The Shambles

  • 14 Feb 2019
  • Worcester People and Places
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                                                                                                                         The Shamles
Buy! Buy! Buy! Saturday night in the Shambles, after 9 o.clock, was like a medieval fair, with butchers vying with each other to auction unsold meat. Until about 1930, few butchers had any form of refridgeration, and meat was sold off cheaply, rather than let it spoil over the week-end. Crowds of poor folk gathered there waiting to get a cheap bit of meat, for the shops stayed open till after 10 p.m. There were many butchers in the Shambles then, with their own slaughter -houses at the rear of the shops, and very un-hygenic some of them seemed to be.

Day or night, the Shambles was a lively-place, for there were a number of greengrocers there, and these shops had a tradition of 'barkers'.          

The shouts of 'Ripe Tomatoes', 'Bea-utiful Cu-cumbers, 'Best Jaffa Oranges' were bellowed in quick repitition - each outshouting the other. The greengrocers always appeared to spill out on the pavement, as did the refuse of cabbage leaves and empty boxes. One shop needed no barker. It was Taylor's, the grocer who kept the ripest of cheeses. If one's attention was elsewhere, it was soon obvious that the shop was near, for the smell of cheese was strong and unmistakable. Outside the shop, looking through the window there were usually a group of small boys, watching the cheese intently, for it was usually a group of small boys, watching the cheese intently, for it was believed that if you watched closely, you could see it 'walk'.

In the centre of the Shambles stood Millis's Fish and Chip shop, where, in the 1930's, one could buy a fish and chips for about 3 d (240 d to the pound) and a huge paper of chips for a penny (240 d to the pound), and for youngster's with less, 1/2 d worth of scratching's. This illustrates the difference in the value of money then and now, for a young man with 6 d. in his pocket could buy him a pint of home brewed ale (3 d), a packet of Woodbine cigarettes (5 for 2 d) and a box of matches (1/2 d) and still have 1/2 d. change.


Pratley's China Shop was a long established business that closed in July 2012 after 132 years of trading, surviving two fires which burnt down the premises completely. George Pratley originally travelled with a horse and dray selling at market places up to 60 miles distance, but today the customers come to him, for the china shop in the Shambles had become a mecca for all who liked Royal Worcester, Crown Derby, and other fine china at prices cheaper than elsewhere. It has even been said, that people come to Worcester for two things; to see the Cathedral, and to visit Pratley's, and they are constantly amazed at the vast quantity of china, stacked high and seemingly so precariously, and that there are so few accidents.

The Shambles was, however, a street of butchers, but it is not the carcasses hanging on the hooks, nor the joints of meat on the slab, that is best remembered in the days before 1939, but the variety of cooked meats and dishes of offal. The butcher's shops were full of upturned buckets of pressed beef, brawn, chitterlings and tongue. There  were dishes of tripe, pig's feet, chawl (pigs face), faggots, brains and hearts. There were pig's pudding (black and white), and 'mountains' of thick and thin sausages, but pride of place was given to the legs of roasted pork, the crackling scored and roasted to a crispy brown, with in the centre, sage and onion stuffing - and selling at seven and a half pence a quarter (old currency ) . There was a great deal of poverty about then, and offal was cheap, and when cooked properly, provided a meal that was tasty and nourishing.