...Ian Bowler writes about his early days in Fazeley

[The information given below is to the best of my knowledge accurate concerns the butchers shop and abattoir in Mill Lane, much of which relates to the experiences of my parents as told to me. My father worked at the shop for over forty years from late1920s to 1969 and my mother also spent a little time helping especially during the early part of WW2.]

The shop at the corner of Mill Lane (currently a Barbers) was for many years F.H.Baylis a butcher.

Editor comments: It is still a Barbers shop. Until 2014 it had been run for many years by "Gil". It was a traditional gentlemans barber shop but it looks like it might be something different now! On the left is the old Chapel and on the right is Mill Lane where the abattoir was.

It was certainly there in at the start of the 20th century. His son “Bert Baylis” ran the business until 1964 when he retired and let the shop to my father W. J. Bowler who kept it until 1969.

Mr W.J.Bowler in portrait and pushing the meat trolley into Mill Lane.

Butchery in the first half of the twentieth century was very different from today. Mr. Baylis would go to livestock markets or local farms to buy animals on the hoof and then they would be driven along the roads to the abattoir for slaughtering. My father lost his wedding ring when driving sheep from Two Gates. He told me of the times when frightened animals would “escape” when being driven and cause chaos in the surrounding area. Sheep and pigs were difficult but could be man handled if necessary; cattle were an entirely different proposition and dangerous once out of control. Often the most difficult part of the drive was the last stage turning the animals into the slaughter house where it seemed they had a sense of their destiny. Many are the times my father chased animals along Mill Lane trying to turn them back. On one occasion an errant bullock charged in to the small blocked off ally at the side of the slaughterhouse and refused to move, at another time a beast had to be killed in the Lane. After WW2 it became increasingly likely that animals were delivered in trucks. Occasionally when stock needed to be kept off site, they were held on the field behind the Mile Oak Hotel in the area between the houses in French Avenue and those on the Watling Street.

The slaughterhouse as it was always known was across Mill Lane in what appears to have been an old chapel but I’m not sure about this. It seemed to be too large both in length and height for it to have been built as an abattoir for a relatively small business. From memory it was about thirty wide, about sixty feet long and about twenty feet to the apex of the roof, but that is only a guess; there seemed a lot of wasted space. When I knew it in the 50s and 60s it had two pens for resting the livestock before they were killed, one tended to be used for cattle and the other for sheep and pigs. Two large refrigerators, a large table for cutting carcases and in the far room, always imagined as possibly the former vestry, the cutting table and scales for putting up customers’ orders. Vans were parked in the main part of the building overnight.

In the area to the left of the main doors was the area where animals were slaughtered. Beasts as cattle were called had a noose around their necks with the rope threaded through a ring in the wall so the animals head could be pulled tight against it. The beast was then shot with a captive bolt pistol but in earlier times a poleaxe was used. Pigs were stunned with electricity and then had their throats cut and the blood ran onto the floor and into a pit where it was collected for making black pudding. Sheep were shot. When dead, the cattle were raised by means of a hand hauled winch and then skinned and cleaned. Large animals could weigh almost half a ton so it was heavy work for the slaughter man. Pigs once dead, had their bristles removed by scraping the skin in boiling water on a special cradle. The sheep were skinned and cleaned on this as well. Skins and large bones were sold to a dealer who also collected the fat and other waste each week. During the summer months the smell from this decaying waste was awful.

Slaughtering stopped in the early 1960s when it became too expensive to upgrade the facilities to meet new regulations.

In 1964 when I started work the three cottages past the shop on the left hand side of Mill Lane were converted into preparation areas. Mrs Lakin who lived in one cottage moved across the street next to the slaughter house and her former home housed the cutting room the separating wall was knocked through to the cottage next door and this housed two walk in refrigerators. The end cottage had three coal fired coppers installed.

It was in these coppers we boiled hams, tongues, bacon and salted beef. At times we made lard. On Thursdays when this work was usually done most passers-by could be seen sniffing the air enjoying the smell. The bacon and ham hocks were taken to the shop in time for the workers from Tolson’s Mill to buy during their lunch break. The coppers were also used to boil water for cleaning.

In the days before supermarkets tradesmen delivered good s to homes on a regular basis and these rounds, as they were known, lasted for many years. There was a great deal of customer loyalty to the tradesman and vice versa. Frequently children of customers when married would have their meat from us and in few instances three generations of the same family were customers. I recall once a lady was unhappy that some wool was left on the shank of spring lamb even though at the time it was usual to leave it; I had to drive to the other side of Tamworth with a knife to cut it off. My father told me in the winter of ’46 – ’47 he had to wade in snow up over his knees delivering meat to customers along the Sutton Road at Mile Oak.

Baylis’s shop served the butchery needs of a wide area and had rounds covering Mount Pleasant and Two Gates, Fazeley Road Estate and Drayton Basset, on to Hints and even a few customers in Tamworth.

The 1960s view from the shop looking across the fields to Tamworth.

The largest of the rounds by far was at Mile Oak particularly when the “new” houses (Manor Road, Coronation Avenue, etc.) were completed in the 1950s. In what today seem very primitive conditions meat was served from the back of vans and earlier still horse drawn carts. My mother called into service during the war years told of the time that when she was delivering meat with the horse and cart. The horse was startled by a motor lorry and bolted, she had to hang on to the reins until the exhausted animal came to a halt; a never to be forgotten experience. The stable for the horses was across the road, the gable end of the upper floor is still visible.

There was no refrigeration in the vans and in the summer months meat that wasn’t needed immediately was wrapped in greaseproof paper and newspaper to keep it cool. Very few families had refrigerators and so keeping food fresh was very much a problem. In winter keeping the meat cold wasn’t an issue but trying to keep oneself warm certainly was. When they were new the houses in Deer Park Road all had metal gates and at times it was so cold if you had blood on your hands and usually you did, fingers would freeze to them. It is easy to forget that clothing was not as efficient then as it is now. Waterproofs were seldom such and in times of heavy rain we often had to return home to change into dry clothes before continuing on the round. The only protection we and customers had was a heavy canvas sheet fixed to the van roof and hung over the open doors. If the wind blew the rain into the back of the van we would turn it round and reverse along the avenues.

On Saturday a boy was employed to deliver meat on the bicycle to customers around Fazeley. It had a big basket on the front and required a knack to control it; not least was the back-pedal brake to stop it. Pushing the loaded bike up the canal bridge and then zooming seemingly out of control on the other side towards the Parish Hall and traffic island tested the lad’s courage. Indeed many years before when the White Horse Pub stood at the corner of Atherstone Street my father thought he remembered a boy was killed when he crashed into the wall there while riding such a delivery bike.

Most customers on the rounds had weekly accounts and paid on Saturday when the weekend joint was delivered. In the early 60’s a joint of beef could be had for six shillings (30p), a small pork pie was nine pence (4p) and one customer regularly used to ask for four pork chops for two and six pence (12 ½ p)we sometimes managed it but they were very thin. The weekly meat bill for most families was seldom more than £1. Demand for certain meats has changed a lot too; we used to sell sheep’s heads, ox cheek, pigs trotters and brains regularly, breast of lamb and brisket of beef was always available and favoured by many.

The slaughter house and all the houses along Mill Lane and FreeTrade Place were demolished at the end of the ‘60s. Certainly most, if not all were gone by the summer of ’69 when I left the shop. It didn’t seem to take much to pull the buildings down and some would say the soul out of Mill Lane. A long steel rope was threaded through windows and a caterpillar tractor, simply pulled the buildings down in an unbelievably short space of time. As there was no garden at the shop mother used to put out food for the sparrows in the Lane, they seemed to know when feeding time was due and used to line up on the slaughter house roof. They gave her a great deal of pleasure and she felt their loss keenly as they went with the buildings.


You have asked for names of people I remember, sadly not as many as I would like

Emma Lakin, lived next to slaughter house as stated above, her daughter Winifred Sanderson lived at the last house in Mill Lane and Wini’s daughter Carol White lived halfway along the lane. Three generations in the same street how times have changed. Hazel and Gordon Aucott lived on the other side of the slaughter house. The Smiths, Burdetts and Keenes lived along the lane too. Only two cottages existed on the left hand side the Stewarts lived in the second and I’m trying to remember who lived in the first one, sorry.

Unfortunately I have few photos and none of any merit but I include what I have.