Echoes of the Past: Decline as butchers face the chop

Eastmans butchers at 5 King Street
Eastmans butchers at 5 King Street

’Nah-then what can I get thi’, said the butcher, spitting into his hands as he stood in front of every kind of meat and pies you could think of .

Quite often by the end of the day his butcher’s apron would be well deep blood stained from cutting and preparing the meat. No health and safety regulations back in those days.

In this week’s featured photograph we are looking at Eastman’s butchers at 5 King Street. No sign of blood stained aprons on these three. But the meat is hanging outside for all to see, including passing flies and other flying creatures to examine. Hanging up just inside the door way there is a pig’s head.

From available research it was in June 1889 that Eastmans Ltd incorporated Timothy and Joseph Eastmans’ company, and appropriated their name.

By 1903 Eastmans Ltd had just over 200 retail shops and cold stores. These were capable of holding over 300,000 carcasses of mutton. So successful was this business that by 1912 the number of shops had risen to 1,400. However, within the five years preceding the First World War the demand placed on the imported meat trade, owing to rising prices saw it having serious trading problems.

For the company the war proved to be disastrous with 495 shops closing between 1914 and 1917. Most of the employees had joined the forces, meat supplies were disrupted, and turnover was greatly reduced. In August 1920, while Eastmans was recovering from this setback, the Vestey Brothers, owners of the Union Cold Storage Co., stepped in and bought the company.

In 1923 Vestry’s bought a number of small butchery chains including J.H.Dewhurst’s, a name that was in time to dominate the high street meat trade.

By the mid 1970s Dewhurst’s had 1,400 shops spread throughout the country, and in 1980 they were rebranded as ‘Dewhurst The Master Butcher’. On close examination of this December 1986 photograph the Dewhurst’s signage, on the fourth shop up from the left shows that the Brighouse shop was a master butcher branch as well.

By March 1995 the company had 360 shops when it went into receivership. A management buy-out with Asda Property Holdings rescued around 210 of the shops: Asda bought the freeholds and leased the shops back to Dewhurst Butchers. These were gradually updated in the early 2000s.

In 2005 Dewhurst was bought by the West Country butcher Lloyd Maunder but twelve months later 60 shops were closed by Dewhurst’s and the administrators were called in to help sell the remaining 35.

Like so many other meat multiples, it vanished from the British shopping scene including here in Brighouse, bowing to the superior might of the supermarkets.