Saturday, September 19, 2009

Question from Carole - Buying meat in Tudor times

Where did people buy their meat from in Tudor times. Was there such a thing as a butcher's shop?


Marilyn R said...

The Shambles in York, a well-preserved medieval street, has existed for over 900 years and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The medieval city’s butchers’ shops were located here and the name “Shambles” comes from the Saxon word "Fleshammels", which means "the street of the butchers”. There would be a shambles in every town and this is where our word meaning a mess or a chaotic situation comes from.

Many of the York buildings have wooden shelves or wide windowsills left from the days when cuts of meat were sold from open windows; one can also see where the carcases would be suspended from hooks. Medieval streets were already unhealthy because of accumulated filth, including animal and human bodily waste, and with the addition of blood and so forth from the slaughter of the animals on site the smell must have been awful in hot weather and the unwashed cobbled streets a breeding ground for disease.

The buildings have a typical medieval overhang and it is almost possible to shake hands across the street from the upper storeys of a few of them; people bought a small plot and increased the area of upper storeys through building with an overhang. I have heard it said that The Shambles is narrow to provide shade for the meat, but medieval streets in general were narrow. Google Shambles York and you will find hundreds of photos.

Incidentally, Margaret Clitherow, pressed to death in the reign of Elizabeth for harbouring a Catholic priest, lived on this street with her husband John, a prosperous butcher; what was thought to be her house is preserved as a shrine and is open to the public, but her actual house was possibly a little further down the street.

(Going to York on business on Thursday; will also be doing a bit of retail therapy on The Shambles – not butchers’ shops these days, coffee shops etc !)

Unknown said...

Really interesting, I should go to York and visit the Shambles!!! Could you give me some bibliographic references for Shambles in the Middle Ages? I'm studyin medieval butchers in Italian and EU cities and York butchers' street seems really interesting to me