BUTCHERS’ SHOPS have been the link between livestock farmers and the public for generations with many having been or still practicing as farmers in their own right.
Butchers in rural areas never had to attend courses to tell their customers about their beef, pork, lamb and poultry. They simply knew their facts.
And in today’s world where the lion’s share of a family’s weekly shopping involves massive supermarkets where meat is grabbed from an unmanned counter, pre-packed, the decline of the local butcher’s shop has been predicted for a while.
In the mid-1990s there were 22,000 local butchers’ shops in the UK, by 2013 that figure was 6,500, according to a survey by The Grocer magazine.
But Ian Weatherhead feels the tide is turning. He and his son Andrew run H Weatherhead & Sons in Pateley Bridge, a business started by Ian’s great grandfather Henry in 1876.
It may have taken them a while but the Weatherheads’ fourth and fifth generation finally opened a second shop in Grassington last year, taking over the business formerly run by Colin Robinson who now works with them.
Market towns and villages are of course vastly different to major towns and cities. Butchers’ shops such as theirs may have never suffered from the same level of competition from supermarkets, but many have still found life tough.
“I think people are coming back to the little butchers like us. We know what we’re talking about and that’s got to be better than looking at racks of meat with no-one around to help.
“I’ve been farming and butchering all my life and still live at Book House Farm where I was born. I’ve judged cattle, sheep and pigs all over the place and we’re proper old fashioned butchers. We know all aspects of the job from the livestock being on the farm right the way through to being in here.”
Ready meals and the demise of the Sunday roast joint have had an impact on how butchers prepare their meat counters.
“We’re not doing anything like the number of joints anymore to but we are selling far more steaks. We’re also doing a lot more of what I call fancy things for quick, easy meals and barbecues.”
The attitude towards fat in meat guided their move from stocking one breed of sheep to another some years ago.
“We used to produce lamb from Masham ewes that had been put to the Suffolk tup but as the fashion changed away from bigger sheep with fat on them we moved towards the Texel. Everybody is looking for lean lamb now but you can get away with fat on beef and pork. People understand that is what gives the meat flavour and tenderness but they don’t want it on lamb. That’s why the continental breeds came in.”
About 70 per cent of their beef comes from Andrew’s father-in-law Robert Gray’s farm in Ilkley that is run by Andrew’s wife Sally.
“They have British Blue X British Friesian cows that are put to the Limousin bull,” Andrew says. “Our customers constantly praise us for the quality of their beef. We also get a reasonable trade for Aberdeen Angus, Dexter, Highland and Galloway beef. Juliet Swires, just down the road has one of the best Angus herds in Yorkshire and we get one off her when we can. We have some local people who have smallholdings and keep Highlands, Galloways and Dexters. The Dexters are proving very popular and provide a very good chunky sirloin. The trade for Galloway beef has gone so well that Sally has recently put a Galloway bull to her cows to provide us with even more.”
In recent years Andrew and Ian have won awards for their sausages at Countryside Live in Harrogate and as the best butchers in the UK through Countryside Alliance.
Ian feels that the local butcher is still a force to be reckoned with, adding: “Providing your meat is top notch and that you do your job right along with a happy, smiling face backed with right amount of knowledge and experience I think we’ll continue to do well.”