The Butcher’s Girl

Location : Derby

My first job when I left school was in a green grocery and grocery shop opposite the butcher’s shop and I went into there because I wanted to be an occupational therapist and I wasn’t old enough because I left at fifteen. I was at the Derby College of Art and I left at fifteen and I had to be seventeen to start training as an occupational therapist so my father, who had very bad arthritis said would I go into the grocery shop and I went into there. I loved every minute but he decided to sell it and he said ‘What do you want to do, do you want to come into the butchers?’ And I liked retail mainly because I liked talking to people and so I went into the butchers, which was across the road and we lived over the top and at the back of it and that was a pork butcher. We didn’t do any beef or lamb just pork and pork products, the actual pork itself .

They say you can use every part of the pig except its squeal, don’t they? We didn’t sell ears and tails but just about everything else was used . We had a small place we called the bake house in the yard where we prepared some of it. We made sausages and we used to cook hams and roast pork .

We bought in corned beef. I remember the large tins of corned beef that we had, because a lot of people came for things to make sandwiches with because we were near Rolls Royce in the war. We had a big balloon over our street because we were so near the railway and Rolls Royce and they would come for things to put in their pack up, as they called it. So we sold potted meat and fish paste in aluminum trays with a butter top on so the paste didn’t dry out. They would put it into little trays because it was very, very finely minced. It was like a pâté we’d call it pate now. It was very bland in those days.

And they put it into these trays and then they would run melted butter on the top so it didn’t dry out so when you came to serve it you used to cut it into squares and it would have this butter top on. So they would have a square of that in grease proof paper to take home to make the sandwiches.

That was brought by a young man, who I got to know quite well. He would come from Bingham near Nottingham and he used to bring the fish and meat paste once a week. So I looked forward to that day very much. And we sold things like eggs which came from the farm and all sorts of bits and bobs as well as the actual pork.

We bought in what was called ‘polony’ and that was like a paste only it was more solid. You could cut it into rings and that was like in a horse shoe shape. It had got a red skin on. I never did know what that was but it was almost like paper. You wouldn’t eat it. We bought that in. It was made where my father went to work as a boy making pork pies and different products again. We still bought their pork pies over the years and we used to send a lot at Christmas. They used to go abroad. They used to go to Scotland, all over the place and we had special pork pie boxes with a ring in so that they wouldn’t crush. But we didn’t make those ourselves. It was all bought from where my father used to work.

They also cooked for us, we used to go and fetch them in the van, chitterlings. That’s the inside of the pig, the digestive system for want of a better word. And they clean those by running scalding hot water through them to get rid of what was really ‘poo’. So they ran that until it was clean and then they boiled them and then cooled. And we had a tray of those and people used to come specially early to get the particular piece of intestine they liked. And they would eat them cold with vinegar. They wouldn’t cook them because they were already cooked. They were sterilized and then they were cooked. As far as I know nobody every got ill from eating them. We didn’t sell tripe. That was a product of other butchers. Beef was tripe. We sold hearts. People took them home and cleaned them and did them with sage and thyme stuffing and bacon. A lot of people liked those; kidneys, of course.

And we had what we used to call ‘pluck’ come. You would hang that up in the fridge. We had a big fridge behind the shop with big wooden doors and you had to pull two handles. And we had a bowl and we would hang the pluck up because the blood would come away and that was the food pipe from the pig’s mouth right down into the stomach. So this pluck would hang there with the pipe, the lungs, the liver and we used to sell the lungs to people who would like them for their cats and the liver, we used to sell that very quickly again because it’s very tender, pig’s liver because you kill pigs quite early on. People who still eat it, like lamb’s liver because it’s a young animal. That was very nice. And in this fridge the innards were hanging. Mother used to help in the shop, she didn’t work all the time, and she wouldn’t touch that at all. If anyone wanted liver it was ‘Janet, Frank.’ Whoever was available to come and do it. She hated that. But as you can gather I’m not a bit squeamish. No problems.

So that was quite an interesting visual thing really. People didn’t eat the wind pipe. That went away. One side of the fridge was raw the other for cooked. Even then we were keeping the raw meat and the cooked separate, you’ll be pleased to know. So the other side was when we cleared away at night. We used to put the hams and pies on that side. And it was a long time before we had a freezer. We did have a small freezer eventually.

The other memory of the shop. In the side window we had a display. We had a main window with the bars across and we used to hang the black puddings up. I didn’t do black puddings, did I? Most people now know what black puddings are. It’s boiled blood with little blobs of fat in, in these black rings and they are in bunches. So we used to make a very exotic display. It had a ring of polony and a bunch of black puddings right along and then over the bottom we had links of sausages and perhaps you’d have a ham each side and it looked super. We’d have tomato sausage. That was just like a pork sausage but we’d put a tin of tomatoes in the mix. And that was lovely because it was pink and it looked ever so pretty. And we always had little rows of parsley between our trays and we would put chops on, like they do now.

We made the sausages but we bought in the black puddings from my father’s previous employers and the polony ,and they cooked the chitterlings. It was a really big place they had. I can remember going with my father to pick that sort of thing up. We didn’t open until nine. But we had to go to Alverstone to pick things up two or three days a week.

We sold the odd bottle of milk for the convenience of our customers. We also had a stool so that people could sit down while they were waiting. And we did get the occasional person who would come and sit and talk.

We used to close from one until two o’clock and my father used to have a rest because of his arthritis and so I used to open up and because it was usually quiet I would bone the bacon. The bacon, strangely enough then, was Danish. We always had Danish bacon. Don’t ask why. I never knew. It was always stamped Danish Bacon. So we had a wholesaler who would bring that in his van and that was hanging up opposite the door on a high rail. And you can tell, I couldn’t reach it to get it down. We had a pole we used to hook it on to get it down. And that was sides of bacon, no heads or tails, just purely the body of the pig but it had still got the ribs in. So I had to stand at what was called the block. Posh kitchens now have a butcher’s block, don’t they? And I had one of those just inside the door from the house and I used to stand and bone these sides of bacon. And I had a lady who used to come on a Tuesday afternoon and she would buy a certain amount and then she would sit on the stool and while I boned out she would talk. I think she lived on her own.

You can’t really blame her, and sometimes father would come down and he would open the door and say ‘I hope your hands are going as quickly as your tongue.’ and I’d say ‘Yes Father. I need a cup of tea.’

We used to get interesting people. We had a lot of Irish people where we were because there was a big Irish Catholic church school. So we had quite a lot of Irish with their lovely accents. That was a very interesting part of it. I’m trying to think what else I haven’t done. I don’t think I’ve done pressed pork. Pressed pork was the shoulder pork which my father cooked and then took off the bone and shredded it into fairly chunky pieces and then put into a mould, no gelatin or anything and pressed it down with weights on. And when you took it out that sliced as well. It would break up a little bit but not much. And a lot of people had that because it was cheap. They would usually have it instead of ham with a salad. A lot of people would have it with a pickle. They didn’t eat salads like we do now. That was cheaper than ham. We sold a lot of that.

We had tins of luncheon meat, which is like Spam and we used to buy that. And people would say ‘Cut it a bit thicker, Janet.’ It was square like Spam is now. You can still buy tins of Spam, can’t you? And they would fry it. There was a lot of frying went on in those days. And that was cheaper than bacon.

Now the bacon. I used to bone it, as you’ve heard. And we would put it on our bacon machine and that was a huge circular knife and you had to turn the handle to slice it. There are some delis that still have that and some in the supermarkets, to slice. And you could adjust the thickness. Say four slices of number 4, and you had to be very careful of your fingers. I can feel it now. I caught the side of my little finger and sliced that off. But I don’t remember ever having a bad cut.

One of the things I used to get was chilblains. And I ended up with such a bad chilblain I had to wear very thin gloves and I went to the doctor and he said, ‘Why are you working in that shop?’ And it’s taken years to get rid of them on my feet. I still get one, just one toe, as a reminder.

Trotters, there again, were cooked at Peaches for us because they had big coppers and by the time they were cooked they would have a bit of jelly round them. We used to sell a lot of those. I never fancied those. We didn’t actually get the heads of the pigs and I was quite pleased about that, not having to look into dead eyes. But they would use the head meat in pies and that sort of thing in the shop, because they had a shop as well as the wholesale side. I can’t think of any other little bit that we haven’t covered, of the pig.

My father had a slaughter man’s licence, which means he could actually kill a pig. And my father’s uncle had a farm at Swarkestone which is still Derbyshire. If you know your history of Bonnie Prince Charlie, he got as far as Swarkeston Bridge.

And they would kill a pig occasionally. My father would go and kill it and my mother and I would go with him but the ladies would have to stay in the house and I would say ‘Can’t I go and look?’ and they’d say ‘No you cannot go and see the pig killed.’ Because it wasn’t horrendous to me. I’d grown up with the dead things all round, bits of pigs.

After they’d killed it and they were cleaning it down and taking the insides out he would fetch me to see what they were doing. And I remember the smell, because they used a lot of very, very hot water to clean the actual pig’s body and then scald the outside and shave it and I’ve got visions of my father and Frank, his name was Frank too, it was a family name, shaving this pig hanging up, and the smell of the hot, boiling cleaning water, there wasn’t another smell like it. It wasn’t nasty, you never thought ‘phew’ but it had a certain smell and clouds of steam would come out the door. I’m not sure of the time of year. It wasn’t summer in my memory. This might have been sometime before Christmas so they’d got the pieces to sell. But that was their own pig, what I call an ‘in house’ pig, that sort of thing. That was another memory of pigs.

The shop opened at nine in the morning and closed at half past five, but we’d start cleaning, because there was a lot of clearing up to do, early and if anybody came in when we were almost closed you would serve them. And we would finish at four on a Saturday. And people coming back off holiday on Saturday afternoon would send us a post card and say ‘will you keep me a quarter of ham and a piece of hock, or a piece of pie and we‘ll pick it up as soon as we come home.’ And they would pick it up around six o’clock at night. We closed basically on a Monday, for instance, I had to get married on a Monday, because that was the day I could get away. No way could you marry on a Saturday if you’d got a shop.

Monday morning we always did our main cleaning and I would scrub the shop floor which was wood, so I was on my knees scrubbing a wooden floor on a Monday morning. And that was an art in itself because you had to go with the grain of the wood and so I had to scrub from right to left all the way down unless you’d got a bit of wood that happened to be set in the other way. At the end of each floor board you had to make sure you didn’t leave the scum, the piece each side, so there was quite an art in that. I know that after I married and left to have my children they didn’t do so much. They had an old gentleman used to come, because my father couldn’t scrub it because of his arthritis. And my father used to say’ He doesn’t scrub it like you. He leaves the scum at the sides.’ and I said ‘I had a good teacher.’ which of course I did.

My father would clean windows and things like that but he couldn’t get down to do the floor. And we had a wooden counter for years before the regulations came in. Then we had to have a refrigerated counter. But the only refrigeration we had was this big old cabinet we used to put the stuff in at night. So we closed early on Saturday, if we could. Then we were closed all day Sunday and opened on Monday morning.

Anybody who came on Monday morning and said ‘Have you got anything left?’ and you’d say ‘There’s a bit of ham.’ We would serve people while we were cleaning if we’d got it but we always hoped that you’d sell pretty well out and just occasionally my father would go to stock up with things, but we didn’t have wholesalers like we do now to go and fetch things. It was always from his original employers.

It was quite a common thing then to have pork butchers. If you talk to people in Norwich they will remember shops like Craskes, Back of the Inns; and that was just pork. When I first came to Norfolk that was always busy. You used to have to queue. So pork butchers were quite common. And then you would have a general butchers. We had a general butchers opposite and although they sold a very small amount of pork, chops and joints, they sold very little. It was all lamb and beef and we used to go across and get our beef for the house, and they would come across for a quarter of ham. And they didn’t cook any pork products, so it was quite fair.

We lived on a cross road of a very long street and there were shops right down this street and shops on almost every corner, news agents, hair dressers and general stores. They usually specialised in some way. And the cross roads that we were on, we had the grocery and green grocery, our pork butchers, the general butchers and then there was a house opposite. It was quite a community. When I grew up and started going out with boys, my father would have a report most mornings on who I’d gone with. It was like living in a goldfish bowl, it really was. ‘Your Janet was out with so and so last night.’ and he would say ‘Yes I know. It’s all right, I know.’ Even if he didn’t know, he used to pretend he did.

As far as I can remember I was paid about thirty shillings a week and I gave my mother ten shillings for my keep. I mean, a pound bought an awful lot of stuff, records and clothes. My mother used to make a lot of my clothes so that helped. But if you wanted to go to the pictures or buy a record or some makeup or something that would go a long way.

And I remember one little bit not to do with butchery. My father had a very close friend who was a newsagent. He had a big news agency near the Midland Station in Derby and he needed a girl in his sweet department and he said ‘Can I borrow Janet?’ And my father said ‘If she would like to come and work for you then I’ll lend her to you.’ you see. it was all in good part. And so I did odd mornings for him, Mr. Peters his name was, and he paid me the ten shillings and my father paid me the pound so they split it. That’s how I remember it being arranged. And I worked in his sweet shop which was attached to the news agency, with all the big jars. And of course people would come by to go to the station in the morning and pick some sweets and chocolate up there. I didn’t sell cigarettes, just sweets. And they’d go next door for papers and cigarettes.

That was very interesting, that was because I’d never worked for anyone else and my father thought it was good that I went out as you might say, into the world, to experience another side of retail. Then when I got married I used to go down one night a week. That was when I didn’t work at all in the day when I had two children. I’d go and work one night a week for my Dad and I’d do a lot of boning for him and I got ten shillings for that.

All the butchery skills I learned, my father taught me as I went along. He was a master butcher . He got his diplomas and everything and he did talks to women’s guilds and he was president of the Master Butchers’ Association, for instance one year, so he was skilled. My brother came into the business and he took all his exams and he is now a master butcher who went on to be a primary school teacher, then a headmaster who is now retired.

I didn’t take my diplomas mainly because I was too busy getting married. I went in to help my father and I never came out to do what I had originally decided to do, occupational therapy. I never did it because he didn’t get any better, my father . He got quite crippled and he used to have a lot of pain. And I liked it. It wasn’t as if I was there thinking ‘I wish I could go to college’. So I stayed and it was really nice. I think the fact that my father had arthritis had prompted me to choose the Occupational Therapy. And being at Art School I was actually particularly good at drawing and painting side of things although I did textile design at one stage. I think the teacher said ‘You can go into another avenue with your art or you could go towards Occupational Therapy’ which then you helped disabled people and people with strokes to use their fingers again. And in those days you did basket weaving and things like that, weaving and that sort of thing. So I took the art part to that and that’s what I would have done if I hadn’t have been side tracked, really.

While I was working in the butchers I lived at home originally and then I met my husband through my aunt. She lived in Twickenham in London . And he was her “gentleman from the city “. Now although he came from Norfolk he worked in London in Threadneedle Street which was the banking street and she wrote to say ‘I’ve got a very nice gentleman lodging with me ‘ and we went on holiday to stay with my aunt to what we called ‘do London’. And I met him there. And because he could see the situation at home, that I really wouldn’t go to London to leave my father he got a job at Qualcaste in Derby which was where they made lawnmowers and he got into their shares department because of his history in banking and he worked there and he came and lodged with a lady up the road until we got married.

So we did our courting basically in the butchers shop standing beneath the sides of bacon. He used to come very often for a meal at night with us and when he was ready to go back to his lodgings which were about four doors up the road, we used to go out the shop way so we could stand and have a good night kiss underneath the bacon and I would let him out the shop door. He liked pork so that was a good thing.

And after we were married we lived at the top of this long road, we bought a semi-bungalow on a corner so I only had to walk down the road to work. And he, by then, was working in the shares department of Rolls Royce and he would cycle to work. Rolls Royce was the big employer in the area. The Railway and Rolls Royce were the two biggest employers and then it was places like Qualcaste and one or two fabric manufacturers.

My husband got a move in his job and he had the options of going to Scotland or Norfolk, which was very strange because that was where he was born, in Holt. And his parents were still in Norfolk so he opted for Norfolk, of course. And then when his father died we shared the house with his mother. We bought part of the house because it was a big house and turned it all into one. And by then I’d got children. Both the boys were born in Derby. And I did the housekeeping for Peter’s mum, my mum and so there were six of us in that one house. But it was a big house. Then my father died, and my brother decided to go and be a teacher. He actually died the day before my brother got married.

My brother soldiered on for a little while but once my father had died his heart wasn’t in it, really and he decided to go in for teaching. So that (the shop)was sold.

And my Mum built on to our house so she had rooms of her own. But because we were still on septic tank drainage we couldn’t put a bathroom or anything so she just had rooms and a wash basin. And we lived virtually together so I did the house keeping for six of us. My friend used to call it ‘The Granary’ because there were two grandmas there. They were so very different. My mother was a town person and my mother-in-law, who was twelve years older than my mother, was very Norfolk, and she would do the garden side and my Mum used to help me with the boys. It worked very well, actually. It shouldn’t have worked. No way should it have worked, but it did.

During my working life I think I enjoyed the actual work in the butchers shop. It was just the opening up in the morning and setting everything out. Strangely enough, we had what we called a slab built onto the wall and that was cool and I would set that out, and it had to be in a certain order. I used to have the ham there and the roast pork there. And I don’t know if it was because I went to art school, but I liked that part of it and I used to love to do the window and dress that all up.

Christmas in that shop was amazing because we used to have hundreds of pork pies to sell and to send off , and in the back, in our bake house, we used to sell poultry at Christmas so we had to prepare those. We would buy them off a farmer who would kill them and we had to pluck them and do everything else to prepare them. But we only did it to order. .People would order a so many pound turkey or chicken. And then towards the end of my working time there we sold a lot more poultry because people were getting more health conscious.

I did about two years in the grocery first when I started so I would have been about seventeen, nearly eighteen when I started in the butchers. And then I got married at twenty one, so quite a short time really. But it seemed for ever. But I grew up there and I’d stand at the end of the counter as a young girl and sell penny OXOs, because we had OXOs in a tin and we used to sell them loose, you see and I would stand there occasionally when I wasn’t at school and sell the penny OXOs.

My whole life was just centred round the shop. We always ate our main meal at lunch time so we’d have tea, something cold with cakes, and my father would ask me what I’d like and I’d go in the shop and choose a piece of pork pie. And when we cooked hams I used to like the little end piece. I never liked fat meat. I liked this little knob on the end that was just pure meat. Or occasionally I would eat chitterlings but I only liked a certain part of it, so when they came in I would secure my chitterlings. I also liked black pudding. I liked most of what we sold apart from anything fatty and I eventually went off black puddings because of the fat.

I think those years when I was single and I worked full time at the shop was when I liked my working life best. The cold was what I really disliked. We had a little stove in there but it was very cold. I used to wear a white nylon coat which, which when you’d had it a couple of years went a yellowing white, and then a blue and white striped apron on the top. And I can remember hardly being able to fasten my coat because I had so many things on underneath. And my father bought me some fur boots because I’d got these chilblains.

So the winter in those shops was very cold. And it was more of a problem when it was very hot with the meat. That gave us problems. You were cool in the summer which was lovely. We were on the shady side of the street as well. The shop opposite had to have blinds but we never had to have blinds so for a butchers shop in the summer that was quite nice. I used to wear a pink and white striped dress then with a white apron. My father said ‘You needn’t wear nylon overalls.’ then. They were horrible things.

My brother never worked with me in the shop. He worked with my father. With him being so much younger he came into it later much in the same way I had because of my father being so ill at times. But there again, he liked the work and got on ever so well and I think by the time he was there we had quite a lot of immigrant people coming in and also the Irish population was a lot bigger and they wanted different food. So we used to have a lot of poultry and they would want the chickens jointed, which was no problem, but you were going off the pork butchery. So things were changing by then. And then he met his wife and they were getting married and my father had a massive stroke and actually died the day before my brother got married.

We went through with the marriage because it was the male side that had had the bereavement. If it had been the female side there wouldn’t have been a wedding, not at that particular time. And when I look back on it that seems quite strange because father’s seat was empty at the reception and they put his buttonhole there in the place. It was a real ordeal. My poor brother lost two stone in weight over a few months and he was then in full change which was an awful lot because he was only twenty one. So it was a big thing for him, a very big thing. And although he carried on for quite a long time that was an awful blow, and things were never the same.

And they’re not, when you lose your parents. Your life alters tremendously especially with it being work-related as well. Mother worked in the shop sometimes and when Ian decided to go for teaching, for a very short while my mother’s sister and her husband came in and helped my mother in the shop, and that was the run down of the shop really, and then that was sold.

When I wasn’t working I had a Monday afternoon off when I went for singing lessons which was nice. My father paid for those. I’ve still got the legacy of that because I still love singing. I’m in a choir. This was lessons one to one, a music teacher and just myself in a private house. I sang some classical things like The Trout Song, and folk songs. Nothing popular at all. .I did two or three exams and got quite good. The problem was I hadn’t by then got a piano which was a shame. And then my singing teacher died.

And it’s amazing how over the years, if you look back on a life, as I look back now, my life changed with people’s deaths, which they do, don’t they? My biggest change, of course, was when my husband died fourteen years ago. I’ve been a widow fourteen years which is an awful long time. I was only fifty seven. But my father’s death previously was our biggest change as a family.

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