More than chops at old-time butcher

Hamilton Libraries Perry Rice takes a look at butcher shops from times past.

Butchers 2576

Surely that’s not sawdust swept under the bench? Yes, that bench – the two sawhorses with the old door on them. Rolls of meat, maybe pork? Pork above? You could get a few chops out of that lot.

This shop must have had a fair turnover. There is quite a lot of meat in the shop. Smaller butcheries would have only one rail to hang meat on. This shop not only has two rails but the top one is so high they have the use of a block and tackle affair – see it hanging in the upper right corner. In front of the counter is a shelf for ladies’ bags. And it was always (in those days) the ladies who did the shopping.

Behind the counter? Those are butchers – the chopper chaps. The thing is, I never saw a butcher who wasn’t a bit of a ‘Jack the lad’ with the ladies. They were always cheerful, whistling, chopping through meat with great gusto and great accuracy, and greeting ladies as if they were the most important, most elegant and most desirable ladies in the world. This was very subtle and never crudely articulated but ladies certainly did enjoy going to the butcher.

Butchers knew how meat should be cooked. I know that because my Uncle Tom was a butcher and when I holidayed with him he would get me down to the shop at sunrise in Tahiti. He would set me to work cutting the kidneys out of the fatty case – ‘Don’t nick the kidneys with the knife, Pezza. They’re worth two bob each if they’re not nicked’.’ After about two hours’ work he would cut a beautiful piece of steak for each of us for breakfast and throw them on the hotplate. What a fabulous breakfast with a hot cup of tea. He flirted something awful with every single woman who came in the shop – even my Aunty Mary and that really did seem indecent at eleven years of age.

What I suppose I’m trying to get across is that butcher’s shops like this one are gone and I wish this photo could give people the whole of the atmosphere – the aromas, the sawdust, the chopping block, the deft handling of knives and meat cleavers.

Interesting is one minor detail here – the board on the trestles. That’s a ‘shambles’. The shambles in any town was the board on which butchers displayed their wares. If I remember rightly it’s from Anglo-Saxon.

The most famous ‘Shambles’ in the world I suppose is in York in England which a hundred years ago or more was the city’s meat retailing centre. It was filled with butcheries.

So, here in Hamilton we had our own Shambles but… it’s gone.

Story: Perry Rice, Hamilton Central Libraries.  Perry Rice

Email Perry here.

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4 thoughts on “More than chops at old-time butcher

  • February 18, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Great story, Perry. Supermarkets have a lot to answer for.

  • February 18, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Thank you Perry, very interesting. Reminded me of my mum ordering meat from the butcher who worked in town and lived down the road from our place – about 1/2 mile away. He would bring the meat home delivered it to our place, now that was service, always time for a chat asking after family. Yes they were a happy lot.

    • February 18, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      Those really were the days, I too have memories of the special service from the local butcher in the Mt Roskill shops. Huge old chopping block, striped aprons and just the right amount of cheek as they chopped! (The Frankton butcher is the only one close to that memory now.)

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