The cry of ‘Battery! Boiler! Bike Frame! Lumber! Rag, Bone!’ that has echoed through the streets of Hull for generations will soon fall silent. Rag and Bone man George Norris is the last of his family to work the estates and back alleys totting for scrap (or tatting as it’s called locally). After years on the North Sea rigs, George has returned to the family business to help his 81-year-old father, also called George, with his rounds. “My dad will never retire. When my dad goes that will be the last of the original scrap dealers in Hull,” says George. 

19-year-old ‘Rag and Bone man’ George Norris lights a cigarrette as he looks for scrap in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later he lights a cigarette at the start of the day before starting his rounds in Hull May 10, 2022. 
 

George Norris Snr was one six brothers born of George Francis Norris and wife Annie. “My father had two fruit shops and he also used to sell up to 50 horses a week when horses were used for transport and industry in Hull. Anything from fruiterers, ice cream sellers to doctors, anyone that needed transport came to my father for horses. The biggest horses were used for the fish trade on the docks,” he says. At the age of 13 George Snr started a part-time business collecting scrap cardboard and paper with an old pram. At 15 he left school to work in a local dairy. “At 16 I’d managed to rake up enough money to buy a pony and cart," he recalls. "Once I had that, I started collecting scrap iron and rags, anything that earned me a bit of cash. In those days I could earn up to £3 a week, much more than working in the dairy.”

George Norris Snr works near his horse and cart in the 1960's. Picture taken by Keith Wade

In 1981, at the age of 17, George Norris followed in his father’s footsteps. “At the beginning of the 80s, when I first started going out on the horse and cart, it was the beginning of Maggie Thatcher’s power and there was a lot of unemployment in Hull," he says. "I didn’t go to college. There was a lot of housing stock being demolished. People were being rehoused to the new council estates that were being built. There was a lot of poverty and a lot of derelict land waiting to be built on.”

 
 

I first documented George’s working life in 1983. When he returned to the family trade nearly 40 years later, the opportunity to see what had changed was too compelling to miss. George’s horse and cart had been replaced by a diesel truck. Most of the Victorian housing used by the fishing community had been demolished, the land redeveloped, and unemployment had fallen from 19% in 1983 to 5.5% in 2021.

George rides his horse and cart along Beverley Road with friend Glen Collins as they look for scrap in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later George checks messages on his phone as he waits with his father, George Norris Snr, in their pick up truck as a train passes at the St Georges Road crossing in Hull, May 12, 2022.
George leads his horse Sally along Woodcock Street in Hull after a day’s work collecting scrap in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later George calls ‘Scrap Iron, Rag Bone!’ as he walks down Collin Avenue in Hull looking for scrap May 12, 2022. 

George hands the reins and tackle for his horse Sally, to mate Glen Collins in the back yard after a day’s work collecting scrap in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later George and his father, get back into their pick up truck at the end of the day in Hull May 5, 2022.  

George and his mate Glen lift an old moped onto his cart as they collect scrap in Hull in 1983. And nearly 40 years later George loads a gate onto the pick up truck as his father wheels a scrap bicycle across Portobello Avenue in Hull May 5, 2022. 

Women lean on their fence and smile as 19-year-old ‘Rag and Bone man’ George Norris rides his horse along a ‘ten foot’ (passage behind houses) as he looks for scrap in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later two men watch as he sorts scrap on the back of the pick up truck on Huntindon Street on the Gypseville Estate in Hull May 6, 2022.   

George lifts a twin tub washer onto his cart as his mate Glen Collins watches as they collect scrap in Hull in 1983. And nearly 40 years later George lifts a scrap BBQ onto the back of his pick up truck in Hull May 6, 2022.  

George opens a back gate in an alley as he cries ‘Battery, Boiler, Bikeframe, Lumber, Rag Bone’ as he looks for scrap in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later he walks down an alley way off Wellstead Street during his rounds looking for scrap in Hull May 10, 2022.  

On his return, what has struck George most is how life has changed in the community. “In 1983, even though people had less money they took more care of their own environment and their neighbourhood and were proud of where they lived,” he says. "There were people scrubbing steps, sweeping the roads and the neighbourhoods were more friendly. People didn’t have anything but what they did have they cherished and they looked out for their neighbours. I feel now that social structure is breaking down. People don’t know their neighbours anymore. I see a lot of affluence today, so it’s not all negative, but I fear that affluence is built on debt. I don’t know for sure but I think a lot more people are in even more debt today than they were in the past. Borrowing money is so much easier today than it was back then.” 

George chats to a woman as he climbs back over her fence as he looks for scrap in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later he talks to a woman who was offering scrap in Hull May 5, 2022.   

George wheels an old moped to his cart as his mate Glen takes a scrap bicycle from a man as they collect scrap in Hull in 1983. And nearly 40 years later George collects a bike that is being offered for scrap in Westminster Avenue in Hull May 5, 2022.

George is handed a bundle of clothing by a man from his garden shed as he looks for scrap and rags in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later a man closes a door on a scrap washing machine as George wheels it from a back garden on 30th Avenue on the North Hull Estate in Hull May 9, 2022. 

George wheels old carpet on a baby buggie from a side alley as he collects scrap in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later he wheels a scrap washing machine from a garden on 36th Avenue on the North Hull Estate in Hull May 9, 2022. 

George chats to boys as he stands on his horse and cart collecting scrap in Hull in 1983. And nearly 40 years later he chats to a man who is smoking a cigarette as he loads a scrap washing machine onto his pick up truck on 30th Avenue on the North Hull Estate in Hull May 9, 2022. 

George climbs back over a fence as he chats with a woman and two boys as he looks for scrap in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later a woman talks with George in her back yard in Brent Avenue as he collects scrap metal from her in Hull May 6, 2022.

George searches for scrap in passageways in Hull in 1983. And nearly 40 years later he carries scrap metal through the front room of a house from the back yard in Brent Avenue on the Longhill Estate in Hull May 6, 2022.   

George likes to see his family as the first recyclers. “My dad and myself were recycling when it wasn’t something people really spoke about" he says. "But now people are becoming more in tune with that, so they are giving more away rather than just discarding it in their bin. There’s a lot more scrap coming out but sadly it’s true to be said that the products that are being made are not lasting more than five years. We are living in a throw-away society.”

George empties a sack of old clothing onto his cart as his mate Glen Collins watches as they collect rags and scrap in Hull in 1983. And nearly 40 years later George picks his way through a pile of waste as he sorts out scrap in Hull May 10, 2022. 

 The main change in the Rag and Bone trade since 1983 is what has resale value. In 1983, clothes and furniture were prized items that were resold in second-hand shops all over the city. Today these things are not collected because they are worthless. 

George is paid cash for an old moped that he’d collected as scrap earlier in the day in Hull in 1983. And nearly 40 years later George is handed cash by his father George Norris Snr at the end of the day after collecting scrap in Hull May 6, 2022.

George used to sell clothing and furniture to June Sutherland, who owned a second-hand shop on Woodcock Street. These shops no longer exist. “Second-hand shop owners like June were priced out of the market, not only by increasing rents but also by cheap new clothing imports by shops like Primark," George says. "In the 80s there were many boarded-up shops and people could rent them for a fair price, but now they’ve all vanished.” He adds: “Commercial charity shops get all the clothing today and it’s sent all around the world for people that need it. Brown furniture can’t be sold. No-one wants it even if it’s good quality and in good condition. It’s considered old-fashioned and people don’t want it, they just want something new and modern." George Snr says: “I recently cleared a house out and collected eight bags of lovely clean clothes. I took them to the charity shop but they wouldn’t accept them because they said they hadn’t been ironed. Everything has got so ridiculous.” Today, George will occasionally be handed items of value, such as power tools or working household appliances. These are sold to George Snr's contacts, who can sell them on privately at a small profit. But this is rare.

Second hand shop owner June Sutherland draws on a cigarette, surrounded by children, as she looks at a cart load of clothing and furniture that had been collected as scrap by Rag and Bone man George Norris in Hull 1983.

George haggles over the price of his cart load of clothing, furnture and scrap with second hand shop owner June Sutherland in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later George Norris Snr haggles with Butch Beaumont as they try to settle on a price for working tools that had been collected as scrap in Hull May 10, 2022. 

Two small boys are reflected in the mirror of an old dark wood wardrobe that had been collected as scrap by George and his mate Glen in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later George looks at a piece of dark wood furniture that has been dumped on the street on Carden Avenue, in Hull May 12, 2022.  In 1983 George would have tried to secure this scrap for resale, but today it has no value to him.

George and his mate Glenn smashes a wardrobe that has no resale value at a land housing clearance site in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later George throws a valuless chair onto the scrap heap as he sorts out the more value metals in his load of scrap at Griffiths Group, Metal and Waste Recycling in Hull May 5, 2022. 

Second hand shop owner June Sutherland inspects the clothing collected by George Norris and his mate Glen as they sort out the best clothing and negotiate a price for the load in Hull in 1983. And nearly 40 years George and his father sort out the most valuable items as site manager for Griffith Group waste and metals Jim Watson carefully checks the scales in Hull May 11, 2022.   

George tips water from a scrap bath as he sorts items of value from items that have no value at a land housing clearance site prior to taking them to Bassetts scrap yard in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later George sorts the load of scrap on his van as he prepares to load it with more in Hull May 5, 2022.   

What has not changed is the difference in value of various metals. Copper, lead and brass command much higher prices than mixed scrap like washing machines and microwaves. To get the best prices, metals have to be ‘cleaned’, with brazed joints cut off copper pipes and taps removed from sinks. George Snr says: “People are educated these days and have started taking the scrap to the yard themselves - plumbers, electricians. They’re all blocking us out, we’re the outsider now. They see we are earning money and think that they can get that too. It’s a cut-throat world.” 

George carries a kitchen sink in Bassetts scrap yard in Hull 1983. Non Ferrous metals, that command a better price, are loaded onto scales to be carefully weighed. And nearly 40 years later George carries a sink as he sorts out the more value metals in his load of scrap at Griffiths Group, Metal and Waste Recycling in Hull May 6, 2022.

George loads non Ferrous metals, that command a better price, onto scales to be carefully weighed in Bassetts scrap yard in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later he loads higher valued metals onto the scales at the Griffith Group Metal & Waste Recycling Yard as he is watched by his father who sits in their pick up truck in Hull May 9, 2022.   

George is paid cash for the scrap metals he brought to Bassetts scrap yard in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later he is handed the documentation from Site Manager Chris Watson that outlines how much he has been paid for the scrap metals at the Griffiths Group Metal and Recycling Yard in Hull May 5, 2022.  

George looks at his reciept that shows prices paid for scrap metals per ton at the Griffith Group Metal & Waste Recycling Yard in Hull May 9, 2022.  ‘Cleaned’ copper piping commands a much better price than uncleaned copper. 

Today mixed scrap fetches about £180 a ton and forms part of a multinational business where technology is used to break it down into elements that can be repurposed. In 1983, it sold for £20 a ton, much of it ending up in landfill. Copper is bought in at £6,100 a ton today.

 George Snr says: “Our job now is finished. When we started it was just our family doing it. I remember scrap when it was £3 a ton, a working man’s weekly wage. It was hard and nobody wanted to work like that. Nowadays you’ve got to work double or you don’t get anything. I think much of the scrap and waste work has been taken over by the migrants who have come to Hull to make a new life. We are the last of a long line of Norris scrap dealers.” He adds: “It’s been a luxury being my own boss but I’ve been tied in a lot of ways by not having an education, but you get by. My brother Peter couldn’t read or write but he could add up money. He had eight lovely kids. I had six lovely kids and you couldn’t wish for more than that, so long as you have a happy family. We have got by and we’ve lived. We’ve never gone hungry."

As for George, he has been inspired to pick up a camera himself to record life in Hull. "I don’t only collect scrap but photograph the energy of the city,” he says.

George leads his horse Sally as he walks with mate Glen after a day’s work collecting scrap in Hull 1983. And nearly 40 years later George helps his father across the road as they head towards Neise’s Diner for lunch on Anlaby Road after work in Hull May 6, 2022. 

George tethers his horse Sally to a tyre as he leaves her to graze on waste land near Hessle Road after a day’s work in Hull in 1983. And nearly 40 years later George part fills up the pick up truck at Sainsbury’s with £50 of diesel fuel at the start of the day in Hull May 7, 2022.  

George chats to his mum Barbara at their house after a day’s work collecting scrap and rags in Hull in 1983. And nearly 40 years later he sits with his father’s in his front room, as he goes through his post at home in Huntingdon Street in Hull May 5, 2022. 

George Norris (centre) poses for a picture at their yard with his father George Norris Senior (sitting on truck), Ron Howson (left), brother John Norris (2nd left), Robert Taylor (smoking), Andra Taylor (hand in pocket) and Harry Taylor in Hull in 1983. And nearly 40 years later George and his father pose for a picture near horses on Anlaby Common where George Snr has grazed his horses for over 40 years in Hull May 7, 2022. Ron, Robert taylor and his father Harry Taylor have all died.