In preparing the Stafford volume I ploughed through every local newspaper released for the area from the early nineteenth century until the end of the Second World War. I lost count of the number of reels of microfilm I saw scrolling past but soon learned where to find the relevant columns. This would have saved some time had I not been distracted by some of the reporting of the day. Some of the news items would hardly be considered worthy of even a mention today. The reporting style, too, was most entertaining. One story, covered in
Not suitable for inclusion in the book were a number of stories which I made a note of simply because I found them so entertaining. For example can we imagine a modern headline proclaiming how wondrous it must be to live in a certain terraced house as recently the combined ages of the four residents surpassed three hundred years!
With modern transportation methods meat is brought into our towns and cities in easily handled sizes to be trimmed and cut for the customer. Once the slaughterhouses were situated within the town, the animals brought in alive. Several stories were related regarding the cattle and their attempts to avoid the butcher’s slab, always assuming they knew of their destination. It was common for butchers to bring the animal to their premises, the beast led by a halter to its final destination. One butcher could not understand where all his halters were disappearing to, so instigated a thorough search of his servants’ rooms. He found the remains of the halters, each minus the ends, within the skirts. It seems his employee desired a very full skirt in the style of the day, however could not afford the metal hoops to fill them out and found a suitable replacement in the halters.
Escaped animals, presumably those not tethered by a halter, were quite commonplace. One evening in May of 1858, Mr Bridgwood, a butcher in Eastgate Street, lost control of a bullock. It ran into the yard of the New Inn where a young lady was targeted. She fled and escaped when a young child wandered into the path of the now rather angry bullock. The child was knocked down and would have suffered worse than the minor bruising had it not been for the intervention by a man who “seizing a large stick laying conveniently at hand, applied it with vigour to the forehead of the enraged brute.” Others managed to tether its legs, making it topple over and enabling them to break its legs, thus preventing it escaping and allowing the butcher to kill it where it lay – in the middle of Stafford.
However one narrative of Victorian pomposity appeared in an edition from May 1864. The newspaper reported how, while it was mindful a Smithfield (meat market) was a necessity, it was appalled that these creatures were still allowed to roam the streets on the way to the abattoir. It seems on the day of the May Fair two animals were highlighted as to why this must be dealt a most severe and final blow. Firstly one rampaged through the crowded streets until apprehended. However it was the second, a cow which attracted the most attention when it decided “to venture into the District Bank, perhaps in order to pay a call on the mayor.” There is no explanation as to why the mayor was in the bank, nor why they thought the cow may be seeking the man out. However it seems likely the mayor had done something to irritate the newspaper in recent weeks, or maybe he was just extremely unpopular. Yet things deteriorated shortly afterwards when, as the newspaper reported, “in the presence of both sexes of all ages the screams and dismay was apparent to all as it did the unthinkable – it calved. An indecent disgrace and disgusting filth for any town to be forced to endure.” A letter the following week echoed the editor’s sentiments in saying “in 1864 and within 130 miles of the Metropolis (London) this should be allowed to happen!” I still wonder how far from the Metropolis a cow would need to be to give birth in public and for it to be considered acceptable?
Incidentally, I shall be signing copies of
I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.