20th May 2022

It’s great to see lots of communities planning Jubilee celebrations this summer, coming together to after two years of restrictions to celebrate with friends, families and neighbours. Monarchist or not, it really is pretty mind blowing to consider her majesties Queen Elizabeth II 70 years of devoted service and to think about how much society has changed since 1953.

My parents didn’t have a telly at the time of the coronation (only 350,000 people owned a tv in 1953) so watched it on a friends set. My Mother ‘Bunty’ loved the Royal family so I can only imagine her excitement on coronation day. Many decades later she was delighted to meet HRH Princess Anne when she officially opened our Cumbrian Food Hall. For once I think she let Princess Anne speak first !

In 1953 my father Jimmy and mother Bunty ran two traveling butchers vans from our premises known to us as “The Butching house “ at the top of the hill in the Eden village of Kirkoswald with a small team of helpers. Dad would be on one van and Joe Paley, the other. Rationing was still in place but would come to an end a year after the coronation, and I remember Dad telling me that one day he didn’t have enough bits of meat on the van for every customer so he went back and cut then into smaller pieces.

Those two Cranstons vans served a completely different way of life. Dad would put in really long days, starting before dawn and sometimes returning at 9pm at night. Monday was auction day, and I think that allowed Dad a bit of relaxation having a beer with the butchers and farmers after the auction before returning to get ready for the week ahead. The unrefrigerated van was piled up with meat and he would pull into farmyards and villages, open the doors and dish up basic raw cuts from a small chopping block. Sharp mental arithmetic was a must – not a barcode or beep in sight!

On hot summer days meat could quickly go off so Mum would take meat out in the car, meeting dad to top the van up. Several other travelling shops serviced the area including Bells and Birketts bakery vans and George Lancaster’s grocery van.

Ladies (almost exclusively ladies as in those days very few women worked) would come out with a plate and Dad would place the meat on it- a piece of greaseproof was the only packaging. The range was simple- only two varieties of sausage…Cumberland thick or thin! Offal was a popular choice and much more meat was sold on the bone than it is today. Everybody cooked from scratch.

It was typical for a housewife to buy a big piece of beef on the bone which someone would roast on the Sunday, eat cold on the Monday and mince up for a cottage pie on the Tuesday. The cattle breeds were smaller back then , predominantly  Angus and Hereford. They would then be cut to produce bone in joints rather than the bigger carcasses from continental breeds of today which are to seam and bone out requiring different cutting techniques.

Advances in refrigeration, communications and technology have made being a butcher a lot more comfortable than it was back then and today’s butchers have the benefit of working with a much more exciting product range using flavours from all over the world.  For all we have gained with 70 years of progress I can’t help lamenting a little what had been lost; global food supply chains and a mass move to processed foods have left a lot of people less connected with their food and where it comes from.

It’s easy to look back with rose tinted spectacles about how simple life was back then but the reality of running two busy butchers vans all week without modern refrigeration and pre mobile phones was hard graft. I think my father would look at our young butchers today and think they’ve got it good!


Philip Cranston