MEMORIES OF AN ERRAND BOY
BY THE LATE TREVOR KIRBY
Paper rounds apart, these days one does not see youngsters pedalling away to deliver shops' products. As a boy in the 1930s errand running was a way of life to earn a bob or two to buy the odd Walls ice-cream from the tricycle man, sweets, comics such as The Wizard, Hotspur, Magnet and Comic Cuts or indulge a Saturday afternoon for threepence at the Empire Cinema with its three continuous performances.
Besides the Movietone News and cartoon there were two films including a serial where one was left wondering whether the heroine would be rescued or the hero escape. They always did of course but one just had to go the next week. Cowboys Tom Mix and Buck Rogers were great favourites.
Pocket money in family businesses had to be earned and not gratuitously handed out weekly. My grandfather, Rowland (Bona) Kirby, and his brothers came from a long line of Leigh fishermen who had their own bawleys but he decided just prior to World War 1 to come ashore and open his own fishmongers at 119 Leigh Road and this was taken over by my father Alfred in the twenties.
In the thirties there were always orders to deliver after school and in the holidays also many is the mile ridden on the old fashioned bicycle (no multi-gears:) with a basket frame on the handle-bars. No pay was expected in those days and if you were lucky a customer would reward you with a penny tip.
At Christmas there was extra for plucking and drawing turkeys (sixpence), ducks and chickens (threepence) and skinning and cleaning a rabbit (threepence).
When the shrimpers catch was ready for collection it meant a quick cycle down Leigh Hill to collect the sack and then a hard push up hill to the Broadway.
On occasions father would take me on one of his twice-weekly visits to Billingsgate fish market, getting the 4am-ish train from Chalkwell and returning about 8 am - just in time to get ready for school.
On Saturday mornings extra could be earned running errands for my uncle, Ted Joiner, at his 'Savoury' delicatessen shop across the road or inspecting dozens of eggs in front of a light bulb to spot any bad ‘uns. Rushbrook the butcher along the road also employed me on errands or filling sausages on the nozzle machine or salt syringing beef cuts for brisket. All for a shilling (5p) so life was on the up!
Another revenue source was when Keddies had a sale and leaflets needed distributing through letter boxes. They paid three shillings (15p) a day which gave me a margin to recruit school chums to each of whom I gave a princely threepence. We walked and cycled many miles covering every street in the Borough.
I also did shop duties and became quite skilled at gutting and filleting fish, preparing crabs and tending the smoke-shed for the bloaters, kippers and haddocks. Washing down our open fronted shop in all weathers at closing time - 8 pm weekdays and 10 pm Saturdays – was a necessary chore.
The shop closed during the war for lack of business. Looking back, they were hard times but there was the companionship of school-fellows with whom I enjoyed scouting, cycling, swimming and football.
Trevor Kirby passed away in 2015 at the age of 92