridge and Abide With Me.

It must have been thirsty work, and well rewarded, for he frequently  disappeared into the pub to enjoy his takings. Hymns went well in those days. Two ragged individuals sang Nearer My God To Thee, but seemed only to know the first two lines. The man had a constant 'frog in the throat'. He coughed and spat, and cursed his wife and all that passed without giving alms. The woman looked for likely customers on the other side of the street, and would push a cap forward and howl in a strange piping voice 'Nearer to Thee- nearer to Thee'. But so unwholesome were they that most moved further away and those that gave a copper dropped it into the cap at arms length.

There was Mouth-organ Annie, who dressed in Union Jacks and danced to her own tuneless accompaniment, then to add to good measure did cartwheels in the middle of the street. She appeared to be well over 70, but her agility was amazing. Very different were the groups of Welsh miners, who during the Depression of the 1930s, sang in perfect harmony. There was a sad dignity about them, and the melancholy Welsh songs spoke more elequently than words of the hardships in the Valleys. Groups of North-Country brass bandsmen also wandered from town to town, but they played cheerful tunes and their poverty was not so obvious.

Not all characters were musicians. There was Salt Annie who trundled a ricketty flat barrow around with huge blocks of salt which she got direct from the salt works at Droitwich, and cut it up to whatever size was wanted, with the rustiest saw imaginable. She wore an off-white apron and a man's cap turned back to front. Whether her name was Annie, or whether she acquired it because of her call is uncertain; but she had a piercing cry of Anny  Salt? Anny Salt?

Newspaper vendor's were usually individualists. Blind Harry who delivered the Worcestershire Echo tapped his way around the streets bleating Co, Co and threatening all kinds of horrors to the small 'varmints' that plagued him. One character sold newspapers outside Woolworth's and croaked 'Read all about it', and often  suggested the most startling news, but in the paper it was far from sensational. He drew his customers with a particular brand of wit. One such remembered, went as follows; 'The Archbishop of Canterbury gets £10, 000 for being good. I'm good for nothing'. Not in the same class was the rag-bag of an old man with feathers in his hat and a Union Jack stitched on his coat, and pushed a battered old pram covered with picture post-cards.

In the late 20's, youngsters had decided views on the merits of ice-cream, which in those days was made by the people who sold them. There was considerable difference in the taste and quality, mostly tasting like cold custard. For the 'well-to-do' the stall at the front of the Market Hall was claimed to be the best, but in the streets it was a toss-up between Lannie's and Daydo'. Lannie's descended from Italians who arrived in Worcester about the 1880s, and served from a pony and cart with gaudy lettering, typical of the fairground, with bells and gay trappings. Daydo, whose name was Davies, was a cheery little man who had a small handcart, self-painted, who shouted 'Daydo' 'Daydo', and on days when there were few customers was inclined to give his ice-cream away. Big business was taking over however, with Wall's end and Eldorado Ices sold from peddle-carts with the slogan 'Stop me and buy one'. They introduced new varieties such as iced lollies and snow-fruits, and their ice-cream was whiter and smoother, The slogan appealed to youngsters and we sang to the tune of London's Burning: 

                  'Wall's Ices, Wall's Ices, Eldorado, Eldorado, Stop me and buy one, Stop me and buy one,  -

                                                                       Can't we've got no money'