Job that created a real shambles in city centre

Jim Samworth, butcher, Middlewood Road, Hillsborough - 1994
Jim Samworth, butcher, Middlewood Road, Hillsborough - 1994
Have your say

Our Midweek Retro A to Z of jobs today looks at the work of butchers in putting meat on to the nation’s dining tables.

Butchery is one of those trades that has struggled to survive at times in recent years, mainly because the way that most of us shop has changed with the huge popularity of supermarkets.

Joseph Day, butcher, outside Sheffield Town Hall with a petition against the closure of the Abbatoir and Wholesale Meat Market - March 1982

Joseph Day, butcher, outside Sheffield Town Hall with a petition against the closure of the Abbatoir and Wholesale Meat Market - March 1982

Vegetarianism has also become more widespread.

Butchery emerged as a skilled trade in medieval times, when the techniques were developed for properly preparing and dressing meat into the required cuts with the minimum of wastage 
and high levels of hygiene.

These days we use the word shambles to mean a mess but originally a shambles was an open-air butcher’s where firms displayed their wares on wooden window sills or stalls.

The animals brought into market to be sold would be slaughtered nearby.

Naturally, the smell was pretty bad at the Sheffield Shambles, which once stood off Waingate near Sheffield Castle.

The buildings were finally demolished in the late 1920s.

In 1784 the Earl of Surrey obtained an Act of Parliament to expand the city’s market and remove the ancient shambles stalls and slaughter houses which at that time stood in the city centre.

Sheffielders had got fed up with animals being driven into the city centre to be 
sold at the Bullstake, which was later renamed as Haymarket.

According to famed Sheffield historian Joseph Hunter, the new shambles were opened two years later.

He said: “The whole was conducted with much satisfaction to the public.

“A handsome and exceedingly convenient market place was obtained, together with a readier communication between the upper and lower parts of the town through New market street and the streets on each side of the shambles.

“A convenient place (was) set apart for the beast market in the Wicker and those great but necessary nuisances the slaughter houses were placed in the best situation possible close to the waters of Don.”

Sheffield then had its own Smithfield Market near Victoria railway station for livestock, which closed in 1940. The area was also home to a popular fairground.

In the early 19th century, an agricultural depression in Germany led to some migrants moving to England and setting up as specialist pork butchers.

Their hot dishes became popular with factory workers in cities such as Sheffield who had very limited time to cook for themselves and so the butchers were early providers of fast food.

Sadly, some of the butchers were subject to anti-German feeling in the build-up to the First World War, a fate suffered by other innocent Germans who had made their homes here.

Crowds attacked Sheffield and South Yorkshire shops including butchers, thought to be of German origin, in 1915.

Peter Warr’s book, Sheffield in the Great War, quotes the Sheffield Daily Independent of May 15, 1915 describing the looting of one shop in Attercliffe, Sheffield: “Women and men walked away with hams and flitches of bacon in their possession, women and girls wore links of polony and sausage as necklaces, while children munched pork pies and other delicacies.

“The crowd showed themselves ready to attack any shop if the shop owner was suspected of relationship with Germany.

“English pork butchers displayed Union Jacks but even this did not always satisfy the crowd.”

Order was only restored by determined action by the police and courts. Many Germans also ended up in internment.