Memories of Bell Street

Margherita Rabuffi's memoir continues with stories of Bell Street and the Christchurch Schools. These are some brief extracts:-

‘There were two cats' meat shops which sold nothing but cats meat (horse flesh), maggots for fishing and fire wood done up in bundles. In summer the shops were black with flies on the walls and ceilings. No one seemed to be bothered about them and, possibly because they had plenty in the shop, the flies did not bother to go out. Occasionally a man came down the street with a long pole on his shoulder on which would hang pieces of cat meat tied with string and looped on the pole. He called in a special way, "Me-e-at -- Cats' -- me-e-at."

We bought cottage loaves from a German shop in Bell Street. The wife always went back to Germany to have her numerous children. She was fair with a lovely thick plait of hair formed in a circle on top of her head. It reminded me of a loaf they sold with a plait down the middle. The joy of bringing the bread was two fold - first there was the possibility of make-weight in the shape of bread pudding and secondly we were allowed, whichever one fetched the loaf, to cut a thick slice off, and put thick layers of golden syrup on until it was absorbed and stiff - lovely on new bread.

There was also a dairy in Bell Street with a huge white bowl with a pink band round it full of milk. It had a dipper in the middle to stir the cream and milk up and a white muslin cloth over the top to keep the dust out. One could get a penny worth or even a half penny worth of milk and lovely eggs 12 for 14 pennies. Butter at 1 shilling and two pence a pound for best butter. Only very poor people had to eat margarine. 1 remember going with a school friend for some margarine. They were a huge family and the father worked at Covent Garden. 1 told my mother and said 1 should like some margarine but my mother was shocked to think they had to eat margarine.

Going up Bell Street was an open-sided shop which sold milk and, I think, other dairy products, but they had a cow on the premises from which they sold the milk. This was about 1907. I remember the lovely country smell when I went to look at the cow. Thinking back it must have been a rotten life for the animal.

We used to pass a funny shop on our way to school and watched with interest a box mangle in use. it was a big, dirty, empty shop with what looked like a double bed with huge rollers at the top and a table-like structure in front. People took their washing to have it mangled. Sheets were so folded they did not need ironing and other things put through carefully did not need much ironing. The mangle was turned by a heavy iron arm by a man, and the box rollers contained bricks or heavy stones. You could hear them bang. A mangle was a luxury still to own, I suppose as the mangle staff did well. As a side line they chopped and bundled fire wood. Lots of people took washing in from the big houses in the squares near Regent's Park.

Funerals were a diversion for Saturdays. There was sure to be at least one and often two or three in streets round about which children would go and watch. The horses were always lovely, black with black plumes on their heads and long black velvet palls over their backs nearly to the ground. Alwavs two horses. The chief mourner and undertaker wore black crepe in the head band of his hat and women always wore heavy black crepe veils down to their shoulders. Widows afterwards wore black bonnets with white inside and long black veils hanging down their back. As a child I thought they looked lovely and my ambition was to grow up and wear a bonnet like them. It seemed no matter how poor people were there were always the horses, plumes and loads of flowers to be had.



Page 130
Page 132
Updated August 8, 2011