The Burdetts lived on Handel Street, on the corner. Where the Vine pub is, there used to be a yard with big gates, and all the barrows were kept in there. You ought to see the barrow lads run when the police come! They hadn’t got a trader’s license.
They would rent the barrow and go down to the market to the fruit stalls, about four o’clock in the morning and get their stuff to go in town or wherever they’d sell it.
We’re from a long line of barrow boys. I’ve still got family now in the town centre who stand the fruit barrows. My grandfather and grandmother, Bernard Coxon and Caroline Coxon, owned their barrow. They was one of the families that pioneered the barrow game in Nottingham, along with the Burdetts and others.
My grandfather was a rag and bone man during the week and a barrow boy at the weekend. My father and his siblings used to push the barrow from the Meadows area where they lived and up the steep hill past the bowling alley to where they stood with the barrows in town. They was only kids when they had to push them, fully loaded. The Coxons had got something called the Coxon Arse. My father and his brothers had buttocks that stuck out, and that was all down to pushing that barrow up them hills. My father always regretted not having more children, because he would have had a bigger work force!
When the policeman came they used to have to run, otherwise they would be nicked! You’d probably shove your barrow down a side street and retrieve it later. If you look in the Evening Post, right back to the forties, you’ll see that my grandmother Caroline was constantly in court for standing illegally with a barrow. Her maiden name was Woolley and she came from Romany stock. She was a proper character and she had the court in uproar. She was up in court so many times that one of the judges recognised her. “Weren’t you in here earlier this week, Mrs Coxon?” he’d say. “Yes, Your Honour,” she’d reply. “Why do you keep doing it, Mrs Coxon?” “I’ve got a load of kids to feed, and we’re needed.” I think even the judges bought a head of celery a time or two, so they recognised that the barrows was needed in the town, selling fresh produce. This one judge said to the court, “Why don’t you do something with these people – why don’t you get them to pay a small price for standing in the town, or give them licenses?” So that really brought about the licenses. My grandmother was one of the people that pointed them in the right direction unknowingly.
The barrow is a hard game – up at half three, down the Wholesale Market for four even in winter on cold dark mornings, buying whatever you needed. My cousins still work on the barrow now. One stands on Clumber Street, one stands outside the Dog and Partridge. Of course, it’s a lot easier now – they’ve got vans.
My family, the Burdetts, kept their barrows at the back of the Vine. Little Joe, the publican, used to store the barrows in there for them, for about 7s 6d a week. The barrows used to be anything they could earn their living out on, a bag of carrots, a bag of swedes, Spanish onions – three pound a shilling bags. There used to be a gentleman there called Micky Farr and his friend Alfie Parker – they’d set the two barrows up, say with cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes. That used to be salad barrow. Next door used to be the veg. They was good days, they were. They used to be on shaky, on social, but they didn’t tell the social people that they was working two half days a week.