Providing waste recycling services and affordable household goods for all the community since 1864, C E Burns & Sons started recycling a long time before anyone else realised it was a good idea. Here, Carol Burns explains the history of the business and how her Father Charlie Burns started out and why this important East End institution still thrives today.
“My Dad’s Dad started it back in the 18’s, then my Dad followed it on. They used to go with a barrow up to The City, load it up with paper and walk it from The City down to the Limehouse paper mills. My Grandad used to push it, and he used to tie a string around my Dad, and my Dad would pull it. That’s how they first started. My Grandfather died when my Dad was only 12. But the experience put it in him, and he carried it on, and thank god it worked.
When my Dad was a day old he moved to Bacon Street because a bomb had dropped on where he was living on Colt Street, that’s the 1st World War. So they moved him into Bacon Street. Know what I mean, 96 years aint bad is it! He kept it in the family and we’re carrying on where he left off.
He was the Repton Boxing Club president for 15 years. They started it in the Northampton Pub on Headlam Street with the gym above the pub. They had Judy Garland there, the Kray Twins. My Dad was the one that got the celebrities and sold the tickets and my uncle trained the boxers. They were together, but they both had different roles. Then my uncle Tony, he boxed for Wales. Then when he came to London the Repton started up and he boxed for them and then went on to be the coach and he still trains today.
Today, if you’ve got a load of paper that needs to be destroyed, like confidential waste, we give you a duty and care certificate to say that now your paper is in our care. So then we take it to one of the mills, it gets shredded and pulped for recycling. My Dad got all the firms from the city, they started with a barrow, then my Dad got a horse and cart, and we’ve still got all the same firms in the city from the 40’s. We also do work in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool. My Dad said the best form of advertising is word of mouth. Like if I do a good job for you, you’ll recommend me to your friends, that’s how we get our business. We do Ofcom, Land Securities, quite a few big firms and they stick with us.
This to me this is home, I’ve been coming here so long I get out of bed and fall here. This is Brick Lane, and I’m Bacon Street, in my heart. Take me out of here and I don’t know what I’d do. It’s my own little cutch. The front of the premises is affordable household goods and the back is for offices, filing cabinets, desks and office furniture. But you couldn’t depend on this side of the business at the moment because Brick Lane is becoming less busy.
Most of our customers are Asian people but because of the new developments half of them have gone. People getting on with people, that’s what I love about the East End. I can walk up Bethnal Green Road and I bet you there’s more Asian people that say hello to me because they know me from here than anyone. The community is important. I’ve got a lady over there, if it’s Eeid she will make me a curry. Or you got some up the road – they’ve got a wedding and they invite you to their weddings.
The East End holds people together. Nobody is different, we’re all the same. If everybody could realise that we’re all the same it would be better. Doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, green, orange, you can talk English, you can’t talk English, we’re all people. And I talk to anybody, I’ll always have the time of day for anybody because that’s how I’ve been brought up. The immigrants always landed in the East End, they made their money and they made a name for themselves. That’s how it was, and when it was like that, that was the good old days. Because them people never forget. Because they had nothing, and they worked and they got something. Nobody gave them it. The rich people that move in now into the new developments, they don’t want to come to Charlie’s, they can go to Harrods.”
Participants on the Alternative London East End Independents’ Day tour will have the privilege of meeting Carol on their Spitalfields & Shoreditch route.
Carol Burns by Sarah Ainslie courtesy of the Gentle Author at Spitalfields Life.