The History of Butchery

Jack and Colin will go through a brief history of meat, butchery, and also David Cox Butchers’ history as a 3rd generation, family-owned butcher dating back over 50 years. They offer everything The Best Butchers in Glasgow 2021 should: beef, lamb, chicken, pork, breakfast and burgers, meat packs, pies, groceries and sauces, ready-made meals, and a less than 5% fat range. Alongside their Gold Award winning Steak Pies, our new sponsors have made the Herald’s High Street Heroes list and have also raised funds for defibrillators in Glasgow.

And, only for you, the Wrong Term Memory listeners, we have partnered with David Cox Butchers to offer free delivery on orders over £15 using the code WTMFREEDEL (valid until Wednesday 31 August. Check here to see if your Glasgow postcode is currently available).

David Cox Butchers' Homepage

The prehistoric story of meat-eating

Folk have been eating meat before cooking was a thing. Literally killing and eating dead animals.   We can still see this today as our closest ape relative, the chimpanzee, regularly hunts for and eats raw meat.

Archaeological evidence shows early humans began eating raw meat around 2.6 million years ago. Time Team with Tony Robinson doesn’t really concentrate on thay but the proof is out there. Soon though they realised cooking was better.

Eating cooked meat though actually played a very important role in early human development as meat is far more calorie dense than fruit, nuts, or root vegetables and takes a lot less time to chew. This in turn allowed for our brains to develop further due to a more nutrient rich diet.

Despite there being absolutely nothing to do back then, another important reason for meat eating is that it meant less chewing time, which gave more spare time to focus on other activities that were not directly linked to hunting and gathering, which then resulted in cooking food.

The other impact it had was on evolution. This in turn meant that large teeth and jaws were no longer needed for chewing unprocessed food which may have led to other face and neck changes that allowed for the development of a much larger brain.

So there you have it was it not for cooking and eating meat we would all be stupid, or more stupid than we are already. It is around 1.9 million years ago that these changes began to be visible on the skeletons of early humans.

As for when these meat eating habits developed into what we know as butchery and meat eating today, the closest we can come to is what evidence there is of meat first being cooked as we know it, and how long ago this was. 

Cooking meat, with fire

All diets and cultures cook, it’s one of few things that brings all humans together, we all need to cook.. Why cook though? Well cooking makes ingredients easier to digest, and kills off most harmful bacteria that can make people sick.

For the first evidence of cooking you have to find the first evidence of fires being controlled in some fashion. However, this is also a difficult topic as prehistoric evidence of fires is hard to come by and prove.

We begin our search at the Wonderwerk cave in South Africa of a fire from at least 1 million years ago that had burnt bone fragments around it which suggests an early form of cooking. Or they were cooking each other… However, the oldest remains of dedicated fires only go as far back as 400,000 years ago.

The first evidence we have of cooking as we know it dates back to only 20,000 years ago in of course China. Pots and cooking utensils  were found with scorch and earth marks that showed these had been used for cooking. Ultimately, it is safe to say that eating meat has been a large part of human life for a very long time and has played an important part in the development of humans today.

Butchery – the beginnings

In 2003 in the UK during the development of the High Speed 1 rail link a butchery site was found near Kent that dated back over 400,000 years ago. The skeleton of a prehistoric elephant, about twice the size of today’s African variety, was found with a variety of flint tools including some that were lodged in its ribcage.  What does Elephant taste like?

The flint tools were sharp and an ideal shape for cutting through flesh and hide, so it is accepted that this is a very early example of humans engaging in butchery for animal meat with specific tools.

Farming and animal husbandry was the next stage of societal development from early human hunter-gatherer societies, this took over mainly as food became scarce so specialists were needed to make the most of it and careers were formed.. Rather than hunting for meat, humans found a way to keep animals in herds which saved time and energy from hunting. A bit like the fish and the net story. 

The domestication of animals was a long multi-generational process that began around 15,000 years ago and still continues to this day with animal farming and selective breeding. Some of the first animals to be domesticated were the wolf, whose descendants became the dogs we know today, and sheep. 

There is evidence of sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle having been kept as livestock around 10-11,000 years ago. During this time period butchery would have been part of the process of animal husbandry rather than a specific trade.

Butcher / Meat Facts

1. The average British family spends £12.50 a week on meats and meat preparations and £12.60 on alcoholic drinks and tobacco products.

2. There are almost 19 billion chickens on Earth; they outnumber humans by almost three to one. We eat about 100 million tons of poultry every year.

3. In Brunei, there are 40 times as many chickens as people.

4. New Zealand has 7.5 sheep and 2.3 cows for every person in the country.

5. Uruguay, with 3.7 cows per person, is the only country that beats New Zealand on cows.

6. On February 18, 1930 in St Louis, Elm Farm Ollie was the first cow to fly in an aeroplane and Elsworth W Bunce was first to milk a flying cow.

7. The average American eats 88.3kg of meat a year; the average Briton eats 44.9kg.

8. In Denmark, there are more than twice as many pigs as people.

9. The word ‘carnival’ originally meant ‘a farewell to meat’ referring to the Christian tradition of giving up meat during Lent.

When did butchery become a job?

The Roman Butchers

During the Roman times, there has been evidence found of butchery existing as a specific trade. Before the Romans arrived in Britain the culling of domestic animals was still considered part of the process of individual families or small communities raising livestock for their own farming use as draft animals and food supply.

As towns and villages began to grow that did not have the space for each household to keep livestock, so did the need for regular supplies of meat for larger populations. 

Evidence of a Roman commercial farm and butchers dating back 1,700 years ago was recently found in Devon. The site included a pit filled with waste products which suggested only the prime cuts were sold, and archaeologists reckon if the animals had been butchered by local peasants every part would have been used. See Butchers have always been professionals…

The evidence also showed that the animals had been culled at a much younger age than peasants would have as animals were often used for ploughing, which again suggested a commercial operation dedicated to selling prime mea rather than use them for everything then kill them later. This is further backed up by the existence of a road nearby which would have been ideal for transporting goods to the local town.

The Middle Age Butchers

In the Middle Ages butchery became one of the oldest official trades and professions and one of the first to form professional guilds in Britain in 1272.

There are also records of butchers forming organisations as far back as 975. It became increasingly important during this time period to maintain high levels of cleanliness for health reasons and to prevent outbreaks of disease, as well as perfecting the craft of both producing choice cuts of meat and also maximising the amount of meat that could be processed.

However, meat during this time period was generally reserved for the nobility and wealthy due to the cost. For the peasant class it was often illegal to hunt on land belonging to members of the aristocracy which led to frequent poaching, and larger animals kept as livestock were not practical to slaughter regularly except for special occasions.

Punishments for mislabeled or poor quality meat sold by butchers were severe, in an early if albeit violent form of product regulation.

The Victorian Butchers

Eating meat became popular across all sections of society during the Victorian era. Increased urbanisation meant that people as a whole became more dependent on butchers and butcher shops, and the cost of meat was relatively far lower than it had been in previous generations.

A lot of the cuts and roasting joints still used today began to appear, and there were products that could be sold for all budgets. Bigger or smaller cuts, different parts of the animal etc – They say a good cook can make a poorer part of the animal better than a ok cook can with a great part of the animal. 

Salted fat and bones were popular among the poorer members of society to add flavour and much needed calories to soups and stews, as well as the cheapest cuts of meat available, while the wealthy often indulged in roasting joints, the larger the better.

The lack of fridges meant that a trip to the butcher’s shop was a regular occurrence for most and combined with all of the above, butchers were busier than ever. Imagine not having a fridge?

The Modern-day Butcher

Modern butchery has also gone through multiple changes in a short space of time. The First and Second World War changed how butchers could operate due to rationing and changes in demand. In particular, the latter increased the output of pies and sausages that butchers produced as these required less meat to be used in making them.

Difference in butcher sausages compared to Supermarkets is incredible. Burgers too. 

There was still a need for butchers and butcher shops however, as this was still the only place where meat could be sold. After the Second World War another period of industrialization occurred in order to reduce the need for foreign imports. Unfortunately, this also led to the closures of many butcher shops as meat became cheaper and readily available on supermarket shelves.

More recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in the trade and craft of butchery. A growing movement of people want to step away from products that have been mass produced by larger corporations in favour of a higher quality, more bespoke product.

Interest in developing sustainable food systems and reducing food miles, as well as the products that can be made in the U.K, has resulted in a new enthusiasm for local butchers.

World’s Most Expensive Meats


How much:  $135/lb.

This dish nearly claimed Homer Simpson’s life, and the cartoon did NOT exaggerate the danger apparent in eating these blowfish sashimi slices. Approximately 20 to 40 people die every year from eating the puffer fish, which contains high concentrations of neurotoxins. Chefs must take great care during preparation to avoid serving poisonous cuts of meat or contaminating the edible portions. If you taste these paper-thin delicacies and live to tell the tale you’ll be rewarded with a subtly fishy flavour and a chewy consistency. Many places will also serve skin, organs, or fried cuts of the blowfish which are almost flavorful enough to justify the risk.

Ōtoro Sushi

How Much: $24/piece.

It would be an understatement to say that Japan really loves its freaking sushi. They’re apparently willing to risk their lives for it and they’ll also shell out a whopping $24 per bite of tuna ōtoro. Americans are probably more familiar with the more abundant bluefin tuna cut chūtoro, which has more of a steak-like consistency and bold flavour compared to its expensive brother. Ōtoro is the fattier and less abundant cut of meat, leading to a rich flavour that drives the huge price tags.

Jamon Iberico

How much: $140/lb.

The popular tapas or charcuterie centrepiece Jamon Iberico, as its name suggests, hails from the Iberian peninsula or south side of Spain. The black Iberian pig (“Jamon” = “Ham”… get it?) are allowed to roam freely before being switched to a diet of grains and acorns. If more grain is used in the feed, the pig will take on a rich ham flavour akin to prosciutto. More acorns on the other hand, will give the meat a unique, nutty flavour that pairs excellently with soft cheeses. The highest grades are strictly acorn-fed, leading to a higher price tag for this singular palette experience.

Kobe Wagyu

How much: $300/lb.

Wagyu (which literally translates to “Japanese cow”) is renowned for its marbling, producing some of the richest cuts of steak known to man. Many of these beloved bovine feature regional names, but none is more famous than the high end Kobe beef, which is simply a cut above. Whether you’re eating strip, fillet, or prime rib, this beef is raised to the highest standards before it reaches your lips. Since it’s exported in limited quantities most of what’s served in America is a crossbreed of Wagyu and Angus steak, so you’ll most likely have to hop a plane to experience the real deal.

Ayam Cemani

How Much: $2,500/animal

The Ayam Cemani breed of chicken is definitely something to cluck about. Much like Ford’s Model T, this Ferrari-of-fowls comes in one colour only a very sleek black. Due to hyperpigmentation, its meat, organs, and bones are black as night, as are the feathers, save for a green shimmer. The Indonesian bird is coveted in its homeland for the reported healing qualities of eating black meats.

Only one person breeds Ayam Cemanis in America, and he’s charging a stupefying $2,500 a pop, though prices are expected to drop once their population increases. In the meantime, when you consider that you can buy a dozen standard chicks for around $85, you’re bound to think long and hard before putting this mother clucker in the deep fryer.

David Cox Butchers

In 2020, David Cox Butchers celebrated 50 Years of serving the best meat to the people of Glasgow.. A lot has happened in the last two years, it’s fair to say. Now with their second store in the Kings Park area and the continued growth of their Bridgeton store, Wrong Term Memory are over the moon to have joined with another local business to help promote The Best Butcher in Glasgow to you, the listeners.

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