Bye to Bob the butcher

AS a butcher Bob Knowles has sent thousands of customers away happy but he still remembers the day a little boy saw him and burst into tears.

"I was carrying two sheep's heads, one under each arm," recalls the 66-year-old owner of S Knowles, in Milton Road, Eastwood, Rotherham.

"I was walking from the old Rotherham abattoir up to the shop. It was back in the days before health and safety. A woman had ordered them - there's a lot of meat on a sheep's head - and I'd gone to collect them.

"I must have looked like something out of a horror film though. I was only 17 myself but I think I would probably have had blood on my apron.

He took one look at me and started crying to his mum. I think I used paper bags after that."

Those were the days.

And Bob, of East Bawtry Road, Whiston, has good reason to remember them fondly - for this Friday he will hang up his cleaver and pass the shop his Grandad Harry set up in 1923 over to one time apprentice Nigel Taylor.

"It will be strange to wake up Saturday and not have to go in," he says. "I started working there for my dad when I was 10 and I reckon I've taken no more than 10 Saturdays off since - just for things like my son's wedding."

No-one could say his dedication has not paid handsomely.

While many independent shops have struggled to survive in an era of supermarket saturation, S Knowles has continued to thrive with business as strong as ever.

Customers range from "little old ladies after a pound of stew" to big-spending restaurants like The Manor Barn, in Kimberworth.

And the secret to the success?

Good quality meat of course - but also offering something of the personal touch. To be a butcher, it seems, you have to be part meat purveyor, part grief-counsellor, part showman.

"Giving people the best quality local meat is important," says Bob, who took over from dad Sidney in 1985. "But you have to do so much more than that.

"People come here because they want the human touch, they want to have a chat with the man behind the counter, perhaps ask his advice or off load a problem."

And, when he thinks about it now, he's going to miss that his family aren't going to be the ones providing that human touch.

Son James, 34, was always an academic and has flown the nest to work in a science lab in California while daughter Sarah, 31, was never interested in taking over the business.

"Me and a lot of my customers have grown up together really," says Bob. "And before us their parents and grandparents grew up with mine so it's sad.

"But I'll keep visiting the shop as a customer - I'll be hoping for a discount."

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