Hawkers and street vendors were once a familiar sight in the district, writes Robin Longbottomt

UNTIL the 1970s, the ‘cockle man’ was a familiar sight on Friday and Saturday nights in the district’s inns and pubs.

He arrived with a large basket over his arm containing paper tubs of cockles, mussels, whelks and shrimps.

Landlords welcomed these vendors as their salty wares encouraged customers to consume more beer.

The ‘cockle men’ had a long history dating back to the middle of the 19th century when the railways brought casks of fresh seafood into towns and cities.

Cockle Tom was a familiar character in Keighley in the 1850s and hawked shellfish around the district. A cockle man known as Tom O’Dicks in Silsden, most probably Cockle Tom, came from Keighley on Friday nights calling out “cockles alive” and “mussels alive”. As these vendors lacked weighing scales, winkles, cockles, mussels and whelks were measured out in a pint beer pot and are still traditionally sold in pints.

The ‘hot pea man’, who wheeled his cart through the town and outlying villages, was also a familiar sight. The peas were usually brown peas, also known as carlin or pidgeon peas, and were kept warm by a small burner. One Keighley purveyor known as Sidney Peacan was said to have stirred his peas with his wooden leg. In the 1900s the hot pea man came to Sutton-in-Craven once a week shouting “hot peas” followed by “vinegar luv?”. Roast potatoes were also a popular street food and were sold from a stationary ‘engine’ – the most familiar vendor in Keighley was ‘Spud Mick’, who stood at the bottom of Cavendish Street.

Also, a common sight in the days when most housewives were restricted to the home were the hawkers and pedlars who travelled to outlying districts and remote farms. Many went on foot carrying goods on their back, but some came by donkey, or pony cart. Everything imaginable could be bought at the door. There were hawkers of everyday essentials such as oatcake and muffins, fresh and cured fish, butter and cheese and general groceries. Others, particularly female hawkers, traded in hardware goods such as brushes, ribbons, buttons and threads, pegs and trinkets etc. Pots, pans and cans were the preserve of tinkers who not only sold new ones but patched up old ones made of copper and tin. Knife and scissor grinders also travelled the district pushing their two-wheeled, treadle-operated grindstones and calling out for housewives to come and get their knives and scissors sharpened.

Towards the end of the 19th century many Italians arrived in the country. Domenico Dagostino arrived in Keighley in the 1890s from Villa Latino, south east of Rome. He set up the town’s first ice cream business, selling his product from a hand cart. Italian street musicians and organ grinders, such as Allessandres Ferrante, Garton Orsini and Antonio Minchella, also settled in the town, although some only stayed a few years.

After the Second World War, traders became motorised. Raymond Ridsdale and Fred Morrell of Sutton-in-Craven ran mobile groceries from the village. Ronnie Holmes, who worked for Fox’s butchers of Ilkley and Steeton, had a van from which he sold cold meats, pies, pork dripping and tripe. A wet fish van came to the area weekly from Fleetwood, Hoyle’s ‘pop wagon’ from Keighley did its rounds of the villages and if you heard a bell ringing on a summer evening, it was usually the ice cream van.

Newspaper vendors once stood on most street corners in Keighley shouting “Teh… Gra”, Telegraph and Argus, “Een…Po”, Evening Post, and on Saturday, “Kee…New”, Keighley News.

Today the hawkers and street vendors are largely a thing of the past, although we still have the ice cream van and a well-known tea company doing their rounds.