Maurice’s High Class Family Butcher at 265 was one of several butchers in Charnwood Street in the mid-1960s. The business moved to Birstall when the street was demolished – but here are some memories of the shop from Maurice’s daughter Perrie Barratt and his son Kim Richardson.
Perrie remembers that the shop sold: ‘all manner of different meats, offal and associated products. There was always a carcass of beef, pork and lamb hanging high from a big meat hook in the window and also at the back of the counter. A chilled glass cabinet formed part of the counter, displaying smaller cuts of meat, mince, cooked hams etc. The cabinet had green “fake” grass dividers to separate the different displays of meats.
‘There was a big old fashioned till sitting on the counter, the one where you pressed the keys down and the money was displayed on the tabs that popped up at the top of the till, the drawer also came out at the bottom. A rather large set of scales also sat on the counter with the old fashioned brass circular and bell weights. At the back of the counter was a big old wooden butcher’s block where Dad would cut and prepare the meat, rolling and stringing meat into joints, slicing steak and chops. His knives and meat cleaver’s were always extremely sharp and as children we were never allowed to touch them. The chopping block was scrubbed down every evening with a wire brush and some sort of soapy liquid and I always hated the smell, sawdust was sprinkled on the floor each day. Brown paper bags were hanging by string on a meat hook, all stamped with ‘Maurice’s High Class Family Butcher’s’, customer’s orders were placed in these to carry out of the shop, good advertising even in those days!
‘On the front window dad used to write, with some sort of white paint and a brush, anything he considered worth advertising by way of drawing customers into the shop. I guess he had regular customers who would probably buy the same cuts of meat each time. Whether other customer’s came from other parts of Leicester I’m not too sure, although, as we lived some distance from the shop dad occasionally took orders home to our neighbours. I think he had regular customers who came in the shop to place an order and then the ‘butcher’s boy’ would deliver out at an agreed time.
‘The shop was at the front of the building and there was a back room leading directly off of the shop, separated by a colourful plastic curtain, the sort to prevent flies. This room was where most of the meat was stored and also contained the big chillers and fridges. The toilet was out in the back yard and I hated going to it as it always seemed to have big spiders lurking in the dark corners! There was an upstairs but I never recall going up there. We didn’t live above the shop. Dad travelled daily from our home on Netherhall Estate. Dad allowed us to play with chicken’s feet, pulling on the tendons to make them move. We also played with rabbits tails and feet, although why we found this fun I don’t know!
‘My brother helped out in the shop and my Dad also had a “butcher’s boy” running errands on a bike. I never helped out as such but spent many times there as a child just watching my dad work away and listening to him speaking to all his customers. My most vivid memories of my Dad in the shop are watching him sharpen the knives on an old steel (which now has pride of place in my daughter’s kitchen). He did this with an action that we as a family still smile about! Once dad accidently managed to put one of the meat hooks through his finger, and this left him with a permanent crooked little finger. I dare say he cut himself regularly on the sharp knives but it never stopped him from working! He always had a pencil behind his ear which he constantly sharpened with a knife. He wore a white coat and a blue and white stripped apron, invariably covered in blood throughout the day, but he always put a clean coat and apron on each morning. I don’t know who used to launder them for him, probably my Mum.
‘Dad had a jolly banter with his customers’, Perrie’s brother Kim Richardson remembers, ‘always joking with them’. Kim worked at the shop some evenings after school and on Saturdays, but left ‘when I found out I could earn more at Safeway’s (16s) for a Saturday than Dad was paying me (10s)! He would not give me a rise. I also delivered meat locally, sometimes with my uncle by car’. Christmas was ‘always a very busy time. Dad worked late nights gutting fresh chickens, turkeys and rabbits. Sometimes I helped – I was quite a skilled butcher by the time I was 15!’. In the 1960s chicken was still something of a luxury for working class families. Kim recalls that the cheapest meat was lamb – and that a good week in the shop was when takings reached £200’.
Many thanks to Perrie and Kim for their memories, and for providing the photograph.