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- Created 2012-03-03
farmers and agricultural labourers on bicycles who sell distinctive pink
s door to door in
They have adapted this nickname for themselves in
Declining since the 1950s to only a few, the Onion Johnny was once very common. With renewed interest since the late 1990s by farmers and the public in small-scale agriculture, their numbers have recently made a small recovery. Dressed in striped shirt and
, riding a bicycle hung with onions, the Onion Johnny became the
image of the Frenchman and may have been the only contact that the ordinary British had with France.
From the area around
, Johnnies found a more profitable market in England than at home, and typically brought their harvest across the
in July to store in rented barns, returning home in December or January. They could have sold their produce in Paris, but the roads and the railways were bad in the 19th century and going there was a long and difficult trip - crossing the channel was shorter and easier. The trade apparently began in 1828 when the first successful trip was made by Henri Ollivier. Journeys are now made by ferry but small sailing ships and steamers were used previously, and the crossing could be hazardous. Seventy Johnnies died when the steamer
The golden age was during the 1920s; in 1929 nearly 1,400 Johnnies imported over 9,000 tonnes of onions to the UK. The
, followed by the devaluation of the Pound in the early 1930s, ended the era as trade suddenly fell, reaching a low in 1934, when fewer than 400 people imported under 3,000 tonnes.
In the aftermath of World War II, onions in common with other goods were subject to import restrictions, and were obliged to be traded through a single company. By 1973 the number of Johnnies had dropped to 160, trading 1,100 tonnes, and had fallen again to around 20 by the end of the 20th century. The legend of their transporting their produce to Britain inspired farmers in Brittany to set up
in the 1970s.
The Onion Johnny museum opened in
in 2004, with a two-day Fête de l'Oignon (Onion Festival) held every summer. Since July 2009 the Roscoff onion has been protected under the French
Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée
In August 2007 Drew Buck of England completed the Paris Brest Paris 1200km bicycle event dressed as an Onion Johnny.
In August 2008,
opened a restaurant called "Onion Johnny's" underneath its complex in Takapuna, Auckland, New Zealand.
from Wikipedia (last updated: 07 December), licensed under
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The Johnnies of Roscoff and its region (PDF) in French, Breton and English
La Maison des Johnnies et de l’Oignon de Roscoff, Onion Johnny museum (in French)
A photo documentary of the last bicycle onion man
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