Before the Luftwaffe destroyed a great part of the eastend its streets were filled with a whole cast of characters each selling various wares. Here are just four of them:
The Toffee Apple Man
The toffee apple man would normally appear only in summer, he didnâ€™t have a regular barrow but a wooden box on wheels with two long shafts of wood to steer it by. All the toffee apples were arrange in rows with their sticks pointing upwards, sometimes the stick used werenâ€™t always planed properly and if the children who gathered around him could get a splinter along with their toffee apple. Of course there were always choices to be made as the children studied the display of apples to see which one had the largest â€˜flatâ€™. A flat was created by the toffee running down the apple and settling at the bottom, which would become the top when eaten. Sometimes there were a box of just flats which had somehow not formed at the top of an apple but broken off instead. If there werenâ€™t many pennies available these proved to be very popular.
Summer was also the time for the
Ice Cream Man
These days we are used to the tinkling sound of the ice-cream van, but pre war it was the Okey-Pokey man as he was known around the streets of Poplar. The phrase is thought to derive from a corruption of the Italian for "try a little".
As with most ice-cream sellers of the era he was an Italian, he worked for Asseneimâ€™s ice-cream company of Petticoat Lane. Some fifty years previously an employee of the same company was on the fringes of the Jack the Ripper enquires. The employee was named Alexander Feinberg who one evening in 1888 as he stood by a coffee-stall in Commercial Road he noticed a tall man in frock coat and top hat leading a woman towards the Minories, a few minutes later the woman screamed and the man appeared and came towards the coffee-stall where he took immediate offence at Feinberg demanding to know â€˜who was lookingâ€™ at, with that he produced a knife, but was managed to be disarmed, the police were called and the man, later identified as a Mr Ludwig was investigated as a suspect for the â€˜Whitechapel murdersâ€™. On checking it became clear that Ludwig was in the habit of getting drunk and threatening people, so as a suspect for Jack the Ripper his name was scratched from the list after it was discovered that at the time of the murders of Stride and Eddows he was once again in custody.
Back to the Ice-Cream men, the Okey-Pokey man continued to ply his trade until Wallâ€™s introduced there â€˜Stop me and Buy Oneâ€™ salesmen. These salesmen had one great advantage over their rivals, they were more mobile. The ice box was attached to a tricycle which meant more streets could be covered in less time.
During the war years (1939-45) manufacture of ice cream was severely curtailed, and the tricycles requisitioned for use at military installations. In October 1947 Walls sold 3,300 tricycles and invested in freezers for shops.
The Hot Chestnut Man
When winter came around the Toffee Apple man and the Ice Cream man vanished from the streets for another year, their place was taken by the Hot Chestnut Seller, but instead of moving around the streets looking for customers the Hot Chestnut man stayed in one place. and here he stayed from September onwards. That place was usually where there was plenty of passing trade, such outside cinemas or pubs.
He was a welcome sight on a cold winters evening with his blazing brazier which was well stocked with coke, before placing on the hot metal sheet on top of the brazier each chestnuts was cut with a cross. There they would stay being turned once or twice with a long metal tong until they were cooked.
When they were ready they would be scooped up into a white paper bag, it was not only chestnuts that he sold sometimes there would be half a dozen potatoes baking away alongside the chestnuts. Some would also have a bottle of cordial which could be made up into a welcomed hot drink by adding water from the kettle that always seemed to be on the point of boiling, blackcurrant, peppermint or sarsaparilla.
The Shrimp and Winkle Man
Even though he was called the â€˜Shrimp and Winkleâ€™ man he also sold other shellfish such as cockles, whelks and mussels . He usually started his rounds on Sundayâ€™s before midday, the shellfish was laid out in bowls on a white cloth on the floor of his cartâ€™, as he trotted his horse around the eastend he would call out â€™Gravesend Shrimpsâ€™ which was his normal cry.
Sometimes he also sold celery and watercress which with shellfish were the normal fare of any cockneyâ€™s Sunday teatime.
Though he had quite a good trade among his regulars many other eastenders bought there shellfish from a very different place, and that of course was â€˜down the laneâ€™, the Sunday morning market of Petticoat Lane. Once there and after you had browsed among the stalls there always the last visit to Tubby Isaacs before you made your way home.
Tubby Isaac the stall was started by 'Tubby' Isaac Brenner who emigrated to the USA in 1938. It was taken over by his assistant Solomon Gritzman who started working on the stall at the age of 11 and who died at the age of 73 in 1982.