Memories- the Cheerful Rent Collector

In about 1953 my family moved from one room in Drury Lane to a newly completed estate in Poplar – the Lansbury estate, named after one of Poplar’s heroes. The part of the estate to which we moved surrounded the newly built Chrisp Street Market, and our part comprised of one of seven maisonettes above shops that fronted the market. From one part of the maisonette, we could see the market and the Clock Tower, and from the other part we could see a bomb site. There was a public house – the Festive Briton – on one side and Aunty Rose (we called all neighbours Aunty or Uncle in those days) and her old mother.

The buildings were newly built but not well loved by Poplar folk, but for my family it was a massive improvement on the room we lived in at Drury Lane. Our landlord was the London County Council and we paid our rent every week in cash to the rent collector.
He was a cheerful man who called on all the tenants of the seven maisonettes and the twelve maisonettes opposite our row. He had a face that was always smiling and a big old leather satchel and a large account book.  He climbed up the stairs and visited each house in turn. Before he knocked on the door he sang “your rent” in a high tone, and held his account book ready. Everyone knew him and liked him for his cheerful smiling face. He wrote down the rent in his book, I think he signed it or got you to sign it, and put the cash that he collected in his satchel. If necessary he would give change.

My memory is that the rent we paid was paid in coins – the old pre-decimal large coins, tanners, threepenny bits, bobs, florins and half crowns. It always seemed sunny when he called and I remember by mother paying the rent, and the rent collector giving her a receipt which he tore off from his account book.

Thinking back, I am impressed by the cheerful disposition of the rent collector. Collecting rent is not usually an occupation that makes you happy. Poplar is not a place of wealth and some people must have found it hard to keep their rent up to date. He must have seen and heard many stories of poverty, hard luck and deprivation and yet the rent collector maintained his sunny disposition.

Today rent is paid through the banking system. I imagine that hardly anyone pays rent in cash and no one pays rent in coin. The computerisation of rent paying has perhaps made rent collection technically easier, but it has also removed the human contact that links tenant to landlord which was an important part of life. When we paid our rent we knew it went to the London County Council but we also knew better the rent collector as a happy and decent man.

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