My Granddad was a meat porter in Smithfield Market. I don’t know why I spent the day with my. I was only seven years old. Perhaps my Mum was ill? But it was a day I remember well.
I went up to London with my Dad. He worked in Fleet Street. He dropped me off with my Granddad at the Market. I was a tiny little shy boy at the time and it was all very daunting…….. but exciting.
My Granddad had started work at Five o’clock in the morning and so all the heavy work was done by the time I got there at around Eight o’clock. The first thing he did was show me off to all his mates. They ruffled my hair and grinned at me and pressed half crowns into my hand. That’s what cockney’s seemed to do for luck. They pressed your hands with silver. They were a terrifying bunch – all great burly, loud men in white coats which were blood smeared on their right shoulders where they’d carried the carcasses out of the lorries. My Granddad was the exception. He was a little thin wiry man. But he pulled his weight. He made sure of that.
They were unloading the last of the lorries. The big carcasses of cows, sheep and pigs were hanging on hooks. They’d come in fresh from the abattoir. The meat porters job was to carry them from the lorry to the respective stalls where the butchers cut and sawed the meat into their respective trays.
When the last lorry was empty they took me off to the café for a hearty breakfast of sausage, bacon, eggs and fried bread washed down with big mugs of tea. They were a happy bunch with much banter and laughter.
Then it was back to the market to load up lorries with the select cuts. I watched as the lugged the big white boxes around and shared jokes with the butchers who were slicing and sawing the carcasses.
My Granddad took me to see where they used to burn Catholics. I was too young to understand what that was all about back then. I’ve learnt about it since and gone back to that same place.The times of religious intolerance; the conflict with Catholic Europe; the politics and religion; the brutal theocracy and heartfelt beliefs. Those poor people were tortured and then burnt at the stake facing the church. If they wanted them to die fast they stacked up the tinder. If they wanted them to die slowly they did not stack it so high. If the wind blew in the wrong direction it took longer. That was the Christian way – Protestant against Catholic – intrigue and revolution – fifth columnists and plotting – torture and death. It drew quite a crowd. They took the whole family to witness the burnings, to hear the screams and take in the spectacle. It was what passed for entertainment along with the bull baiting, cock fighting, dog fights and bear baiting.
We have improved.
Then it was off to the café for an extended lunch.
Looking back I can see that it was hard work but there was a great camaraderie among those men. I was proud of my Granddad with his gory white coat. He and his companions made quite an impression on a seven year old lad. They didn’t put me off meat though. I don’t think that seemed real to me.
I’m glad I went for that day.