Based on childhood recollections
of shops in Edmonton, north London in Edwardian times.
The butchers shops in Edmonton, north London, where I grew up the early
1900s were typical of other butchers shops at the time.
Our local butcher had the appearance of a butcher because he was big with a
florid face and he had a belt round his waist which was unusual for other
I am grateful to Mirander Pender - see
- for this photo of Durrants butchers shop in Lower Edmonton,
dated 1910. It is special because
it really does show everything involved in butchery during the Edwardian era.
Note the way that the sides of meat were hung outside as well as in the shop window;
the large cuts of beef or pork on the butcher's block, the clothes that the butcher
and his assistants were wearing with their large white aprons and belts
round their waists; the tools that they
were holding and the very young delivery boy with his delivery bike. The
only obvious difference between the photo and my mother's description of a
butcher's shop is that the chopping boards in the photo have four legs
rather than three - so probably both were used.
The placard on the left reads:
HOME KILLED ENGLISH BEEF
XMAS FARE GALORE
SAUSAGES AND SAUSAGE MEAT
The sign above the shop reads:
Family Butcher DURRANT Also at Enfield Town
Inside the butchers shop
Reproduction of inside a butcher's shop, photographed in Jackfield Tile
Museum. Note the side of meat hanging from a hook. (There would have
been several of these - and it was common to see it in butchers shops
right into the 1950s.) Also note the wooden chopping board which always
had a dip in it, made through constant use - and also note the tiled walls
which always included a picture.
Inside butchers shops, sides of beef would either be hanging up from
large hooks suspended in the shop or in an ice-safe which was kept cool with
ice supplied by the
Butchers kept their shops beautifully clean with fresh sawdust on the
floor and shining tiles on the walls.
At the end of every day, the chopping
boards, which looked rather like heavy three-legged stools were scrubbed with
wire brushes and then washed. Choppers and knives had the same treatment.
The day's sawdust on the floors, which had absorbed or coated spills, was swept up and new
was put down.
Cleaning butchers' chopping boards
In my experience, steel scrapers were used to clean the chopping blocks as
wire brushes would have been too difficult to steralise.
Butchers' refrigerated window displays
In the 1940s my grandfather was very proud to be
one of the first butchers to have a refrigerated window display. So it seems
that before then, nothing on display in a butchers shop was ever
Use of sawdust in old butchers shops
My grandfather's butcher's shop had been in the family for nearly 200 years
before it closed. The bookshop which bought it entirely refurbished it and
found nearly half a
metre of sawdust under the floor. This had slipped through the gaps in the floorboards over
Suet was bought as a lump and the butcher sometimes cut it out of a side
of beef while I watched. It was minced at home.
Sausage machine, photographed at Blists Victorian Town. Note the hand
on the right which prepared the sausage meat and the various nozzles on
the left for different thicknesses of sausages. The handle is at the
Cylinder tilted into a vertical position.
The cylinder would be
filled in the vertical position (as shown in the right-hand mock-up) before the
fitting of the piston, lowering, connecting up and screwing on the
required nozzle. Mock-up and additional information courtesy of
Sausages were made in full view in a red sausage machine. In at the top would
go the minced meat (and probably some meal and flavourings as well, although I can't
be sure). Then butchers would put the skins on the nozzle and turn the handle.
It was fascinating for me to see the butchers take the long strings of the emerging sausage
in their hands and with a flip of the fingers make a string of individual sausages.
Unless the weather was exceptionally hot, these would be put over hooks and hung in shop windows.
Buying bones and fat
It was not unusual for bones to be on sale for women to use to flavour their
Lumps of fat were on sale too for rendering down for dripping, which
was a popular meal on its own, spread on a slice of toast. It was always
Buying joints of meat
I was never directly involved in buying joints of meat. That was for my mother
- and it was always beef. She didn't stay with one butcher. She loved looking at
meat in butchers
shops. She would say, "That's a lovely bit of beef", etc. I wouldn't have known.
My childhood errands to the butcher
I had to go to the local butcher about once a week and it
was usually to get ¾ of a pound of leg of beef and a
¼ of a pound of beef
suet for a meat pudding. I was never happy about this errand because my mother
would always tell me to tell the butcher that she didn't want too much sinew.
Yet far too often there was too much for her taste. Then she made me take the meat
back which made me feel uncomfortable.
The outside of the butcher's shop at the corner
of Bulwer Road in Silver Street Edmonton, early 1900s. Detail of a larger photo on old
The butcher I was sent to was on the corner of
Silver Street and Bulwer Road in Edmonton.
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.