The Shambles

  • 16 Jan 2012
  • High St
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In the old days each trade had its own street or district in which to sell its goods. In the centre of the Shambles was the Meat Market and an amazing number of butchers shops were concentrated in the street and the market. In 1930, here were 36 butchers shops - 17 in the street, and 19 in the market, and of those 36 only one was a company shop; the rest were all locally owned. Around the Shambles the concentration of butcher's shops extended to Mealcheapen Street,7; Friar Street 4; St  Swithun's Street 2; with single shops in Pump Street, New Streetr, and High Street.
It seems not long ago that cattle trucks and lorries were delivering sheep and cows to the slaughter houses behind the shops; and well within living memeory, between the Wars, most of the animals were driven on the hoof. At such times, the street was filthy and in chaos.
In those days (between the Wars) local butchers had littles or no refridgeration. Meat was displayed on the open slabs or hung in profusion in front of the shop - especially at Christmas, when butchers tried to outdo the others, and the shop fronts were festooned with joints, and whole carcasses proudly displayed. On Saturdays, after 9pm, butchers would auction unsold meat cheaply, rather than allow it to spoil over the week-end. At such times, the Shambles became like a medieval fair as crowds of poorr folk gathered to get meat cheap. The competition between the butchers was intense, and 'barkers' outdoing each other, attracted the crowds till after 11 o'clock.
After the 1960s, stricter municiple hygiene inspection closed the private slaughter houses. Company shops such as Dewhurst and Baxters, with refrigerated meat warehouses took over. The final blow to the private butcher came with the opening of the super-matrkets displaying great quantities and varieties of meat, and with their vast profit margins, able to make special offers which the local butcher could not match.

Changes in the old Meat Market
It is noted that only the 1930 Directory gave details and names of stalls in the Meat Market. From the 1950s other stalls (greengrocers, fish, haberdashery, cheese), appeared in the market.

The Shambles was the heartland of the city's butchery trade and private slaughter houses. Today, not surprisingly, it is only a tiny resemblance of the butchery trade, for the old slaughter houses would scarcely have met the hygienic standards demanded today, and before the 1950s few butchers had any form of refridgeration. The Shambles have changed in character, but it remains a popular place to shop and is now traffic free pedestrian haven.