Saturday, June 16, 2012

Earlham Street, London

More candles

As a pendant to my previous post about the ironmongers on the Market Place in Uppingham, here is a photograph of the sign above F W Collins, the ironmonger in Earlham Street, on the edge of London’s Covent Garden. In business since 1835 and owned by the same family until just a few years ago, Collins is the archetypal ironmongers, first stop for tools, screws, buckets, oil, etc, etc, for many who work in Central London and for those who live in the Covent Garden area too. The sign is a reminder that traditional ironmongers made – and occasionally invented – things as well as selling them.

Back in the 1980s I worked in an office in Covent Garden as an editor of illustrated reference books, and I or one of my colleagues often had to pop over to Collins to buy items for photo shoots. The shop usually came up with the goods, but not without a lot of banter, which usually involved the shopkeeper looking down on customers coming in to buy screws, say, or saws, with no intention of actually using the things.

I once had to buy a hammer and a sickle for a photo shoot. The response came pretty smartly: “You don’t want a ’ammer and sickle.” What business did I have with such tools of manual toil? But of course it didn’t take long before a hammer of exactly the right shape was found. Then came the question of the sickle: “A sickle? What you want a sickle for?”
“Well, I...”
“I haven’t got a sickle.”
“Oh.” Pause.
“But I’ve got a short-’andled baggin’ ’ook.”
Mr Collins vanished into a pile of garden tools, bins, and buckets, emerging, with remarkably little clanking, holding two bagging hooks, large and small models. To my untrained eye they looked very like sickles.
“Which one d’you want?”
“I’ll take the small one, please.” It looked best with the hammer.
This? It’s a boy’s one. You want that one. That’s a man’s ’ook, that is.”
Exit “boy”, looking sheepish.


Zoe Brooks said...

When the owner cut his finger on a baggin 'ook he'd dunk it in glue rather than use a plaster. He swore it was a better way of healing a cut.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Ah, I see, that's what the elasticated glue was used for. Thank you, Potok.

Neil said...

These signs are so evocative aren't they? Even the fact that we don't really understand the purpose of elasticated glue is a window on a world we nearly know but don't really have full traction on. And your remembered conversation is funnier than the four candles sketch!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Neil: Thank for your generous words. The conversation was very funny, and when I got back to the office and told the tale, people were close to tears. And of course the telling of the story prompted the tellings of others' tales of encounters with this precious shop (the time I asked for one example of every type of screw, the time I needed metric bolts, and so on) the details of which are sadly lost to time.