Our village butchers were T.W. Parsons and Billy Pannell. Their shops and slaughterhouses were close by the Horse & Jockey crossroads. All the work was done on the premises from killing and cutting out to sausage and pie making, and all their animals were bought from local ﬁrms or Spalding market. They played a vital part in village life, travelling round farms and cottages killing the winter pigs and dealing in the poultry at Christmas. Council regulations have ended the village abattoir but Bernard Parsons carried on the family tradition for some years and his grandson Andrew has a butchery business at Hawthorn Bank, still serving customers by van until recent food hygiene regulations made it prohibitive to serve from the van at the roadside and he is now only able to deliver meat cut and prepared on the shop premises.
Tobias William Parsons (T.W.) was the village butcher at West Pinchbeck during the period from the First World War until the end of the Second. His early years were spent at Holbeach, where his attendance at Sunday School was marked by the presentation of a Bible in 1894. He trained in the trade of butchery with the London Central Meat Co. (later Baxters) at Wisbech from 1912; he came to West Pinchbeck in about 1917. He married Alice Emily Slator and started a butcher’s shop at the Horse & Jockey crossroads. Here he had his own small abattoir where he slaughtered the livestock that he purchased from local markets and farmers; here he cut them up into joints and prepared the sausages, haslets, faggots, bacon and hams and cooked the pork pies and sausage rolls that were on sale in the shop.
Tobias built up a delivery round with his horse and cart during those early years, later changing to a motor van. His wife helped with the cooking and looked after the shop while he was away buying stock and making deliveries.
In those years between the wars life was pretty hard for all villagers. The workers could rarely afford to purchase much ‘butcher’s meat’ but all fattened a pig at the bottom of the garden and all winter Tobias would be busy going out daily to kill a pig for the farmers and cottagers.
I remember him coming down our lane with his van loaded with scalding tub, pig cratch (a ﬂat narrow table about 2.5 feet high, with handles at both ends for carrying dead pigs), blocks and pulleys and a wrap of knives, saw, cleaver, steel sharpeners and scruds (metal scrapers for removing hair from pigs’ carcasses). He would catch the nominated pig with a lanyard round its nose, walk it across the farmyard, squealling and protesting, to the emptied cart shed where it would be despatched by a quick cut across the jugular with the blood running into a forkful of clean straw. When all was quiet the pig was bathed in the scalding tub hill of water from the washhouse copper. Father and butcher scraped off the hair’ and heaved the carcass over to do the other side.
After the cleaning it was back on to the pig cratch and the men staggered the few yards to the block and pulleys hung from the roof of the shed. For premises without a handy beam a strong bough in the apple tree would do or failing all else a set of tall tripods. Here the disembowelling took place, followed by sawing down the backbone and cutting into joints, hams and sides of bacon.
This was a spell of furious activity. As fast as the pieces of meat were cut, they were carried into the house where mother ground up the meat for sausages and pork pies, boiled the fat for lard, prepared the pig‘s fries for us and neighbours and set out the spare rib joints. A delicacy I could never enjoy was brawn, or collared rind as it was called. The cheeks and skin of the head and all sorts of bits and pieces were boiled up and set cold in jelly in every basin we could ﬁnd to be enjoyed with mustard or packed in sandwiches for a ploughman’s lunch. Father was busy meanwhile carrying away the hams and ﬂitches of bacon to salt in the salting tub in the corner of our huge dairy.
To every family in the village the ritual of pig killing was most important. It supplied an abundance of fresh meat for a couple of weeks and ensured salt bacon and ham for the rest of the year.
An inquisitive young imp, I was fascinated by the whole process and was treated to lessons in how it should be done. One little secret T.W. shared with me was the new introduction of the humane killer. It became legally mandatory around this time but the depths of the fens were a long way from London and I was shown how to make a small hole in the pig’s forehead with a knife point to simulate the humane killer before the head was carried into the kitchen to become brawn.
After all the activity T.W. would clean his tools, load up the tub and cratch in the van, Before he left, father would bring out the whisky bottle and a half glass of milk. pouring a stiff tot in the milk to keep out the cold, butcher Parsons would down it and set off up the road in the van while our kitchen steamed up with boiling lard and cooking pies and I was set to turn the sausage machine handle.
Extract from The Oldest Young Farmer – Reg Dobbsdobbs