...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
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
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
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.
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.