Saturday, June 16, 2012
Earlham Street, London
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?”
“I haven’t got a sickle.”
“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.