Onion Johnnies return on the Onion Jack tour

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Meet the Onion Johnnies, returning for their first ever celebratory tour, as they visit Plymouth, Bridport and Portsmouth between 14 and 31 October - with their pink Roscoff onions, of course!

It's an affectionate image: the cap-wearing Frenchman in a stripy top, a bundle of onions dangling from the handlebars of a bicycle. But how many Brits know that this stereotype is steeped in history, a history with echoes of the founding of Brittany Ferries?

Onion Johnnies have been plying their trade for nearly two centuries. In 1828, a poor man from Roscoff, named Henri Olivier, chartered a sailing boat, filled it with pink onions and sailed to England with three friends. He started by selling directly to the people. But, little by little, the operation expanded throughout Britain. 100 years later, 1,500 men from Brittany were crossing the Channel for the selling season.

An echo of this pioneering spirit came on 1 January 1973. Breton farmers once again took to the Channel with the aim of bringing French vegetables to a UK market. Sailing from Roscoff, the chartered vessel, called Kerisnel, docked in Plymouth and the Brittany Ferries story began. 42 years later, 10 ships operate from 11 ports and instead of vegetables coming to the UK, the biggest export is now British tourists to the continent.

For the Onion Johnnies, industrialisation unfortunately led to a sharp decline in their business and today only 15 of them remain. However, three men are keeping this nearly 200-year-old tradition alive. Laurent Caroff, Emmanuel Le Noac'h and Damien Zanlonghi have been plying their trade for the last ten years. To mark this milestone and to celebrate the Onion Johnnies of past and present, the inaugural Onion Jack Tour was set up - and is now taking place across the south of England.

The Onion Jack tour celebrates the spirit of the past and hopes to raise awareness and help secure the future of the trade. Today, the Roscoff onion is highly prized in the best English kitchens. With the Onion Jack Tour, the Johnnies continue to bring a little of great Brittany to Great Britain - in the most charming, French way.

Have you seen the Onion Johnnies on the Onion Jack tour or do you remember seeing them during their heyday? Let us know in the comments below.

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