If you’re heading to the South West for holidays this year make sure you visit Barnstaple and see the iconic Butchers Row, as it is one the last surviving examples of purpose built meat retailing units in the country. Built in the middle of the 1800s, before the modern chiller units and air conditioning of today, they were north facing with a large overhanging roof which kept the units cool all year round. The street was home to 33 butchers, but now only one remains – Berrys Butchers. The market’s oldest continuous tenant, Grattons Butchers, started there in 1954 but moved out last year into the town centre and have enjoyed an increase in trade as a result. By comparison, Berrys have reported a drop in trade, even further than the year before.
We all know the complex reasons behind the drop in trade for the traditional high street butchers, and that there is a resurgence in meat sales at farm shops and in consumer interest in locally sourced produce, but those in the middle, i.e. not at farm shops and not in busy high streets, are feeling the pinch. There are only around 6,000 butchers shops in the UK, compared to 15,000 in 1990 and the huge shifts in consumer shopping behaviour coupled with a glut of (often conflicting) news stories about food and health means the butchery trade has to constantly evolve to keep up.
When you consider that many of the bright young butchers of today were not even born when there was still at least one butcher in every town, and that those who remember the busy times for the trade are starting to retire it is well worth butchers of all ages giving thought to times past, and visiting historic places with a strong tie to our trade, if only to remind ourselves of the rich heritage this trade has. I for one will be popping by for a visit next time I’m in the area, and will make sure I buy something at Berrys! More information on the history of butchery in Barnstaple and pictures can be seen here.