THE CAT'S MEAT MAN
Cats' Meat Man (this page)
Cats' Meat Man in Song and Story
The cat's meat man used to be a common sight in London and other large towns between the mid 1800s and the 1930s. Let me clear up one misconception first - this trader sold meat FOR cats, not meat from cats! During that period, most towns had their own abattoirs and horse slaughterers (knackers) and ineveitably there was meat unfit for human consumption, though it has to be said that the definition of “fit for human consumption” was probably wider than it is today. Horsemeat, along with meats that were “on the turn”, fly-blown or showing signs of disease could be purchased by traders who hawked their wares in the street. He was such a common sight that the phrase “the butcher, the baker and the cats’ meat man” was sometimes used to mean delivery-men/household callers in general or as the equivalent to “every Tom, Dick and Harry.” To prevent unscrupulous traders from re-selling the meat as fit for human consumption or using it in pies, it became the practice to dye the meat blue or green. Whether the dyes were toxic to cats is not mentioned, though a good many Victorian and Edwardian dyes turned out to be noxious to humans and animals alike.
The earliest reference I have found to the trade comes from Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, 18th August 1822. In a report on court cases was this one entitled “CATS’ MEAT AND CONJUGAL DIFFERENCES.”: "A gentleman next appeared to answer the charge of a lady. The former was wholesale slaughterer of horses at Battle Bridge; the latter was a retail dealer in food for the canine race — or, other words, a barrow-hawker of cats’ and dogs’ meat. It appeared that the parties were man and wife, but that of late divers unhappy differences and disputes had arisen between them.’ The complainant was in the habit weekly of disposing of some three or four pounds’ worth of horse flesh, in the way of her trade, and there being a pretty decent profit attached, as well to the wholesale as the retail dealer, tire defendant thought it was nothing but fair, as he was the complainant’s husband, and a wholesale dealer in flesh, that she should come to him to buy her meat. The complainant had, however, thought proper to carry her ready money to another market, and the defendant, being displeased with this bad treatment, threatened the complainant what lie would do, provided she persisted in this course. It was for this that the present warrant had been granted. After hearing the parties at great length, Mr. Sergeant observed, that it appeared their object was a separation; but had not power to separate them. The defendant replied, that the magistrate was quite mistaken, for wanted his wife to come back and live with him and be comfortable. The complainant— Yes, yes, your worship, he wants to come back and live with him, and then for my earnings to support another woman and a young family of children, that will have by her; but that’s what I’ll never do, your worship’ The worthy magistrate observed, that if the lady refused, he could not compel her to live with her husband. If the husband could not coax her back his winning appearance and actions, there was another course open to him, but he must take special care that he did not commit any breach of the peace; be therefore recommended them to depart, and behave civilly to each other. They then left the office, neither of them at all satisfied with this decision."
He was one of the many familiar roundsmen who delivered door-to-door and was described in "A Looking Glass for London - Markets, Smithfield and Billingsgate." (The Penny Magazine Of The Society For The Diffusion Of Useful Knowledge, August 12th, 1837) "The shops and the hawkers are the conduits and the pipes by which the supplies of the markets are distributed over the whole surface of the metropolis. The hawkers are a numerous and indefatigable generation. Manifold are the voices to be heard in every suburban district and retired street proclaiming whatever in its season is thought likely to sell. In the morning, mingling with the curious scream of the milkwoman, may be heard the long-drawn sound of" water-cresses!" then comes round the cats'-meat man, his little cart drawn by one or two dogs, while the household cats, as he approaches, recognise his voice, and manifest lively and unequivocal symptoms of interest; and, perhaps, before breakfast is over, a sound that is more a yell than a cry, emitted from iron lungs, and seemingly intended to reach the deepest recesses of the kitchen, announces that "hearthstone" is at hand. Breakfast is scarcely well over when the bakers' and the butchers' men begin their rounds;—the bakers with baskets or barrows, the butchers, some on horseback, others with oval-shaped wooden trays upon their shoulders. Now come the men with their live soles, their eels, or their mackerel; with these are to be seen the venders of the cabbage, the cucumber, the onion, the lettuce, the cauliflower, peas, turnips, potatoes, or fruit; and the spaces which are left are filled up by itinerant hawkers of brooms, brushes, ornaments, &c, with now and then an Italian boy with his figure-tray, or a strolling minstrel with his hand-organ or his guitar. In the afternoon the hawkers go round again, for "supper" time is drawing nigh. Has the stock of vegetables or of fish been unsold in the morning? It will disappear in the evening."A writer in 1901 reminisced about the roundsmen's street cries of the mid 1800s: "These semi-genteel quarters of fifty years ago were passing lively. The day’s music began with the shrill 'Milk, milk,' summoning cats from the house-tops; next came the long drawn out 'Meat, meat,' of the cats’ meat man; and soon the monotonous, but by no means discordant, 'Ole cloe’, ole cloe’ " ['Old clothes, old clothes' - the rag and bone man] (Bury Free Press, 23rd March 1901 )
HENRY MAYHEW'S SURVEY (1861)
Social researcher and journalist Henry Mayhew wrote about cat's meat vendors in his record of London life: London Labour and the London Poor Volume One (1861). He counted 300 such vendors (though his reports also mention 1,000 such vendors).
The supply of food for cats and dogs is far greater than may be generally thought. "Vy, sir," said one of the dealers to me, " can you tell me 'ow many people's in London?" On my replying, upwards of two millions; "I don't know nothmg vatever," said my informant, "about millions, but I think there's a cat to every ten people, aye, and more than that; and so, sir, you can reckon." [I told him this gave a total of 200,000 cats in London; but the number of inhabited houses in the metropolis was 100,000 more than this, and though there was not a cat to every house, still, as many lodgers as well as householders kept cats, I added that I thought the total number of cats in London might be taken at the same number as the inhabited houses, or 300,000 in all.] "There's not near half so many dogs as cats. I must know, for they all knows me, and I sarves about 200 cats and 70 dogs. Mine's a middling trade, but some does far better. Some cats has a hap'orth a day, some every other day; werry few can afford a penn'orth, but times is inferior. Dogs is better pay when you've a connection among 'em."
The profit the carriers make upon the meat is at present only a penny per pound. In the summer time the profit per pound is reduced to a halfpenny, owing to the meat being dearer on account of its scarcity. The carriers give a great deal of credit—indeed, they take but little ready money. On some days they do not come home with more than 2s. One with a middling walk pays for his meat 7s. 6d. per day. For this he has half a hundred-weight . This produces him as much as 11 s. 6d., so that his profit is 4s ; which, I am assured, is about a fair average of the earnings of the trade. One carrier is said to have amassed £1,000. at the business. He usually sold from 1 to 2 cwt. every morning, so that his profits were generally from 16s. to £1 per day. But the trade is much worse now. There are so many at it, they say, that there is barely a living for any. A carrier assured me that he seldom went less than 30, and frequently 40 miles, through the streets every day. The best districts are among the houses of tradesmen, mechanics, and labourers. The coachmen in the mews at the back of the squares are very good customers. "The work lays thicker there," said my informant . Old maids are bad, though very plentiful, customers. They cheapen the carriers down so, that they can scarcely live at the business. "They will pay one halfpenny and owe another, and forget that after a day or two." The cats' meat dealers generally complain of their losses from bad debts. Their customers require credit frequently to the extent of 1s. "One party owes me 15s. now," said a carrier to me, "and many 10s.; in fact, very few people pay ready money for the meat."
The carriers frequently serve as much as ten pennyworths to one person in a day. One gentleman has as much as 4lbs of meat each morning for two Newfoundland dogs; and there was one woman - a black - who used to have as much as 16 pennyworths each day. This person used to go out on the roof of the house and throw it to the cats on the tiles. By this she brought so many stray cats round about the neighbourhood, that the parties in the vicinity complained; it was quite a nuisance. She would have the meat always brought to her before ten in the morning, or else she would send to a shop for it, and between ten and eleven in the morning the noise and cries of the hundreds of stray cats attracted to the spot was “terrible to hear.” When ‘the meat was thrown to the cats on the roof, the riot, and confusion, and fighting, was beyond description. “A beer-shop man,” I was told, “was obliged to keep five or six dogs to drive the cats from his walls.” There was also a mad woman in Islington, who used to have 14 lbs of meat a day. The party who supplied her had his money often at 2 pounds and 3 pounds (sterling) at a time. She had as many as thirty cats at times in her house. Every stray one that came she would take in and support. The stench was so great that she was obliged to be ejected. The best days for the cats’ meat business are Mondays, Tuesdays, and Saturdays. A double quantity of meat is sold on the Saturday; and on that day and Monday and Tuesday the weekly customers generally pay.
"My father was a baker by trade," said a carrier to me, " but through an enlargement of the heart he was obliged to give up working at his trade; leaning over the trough increased his complaint so severely, that he used to fall down, and be obliged to be brought home. This made him take to the cats' and dogs' meat trade, and he brought me up to it. I do pretty comfortably. I have a very good business, having been all my life at it. If it wasn't for the bad debts I should do much better; but some of the people I trust leave the houses, and actually take in a double quantity of meat the day before. I suppose there is at the present moment as much as £20 owing to me that I never expect to see a farthing of."
The generality of the dealers wear a shiny hat, black plush waistcoat and sleeves, a blue apron, corduroy trousers, and a blue and white spotted handkerehief round their necks. Some, indeed, will wear two and three handkerehiefs round their necks, this being fashionable among them. A great many meet every Friday afternoon in the donkey-market, Smithfield, and retire to a public-house adjoining, to spend the evening.
A " cats' meat carrier" who supplied me with information was more comfortably situated than any of the poorer classes that I have yet seen. He lived in the front room of a second floor, in an open and respectable quarter of the town, and his lodgings were the perfection of comfort and cleanliness in an humble sphere. It was late in the evening when I reached the house. I found the "carrier" and his family preparing for supper. In a large morocco leather easy chair sat the cats' meat carrier himself; his "blue apion and black shiny hat" had disappeared, and he wore a "dress" coat and a black satin waistcoat instead. His wife, who was a remarkably pretty woman, and of very attractive manners, wore a " Dolly Varden" cap, placed jauntily at the back of her head, and a drab merino dress. The room was cosily carpeted, and in one corner stood a mahogany " crib" with cane-work sides, in which one of the children was asleep. On the table was a clean white table-cloth, and the room was savoury with the steaks, and mashed potatoes that were cooking on the fire. Indeed, I have never yet seen greater comfort in the abodes of the poor. The cleanliness and wholesomeness of the apartment were the more striking from the unpleasant associations connected with the calling.
It is believed by one who has been engaged at the business for 25 years, that there are from 900 to 1,000 horses, averaging 2 cwt. of meat each— little and big—boiled down every week; so that the quantity of cats' and dogs' meat used throughout London is about 200,000 lbs. perweek, and this, sold at the rate of 2d. per lb., gives £2,000 a week for the money spent in cats' and dogs' meat, or upwards of £100,000 a year, which is at the rate of £100 worth sold annually by each carrier. The profits of the carriers may be estimated at about £50 each per annum. The capital required to start in this business varies from £1 to £2. The stock-money needed is between 5s. and 10s. The barrow and basket, weights and scales, knife and steel, or blackstone, cost about £2. when new, and from 15s. to 4s. second-hand.
The slaughtermen are said to reap large fortunes very rapidly — indeed, the carriers say they coin the money. Many of them retire after a few years, and take large farms. One, after 12 years' business, retired with several thousand pounds, and has now three large farms. The carriers are men, women, and boys. Very few women do as well as the men at it. The carriers "are generally sad drunkards." Out of five hundred, it is said three hundred at least spend 1s a head a week in drink. One party in the trade told me that he knew a carrier who would often spend 10s. in liquor at one sitting.
The carriers then take the meat round town, wherever their “walk” may lie. The sell it to the public at the rate of 2-and-a-half pence per lb, and in small pieces, on skewers, at a farthing, a halfpenny and penny each. Some carriers will sell as much as a hundred-weight in a day and about half a hundred-weight is the average quantity disposed of by the carriers in London. Some sell much cheaper than others. These dealers will frequently knock at the doors of persons whom they have seen served by another on the previous day, and show them that they can let them have a larger quantity of meat for the same money. The class of persons belonging to the business are mostly those who have been unable to obtain employment at their trade. Occasionally a person in bred to it, having been engaged as a lad by some carrier to go round with the barrow and assist him in his business. The boys will, after a time, find a “walk” for themselves, beginning first with a basket and ultimately rising to a barrow. Many of the carriers give light weight to the extent of 2 oz and 4 oz in the pound (weight).
The best districts are among the houses of tradesmen, mechanics, and labourers. The coachmen in the mews at the back of the squares are very good customers. “The work lays thicker there,” said my informant. Old maids are bad, though very plentiful, customers. They cheapen the carriers down so that they can scarcely live at the business. “They will pay one halfpenny and owe another, and forget that after a day or two.” The cats’ meat dealers generally complain of their losses from bad debts. Their customers require credit frequently to the extent of £1. “one party owes me 15s now,” said a carrier to me, “and many 10s; in fact, very few people pay ready money for the meat.”
Some people scraped a living by supplying skewers to the cats'-meat man. This excerpt from an article in the Penny Illustrated Paper (19th April 1873) describes a skewer-maker who whittled sticks into skewers for the cats’-meat man. She lives in a house where each room is occupied by a whole family, all of whom are a step away from the workhouse. "SPRING IN LONDON STREET . . . a street in St. George’s-in-the-East. It contains about seventy four-roomed houses, and the inhabitants average four to every room. In yet another room of the same house was an old woman, miserably dressed, half leaning against, half sitting on, her squalid truckle bed. A table and broken chair were all her furniture. On the table were two strong knives and a whetstone, with some pieces of wood such as might be picked up in a carpenter's yard; the floor was covered with chips. Her occupation was that of making wooden skewers for dogs’ and cats’ meat; she got eightpence a thousand for them, and found her own wood. The news was just out that the dog tax would be rigidly enforced, and thousands of dogs would be destroyed. She had tried to extend her trade by making butchers' skewers, but the gipsies threatened to undersell her, and she was in despair, and was just making up her mind that she must come to the workhouse at last.”
The Journal of the Society of Arts, 1868, gives us some additional figures: "He had pursued some independent inquiries with regard to the question of using horsemeat for food, and he did not find the same difference as Mr. Bicknell had between the amount slaughtered and that accounted for. In round numbers, there wore 1,300 cats' meat men, but who preferred to be called " carriers" in London, and their vocation was to feed something liko 150,000 dogs, and 250,000 cats. He believed he was correct in saying that about 46,000 horses were annually slaughtered in London, many being brought up from the country on purpose by contract; the prices being from 15s. to 55s each. Allowing 250 lbs. of dog's-meat to be produced from each horse, there would be about 11 million lbs. as a total. On inquiry as to each carrier's daily average, he found that the total amount sold did not very largely differ from this."
The Dundee Evening Telegraph of 19th October 1882 reprinted a short item from the Gentleman’s Magazine: THE CATS OF LONDON. Is it not startling to hear that the cats of London - the real household pets - are said to number three hundred thousand, without any sort calculation for houseless wanderers, whose nasal yells disturb nocturnal peace? The amount annually spent on purchasing horse-flesh from the cats’ meat men of London is said to be £100,000! This, according to vulgar notions, should be a proof of the folly of elderly spinsters, who are generally supposed to have a monopoly of feline affections The great cat show held in London a few years ago, however, betrayed a very different state of domestic matters, the male exhibitors being so numerous and so successful that they carried off thirty-two prizes; fifteen more were secured by cat-loving matrons, while to the much maligned old maids there were only awarded four prizes!
ELSA D'ESTERRE KEELING'S REPORT (1896) AND OTHER DESCRIPTIONS
Another author also interviewed a cat’-meat man and her report was published in “The Gentleman’s Magazine”. It was also reproduced as “The Cats’-Meat Man” in the Aberdare Times, June 20, 1896:
Under the title of "Henry," Elsa D’Esterre Keeling contributes to the new number of the “Gentlemans Maqazine” a not altogether in appreciative sketch of the London cat’s meat man. After describing his childhood, with its environments, and his early youth, the writer says: The calling which this youth follows is one which seems to be peculiar to these islands - he is a cats' meat hawker. It will have been noticed by some, if not, perhaps by all readers of this, that the cats'-meat man is a person not to be looked for in the grandest, and also not to be looked for in the lowliest, places - that is, in his professional capacity, In his private character he may be met anywhere, even in the old Court suburb of London. If any cats'-meat man here plies his trade, however, it is only with moderate success the great field of action for this commercial body is in northerly regions. There is one North London suburb where the calling of cats'-meat man could probably not be overstocked. The reason of this is that more than in any other region of London, there is a delightful preponderance of the class which is not rich and is not poor, but is an intermediate English thing for which there is, unfortunately - and unaccountably - no name [note: there was a name “middle class”]. This class is the one which gives out its washing and buys cats'-meat, and which, on the score of being able to do this, considers - and, mayhap, rightly considers itself – a credit to England and the whole earth. Henry, who is gifted with business talents of no mean order, plies his calling among this class, and that he does not make his fortune by so doing, but remains bitterly poor, can only be explained on the ground of his large philanthropy. Not only is he to all his friends that ‘friend indeed who is friend in need,’ and that, when at all possible, in a very practical way, but at 20 years of age he wholly supports two persons besides himself. One is his blind kinswoman, the other is a kinswoman in the possession of all her senses, except when, as on one or two day of every week, she goes on what he calls euphemistically, “visits to her friends." That way madness lies, and she becomes for that time a mad woman. Inquiries concerning her made by persons of plainer speech are usually made in the formula, “Maria on the drink again?" a formula this which does not offend Henry, though he is sufficiently attached to Maria to hold his home open to her. It also does not offend him when the facetious among his familiars ask after his blind kinswoman in the words, “How is the Old Hundredth?" words containing an allusion either to her great age or great piety. Levity never displeases him, yet so little is his soul a clod that he has visions. In these he sees himself the happy man that he will be when these two women are gathered to their foregoers, for then he means to marry a young lady to whom he is warmly attached. This young lady is one of 12 damsels in the employ of a collar-dresser, who takes out their work and disposes of it, for he does not work himself, being a sweater [sweat-shop owner]. She is paid miserably, howbeit she refuses to allow Henry to contribute an iota towards her sustenance while she is a maid. One could not say that all is sweet and commendable in her nature, but this in it is sweet and commendable – she loves Henry to ecstasy, and by a curious defect of mental vision sees in him not a hero, which in some respects he is, but a thing which he is really in no respect, a brilliant and fascinating "gentleman."
This paragraph from an article about the sights and sounds of a “Modern Babylon,” describes the tradesmen in London (Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough, 27th February 1886) “We get our breakfast, and start out for a walk. Setting out from the vicinity of Camberwell Green, we wend our way towards the heart of the city by the Walworth-road. Here the butchers', greengrocers', bakers', and other shops are open and in full swing, shutters down and all, and doing a roaring trade; while the pavements are crowded by housewives, who are out in deshabille, marketing for their Sunday's dinner. All along the pavement there are costermongers with their barrows filled with apples, pears, grapes, nuts, vegetables, and other eatables, while a cat's-meat man is cutting up and disposing of his feline dainties to a small knot of little girls, who are out purchasing a morsel for their favourite cats. Two of them have kittens in their arms, and the famished creatures are with difficulty kept from pouncing upon the boiled horseflesh which is being retailed for their benefit.”
”London Society [full title: London Society. An Illustrated Magazine of Light and Amusing Literature for the Hours of Relaxation] in its current number cannot fail to please by its tasteful variety. [. . .] Mr. James Greenwood enlightens us in the fourth of his Studies of Street Life,” on the vicissitudes which beset the existence of the Cats’-meat Man.” (Morning Advertiser, 6th December 1871). James Greenwood, was a social historian of London's underbelly in the 1870s and 1880s and his paper told readers, among other things, that in London there are no fewer than a quarter of a million specimens of the feline tribe, to feed which two hundred and twenty thousand pounds of horse flash are required weekly. Putting the dogs’ provender to that quantity, the writer calculates that, for the up-keep of the domestic pets, two hundred and fifty horses are sacrificed every week all the year through, providing more than 90 tons weight of horse-flesh.Unfortunately I cannot find this particular issue (Volume XX) online.
One meets with strange company in a train, and occasionally the conversation turns upon very strange topics. This afternoon I was on the London and North-Western, the other side of Willesden, and the compartment being decidedly “stuffy,” I asked an agreeable-looking man in the corner to open his window. [. . .] I thought I would indulge his disposition to talk. I soon learned that he was a wholesale cats’ meat man. One of the only four in all London. He informed me that over a thousand carcases were required weekly for the metropolis, and that he had had a bad week when he did not over four hundred of these. [. . .] Liverpool provided the biggest horses in the United Kingdom, though no animal “boiled” to more than a fifth of his live weight in “cats’ meat,” which is always bought and sold without a morsel of bone in it. “You must not believe all you hear about horses being sent to the Continent,” he added, “though I admit that we have a very awkward competition to face from that quarter, since they can afford to outbid us and pay a pound a head for carriage in addition. But then (this apologetically) they always buy the pick of the lot for their sausages.” Another item of information confided was that the retail man, who goes on his round with his barrow, often clears a sovereign a day prfit by his industry, and the parting shot was exactly this – “Mind you, all the horses cut up for human food don’t go to the continent.” (Irish Times, 22nd June 1892)
An article in the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette (Cat's Meat Man. All About His Strange Trade, 27th May 1901) described the trade, especially the value of the “walks” which were bought, sold, inherited and protected by the traders.
“Very few folk have any idea or the importance the somewhat peculiar trade followed by the cat's-meat man. The majority of householders and a great many lodgers keep a cat or dog, and most of these people buy cat's-meat; but many imagine that it is almost a charity to do so, as they cannot conceive that the men who—as they think—are reduced to this means of getting a livelihood are in the enjoyment of a comfortable position and tolerable income. Yet such is the case, and the fraternity of "Domestic Animal Providers," as they now prefer to describe themselves, are a fortunate body of men. It requires a not inconsiderable amount of capital to embark in the trade. London is divided into numerous "walks," each the private property of a dealer in cat's meat. To obtain one of these "walks” it is necessary to wait till its actual possesser retires from business or desires to "better" himself, when he may be tempted to sell out, and even then the worst "walks" in London are worth £20, while the best will fetch as much as £150 or £200, and the lucky proprietors keep a smart pony and cart wherewith to carry their goods around and to take themselves and family for drive to the "Welsh Harp” [Brent Reservoir] - their favourite resort —on Sundays.
Trespassers Beware. It is very surprising how strictly the rules relating to these "walks" are kept. The man who first creates a "walk," and by dint of crying “me-at!” obtains a regular round of customers, feels that he has acquired by his labour a business property, which, naturally enough, he will not yield without due compensation, and all his fellow tradesmen in the same line will unite in helping him to keep intruders away. But few attempts, however, are made to interfere with the legitimate owner of the “walks.” Only one instance is known of man who seriously attempted to sell cat's-meat on a “walk" he had not purchased; he was so soundly pelted with— remarkable to relate - twopenny loaves, that he soon sought safety in flight. At Camberwell also, some years ago, an intrusion of this sort might have brought about a disastrous result. After selling a “walk" for an extravagant price, a cat's-meat dealer thought fit return to his ancient round, and the new purchaser was so exasperated by this unfair dealing that he procured a revolver and threatened the interloper, and but for the intervention of the police a tragedy might have occurred.
Hereditary Purveyors. The greater proportion of cat's-meat dealers are born and bred in the business, and inherit the "walks” from their fathers, though there is a good proportion of butchers who resort to this trade when they have failed in supplying the wants of man. Several coach-painters, whose health has been injured by the paint, have also bought “walks," and there was formerly in Marylebone a Crimean and Indian Mutiny veteran, who proudly wore on his breast his Victoria Cross, and who used to warn customers of his near approach by warbling a ditty anent cat's meat, the words and tune of which were both of his own composition, and varied day by day.
How London is Saved. These men nearly all do well, and the failures are chiefly those who can seldom pass a tavern without entering it. One man is known to have purchased a row of small houses out of his savings from his profits. The fact is that it is difficult to realise the immense number of cats which must be kept to protect us against the ever-recurring invasion of mice and rats. It has been said that these rodents would, left to themselves, soon demolish London, and naturalists allege that if a pair of rats were supplied with food, and in no way molested, they would so multiply that at the end of three years they would have produced family of no fewer than 6,800 members. The wine-cellars are especially exposed to these noxious animals, where, but for the cats, they would soon devour the straw envelopes that protect the bottles; and paper warehouses are also infested by them. Over 500 men and women gain livelihood in London alone as “domestic animal food providers," as one of the fraternity has styled himself on his cart, and over 400 horses are slaughtered every week in London alone.“
According to the Nottingham Journal (15th February, 1904) "The cats' meat man is almost exclusively a London institution, but few provincial towns, comparatively, encouraging the 'animals' meat purveyor' to any reat extent. Certain London rounds have been sold for as much as £300 as going concerns, and many such rounds change hands at a price for the goodwill of from £20 to £100. Several London cats' meat men have made considerable fortunes, and one of them in South-east London is said to be worth £30,000. Out of London a certain Leeds caterer for cats made a competency by selling portions of fish instead of bits of meat." (Goodwill means the buyer gets the customer list and a promise that the seller will not compete with him for those customers.)
Even among static vendors the rivalry could be fierce: “Stephen Henry, a vender of cat's-meat, residing in Lumber-court, St. Giles's-mews, was charged with cutting and wounding J. McGrath, a rival cat's-meat man, carrying on business in the same classic locality. The complainant, whose head and face was covered with blood, stated that on the previous night he was busy in his shop skewering up some cat's-meat, when the prisoner came out from his shop and began chaffing him. Witness desired him to go away, and not to annoy him. - The prisoner then put up his fist, and said, "You old humbug, look at this; you are an old man, and I will spiflicate you." Witness, not wishing to have any words with him, refused to speak to him. The prisoner then began calling out as loud as he could, "You are a pretty fellow to sell such swindling bunches of tripe; I will expose you." Witness was at this juncture called to serve a customer, and for that purpose had occasion to lay down his knife on the block. The prisoner immediately seized hold of it, and, rushing upon witness, swore he would do for him. Witness tried to avoid him, when he made a blow at him, and cut him across the head, inflicting a ghastly wound, from. which the blood flowed in torrents. Witness screamed out " Murder!" and the prisoner was about following up his murderous attack, when a constable came to the shop, and took him into custody. This evidence having been corroborated by a policeman and another witness, the prisoner, in defence, said complainant was always chaffing him, and taunting him about his shop. On the previous night, he went to complainant's shop, and began a little friendly chaff with him when he (complainant) flew in a violent passion, and knocked him (defendant) down. He certainly did take up the knife and throw it at him, but not with the intention of cutting him. Mr. Hardwick fined him £5, and in default committed him to the house of correction for two months, with hard labour.” (Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, 11th February 1849)
In “Londres Pittoresque et la Vie Anglais," M. Henri Bellenger gives an account of what to him were the most striking features of the habits and customs of the Britishers. . . . Le Cat's Meat Man, . . . furnishes food for a whole chapter, wherein the author observes that while in France domestic animals are fed with the scraps of the table, or with a patee made from the trimmings from the butcher's, in England, where the pot-au-feu and ragout are unknown, meat is so dear that the butcher's trimmings serve to feed the poor, and Pussy and Doggy's wants accordingly necessitate the special industry, which he fully describes in a lively and interesting manner. M. Bellenger forgets, however, to state that, although our poor may possibly live on butcher's trimmings, the Paris humbler folk exchange places with Pussy and Doggy, and leaving them the “trimmings," regale themselves with delicate horse-steaks or ragout d'Ane. (The Graphic, 21 October 1876)
In London and Londoners in the 1850s & 1860s, a memoir written in 1924, Alfred Rosling Bennett recounts a tale of a friend's pet cat who 'stole' meat from the Cats' Meat Man to feed her owner. “ The cats'-meat man was in daily attendance with his barrow and basket, and well did the felines know his time for reaching their door. A friend brought a cat from Scotland (where "meat" is unknown), and for some little time the merchant's cry fell meaningless on inattentive ears; but it was a little time. Not in vain had puss been bred on t'other side of the Border. Within a week she had discovered what the cabalistic sound meant, and then was as prompt as any of the others in welcoming the vendor. Another friend had a little cat that always brought her any mouse or bird it succeeded in catching, and she was sometimes able to rescue sparrows - on one occasion a thrush - alive. Pussy was particularly attentive and insistent in this way if her mistress happened to be indisposed, apparently under the impression that at such times she required something really nice to eat. Lying down one afternoon, this lady was disturbed by a tremendous mewing intermitted by loud purring outside. In vain she told the cat to go away, and at last rose and opened the door. Pussy immediately backed into the room, dragging a huge lump of horseflesh, weighing a good many pounds. This she laid at her mistress's feet, with every evidence of delight. " There, [-49-] help yourself, she seemed to say. The cats'-meat man had, it appeared, left his barrow to serve customers at their doors, and in his absence puss had ravished the sirloin that formed his main stock-in-trade and dragged it through the garden, up several steps, along a passage and finally upstairs to the first floor. And, after all, to see the maid take it back to the wondering proprietor on a fork!”
CATS'-MEAT MEN. (London Daily Chronicle, October 1901). In view of the dinner to the cats' meat men which is to take place soon, the following facts, supplied by one who claims to know much of the class which purveys meat for the domestic pet, may be of interest. Two cases which have within the last few years come before different courts of law amply show how profitable a trade, in London at least, supplying cats’ meat is. In one of these cases a probate suit, a certain testator had left £20,000, every penny of which had practically been made in a little over twenty-seven years by means of a West End cats’ meat round, which the testator had originally acquired, for a payment of £600, from his father, who, according to one of the witnesses, spent a fortune in “following horse races.” The same witness declared that the testator would have left twice as much as he did, but for luckless speculations in music hall and public house property. The other case was one that came before the magistrate at Southwark. A comely young woman, about 25 years of age, appeared in the witness box with a profuse display of really fine diamonds. The magistrate — at that time Mr. Fenwick — seemed astonished when the witness told him that she was “a domestic animals’ butcher,” and further questions elicited the fact that her father had left her the business two years before, and that she cleared out of it £10 a week regularly.
To those who have inquired into the facts of this trade, such a statement would represent but a commonplace. A cats’ meat round has frequently yielded anything from £300 to £800 when it came into the market, and there is one well-known West End round that changed hands for £1,200 about a couple of years ago. But this trade, like many another, is largely an hereditary one, most of the best rounds having been in the hands of the same families during three or four generations. The huge buildings let out into flats, and now so common, have increased the monetary value of cats’ meat rounds to a wonderful extent. One single building of this kind is reckoned to be worth £200 a year clear to himself by the “purveyor” who has the sole right of supply, and though this is an exceptional case, other great blocks of flats are proportionately valuable. Certain public buildings, like the government ones in Whitehall, have a high value when a round comes into the market.
It must always be recollected that, although most of the purveyors buy daily in one great central market, yet are the varieties of meat they acquire almost as much diversified as in the case of meat for human beings, and the West End cats’ meat provider obtains prices that would be absolutely impossible even in genteel villadom. But, in regard to the latter class, there is a Dulwich cats’ meat man who is a property owner on a very extensive scale; and another South London dealer, who still does his own buying and delivering, has given a university education to certain of his sons, one of whom is a clergyman.
Those of the public who may imagine that there is no room for initiative and ingenuity in the cats’ meat trade are vastly mistaken. In Kensington an enterprising young fellow is making a fortune through the happy idea of supplying, on request, fish instead of meat for the cats on his round. The pets of the prosperous can obtain meat at almost any time, and they will not look, for the most part, at the wares of the cats’ meat man. But no cat can resist a tasty bit of fish, be it offered when it may, and a huge success is the result of the innovation. Again, there are certain purveyors who take trouble to obtain a close knowledge of every single animal on their rounds, and its little peculiarities. This knowledge once gained, the cats’ meat man buys and cuts his portions accordingly, taking care that each cat gets its favorite bite. All chances of rivalry is removed at once by this means, for a cat will not for weeks, unless driven by desperate hunger, touch the strange cuts of a new purveyor.
Certain of the London cats' meat men rely largely, both for the extra income and for continued patronage, upon their skill in doctoring "pussy," and one of the craft told the present writer, giving names and dates, that he had frequently received as much as a sovereign for restoring a cat to health, while on two occasions he had been paid five times as much. His "cat powders" have not only brought him a regular harvest of coppers for years, but have served as an introduction to some thousands of customers for meat.
SOME HAZARDS OF THE TRADE
The occupation was not without hazard as the report “Godsend for Cats” in the Evening Express, August 5, 1898 indicates: "A purveyor of eats' meat named Laybon was plying his trade in Redcross-street, Borough, and in an ill-fated moment left his barrow unattended by the pavement. A vehicle, driven by a Mr. Hawkes, came along, collided with' the barrow, turned it over, and shot all the cats' meat onto the roadway. Then, there was great rejoicing .among all the cats who had their dwelling in the Borough, and they promptly devoured the succulent meat which had been placed in their way by a kind providence. As a result of the accident Mr. Laybon took proceedings against the driver of the vehicle which had caused the mischief, and the case came before Judge Addison on Thursday at Southwark County-court. The Defendant: I should have paid the money only he's charged me for repairing a bad leg which was tied up with rope when the collision occurred. The Judge: You damaged the barrow, and it could not be repaired without putting in another leg. The Defendant: Had he any right to leave his barrow in the read? The Judge: There are regulations as to that, but if there is anything in the road you must not run over it, whether it is a donkey or a barrow. This is your misfortune, and you must pay plaintiff 12s. 3d. and costs in three monthly payments."
Another peril faced by a cats’ meat man was reported a few years earlier in the “Illustrated Police News” of Saturday 26th August, 1876: "A CATS’-MEAT MAN ATTACKED BY DOGS. On Friday last week, within a mile or so of Middleton, James Bryant, an itinerant purveyor of meat to dogs and cats, was going his usual rounds, when to his infinite surprise and alarm a pack of hounds rushed at his barrow and the basket he carried, and proceeded to devour the food so ravenously that the poor cats'-meat man began to think that he was himself destined to fall a victim to his voracious assailants. Resistance was out of the question, Bryant , therefore let the animals eat up the dainty viands without, attempting to offer any opposition. To his great relief, assistance at length arrived. The keeper of the dogs, accompanied by a companion, hastened to the spot, and with a heavy whip he managed to keep them in subjection while he fed them from the meat in the barrow, which was very soon devoured. James Bryant was amply compensated by the master of the hounds, and is none the worse for his fright. It afterwards transpired that the dogs belonged to a gentleman residing in the district, and that for some cause or another, which is not at present made manifest, the animals had been a long time without food. The gate of the yard in which they were kept had been accidentally left open, and hence it was that they rushed out and made an onslaught on the cats'-meat man."
Seeing our local cats' meat man coming round the corner followed by a motley mob of dogs and cats, I stopped and inquired after the state of trade. " Well, you sort o' get used to it," he replied, dexterously apportioning a ration of slices on skewer. " I've been working this district now for eight years more, feeding close to 500 dogs and cats daily, and if they don't know me by this time—well, they ought to. I know them well enough, anyway. They're queer lot, some of 'em. The dogs are honest enough—or, least, straightforward—but the cats are shocking thieves. I bet there's one my basket now," he added, glancing at the receptacle on the railings. “Thought so. Can't leave it minute. It's the strays and the old toms who've been away for the week-end end and come back hungry that I have to watch. Can't cope with 'em, anyway. The dogs won't steal from the basket, but the big rough'ns are devils to fight. They seem to like scraps o' this sort as much as those give 'em. Here's my dog, 'Buller.' He follows me on my 10-mile tramp every day, and, if ever gets the chance, he'll pinch another dog's dinner and start looking round for another. Of course, - that's stealing right enough, but it's not the sly, shop-lifting kind like the cats go in for. It's sort of highway robbery—demanding meat with menaces. 'Buller' don't want the meat; he gets plenty. It's a scrap he's after. Dogs differ, of course. Some of the little quiet ones'll share a bit o' meat with one another and never grumble. I know most of 'em, dogs and cats, by name and character as well as they do the time I come round—which is saying something. There's old 'Nob' there, begging like a pauper. Nice little dog, him, but he's got a weakness. Follows prams about in the hope that the kid inside'II drop a cake, when he's off with the goods. Never seems to lose his appetite. Funny thing! Then there's 'Raffles' — that there cat with the embroidered ears. He's a stray and a perfect rascal. Lives on his his wits, and does well, too. But it don't do to let 'em steal - and with meat at 32s. hundredweight —better give it to 'em"— and he does. (Daily Herald, 13th July 1922)
WHERE DID THE MEAT COME FROM?
Horses were the main motive power in towns and cities in Western Europe and North America before steam-lorries, motor-vehicles and electric trams . They transported both people and freight and were often overworked. Heavy horses in railway yards rarely lasted beyond 2 years before becoming worn out. Omnibus-horses were worn down by the stop-start nature of their work. Cab horses might be raced along the streets in order to pick up as many fares as possible in a highly competitive trade. Anna Sewell described the conditions faced by working horses in her book “Black Beauty” which was written to draw attention to their circumstances. For a long while, horses and motorised vehicles coexisted and the horses always came off worse in any collision. After death, these horses were recycled into leather, glue and, of course, cat- and dog-food. Contaminated or diseased meat from other livestock was also sold as petfood, but every good-sized town had a specialised horse-butcher. The high mortality rate made the horse-butchery business a necessity. In 1868, Charles Dickens described a visit to such a business in London "All The Year Round." The horsemeat was boiled in great coppers, then delivered by cart to branches of the butchers. Here are some excerpts relating to the cats' meat trade.
At six, Mr. Potler, as spruce as ever, but with a butcher's steel suspended from his waist, drives a lighter vehicle in, and, standing up in
it, performs a remarkable feat of artificial memory. He is going round to between thirty and forty customers, all dealers in cats' meat, who have
given him their orders on a preceding day. He has neither book nor note, but calls out their names and quantities with a precision that never
seems to fail. "Threequarter Twoshoes and six penn'orth!" "Art" a 'undred Biles and three penn'orth!" "Arf fourteen Limey and two penn'orth!"
"'Undred and a arf, 'undred and three-quarters Till and nine penn'orth!" went on in rapid succession until we made bold to ask Mr. Potler where
his memorandum was, and how he knew the different quantities required. "All in my 'ed, sir" (tapping it with a sly laugh). "'Aven't got no books
nor pencils, I 'aven't, and don't want to," was his reply, which is corroborated by the stout proprietor, who stands at the scales, watches the
weighing, and enters all Mr. Poller's items methodically on a sort of tradesheet he carries in his hand. The first number,
such as the "'undred and a arf," referred, it was interesting to learn, to the cats'meat of ordinary horse-flesh; the "penn'orths" are "tripe," and divide the quantities of each customer in the cart. "Tripe" is for the dog and cat of jaded appetite, who cannot relish plain food. Mr. Poller has no check upon his memory. He drives round in a certain direction, calling at the same houses in regular rotation, and delivers the "meat" as ordered, without scales or weighing-machine, and purely by eye and head. He is said rarely to make a mistake, and on his return at eleven o'clock will bring back from ten to twelve pounds sterling and an empty cart. Cash on delivery, is his motto, and the amount he hands in always tallies with the entries in the trade-sheet of his employer.'
[Dickens asks] What affects the price of cats' meat? [The butcher creplies] Why the cost of horses, and the number of them. Sometimes they drop off like rotten sheep, at others the season's healthy and the supply low. We buy 'em dead and alive, remember. We've standing contracts with many of the largest employers of horses to take their diseased and worn-out and dead ones at a fixed price all round.
From this time, about half-past six, until half-past eight the flow of customers was strong and steady. The food was carried off in a variety of ways. Shabby-genteel women brought perambulators; children,baskets and barrows; men and boys, little carts. "Mind my doggie don't bite yer!" was shouted in the ear of one of our party, which made him jump away from a harmless panel-fresco of a Newfoundland dog who was eating "royal cats' meat" with an air of an epicure. Most of the carts had pictorial panels. Some were scenes in high life. The late Prince Consort, her majesty, and the royal children dispensing cats' meat from silver spoons to a litter of spaniels at their feet; an archbishop, seated in his study, in lawn sleeves, tempting a poodle to sit up by the promise of cats' meat; and an elderly lady of evidently high rank, for her coronet stood on the breakfast-table at her side, like a coffee-pot, coaxing a monster tabby with milk and meat, were among the pictures on the cart- sides. The ponies drawing them were smart trotters, well groomed and cared for; but the most celebrated were not brought out througb the wetness of the morning. The owners were as artistic as their vehicles: some in long drab coats reaching to their heels; some in strange jackets in which one patch of colour had been so intertwined with another that the original hue was lost; some in nondescript garments, of which it was difficult to discern the beginning or end; all wonderfully brisk, funny, and personal. One man takes away a bag of horse-tongues, which are so wonderfully like those we see in the windows of ham and beef shops that we avoid asking its destination; others purchase horses' hearts, which we, at least, could not distinguish from those of bullocks; but the majority take the " meat" as it comes, pay for it, and go on their way. "It's a curious thing," said the stout proprietor, "that they're all so particular about having it boiled fresh. The act of parliament says horses are only to be slaughtered in certain hours ; but that part of it has become a dead letter, simply because cats prefer the taste of horse-flesh which has been newly killed. Custom, sir, has overridden law, as it often does, and all because the London tabbies are so dainty that they don't like horse that's been killed too long over-night. Do the old favourite horses I told you of as being slaughtered to prevent their ever being ill treated—do they get sold for cats' meat too ? I ask. That's just as gentlemen like. They can have the body buried, and, if they prefer it, we'll send men to their own places to kill for them. If they come here, it can be made quite private. We'd a baronet here, with an old pet, only yesterday. We always close these gates at such a time; for, hang me (with much vigour) if people don't seem to rise out of the pavement when anything's going on on the quiet. The great thing we guarantee is that a horse shall be put out of the way painlessly, and in the presence of witnesses, if it's wished; and that he'll not be found, ill-treated, in a cab, perhaps, ten years after he's supposed to be killed, as I've known happen before now."W. Baird also wrote about the trade in the children's periodical "Chatterbox" in 1868. Children of that age were probably much more aware of where meat came from than are children today:
IT is calculated that there are somewhere about 300,000 cats in London. This rough calculation was made some years ago, allowing a cat to every inhabited house — an allowance which is under the mark, for it takes no account of what may be called the ' itinerant cats,' who have no settled abode, but trust to casual hospitality. However, it is better to err on the safe side, and understate rather than overstate the case. Supposing, therefore, that there are only 300,000 cats in London, it is clear that even this modest number must be supplied with food. It is not with us as with country folks, where milk is no object. We set far too high a value upon the blue liquid, which does duty among Londoners for the produce of the cow, to set our cats down to lap up a basin of it. [Note: this bluish milk resulted from dilution and adulteration].
Hence the demand for cats' meat has created a supply, and the vending of food for the cats and dogs is a regular branch of street trade. If we take a walk in the morning in some quiet neighbourhood, we shall very likely meet with an elderly gentleman in a shiny hat, and black plush waistcoat, with his shirt-sleeves tucked up above the arm, his body tightly girt with a coarse blue apron, and a multitude of neckerchiefs encircling his bull-like neck. He wheels in front of him a small barrow very much like an ordinary gardener's wheelbarrow. This is filled with meat, part of which is cut up into fragments and spitted upon wooden skewers, and part left uncut in a rough mass of coarse offal, which certainly does not look very inviting, at least to the human appetite. The cart is provided with a small ledge or shelf in front, on which the remainder of the meat can be cut up into slices at the pleasure of various customers. This is a merchant who purveys for the wants of the cats and dogs of London. The meat in his little cart is not, as might be thought at first, the refuse of an ordinary market; it is meat which he specially provides, with a view to the palates of his customers. It is horse-flesh. The richer representatives of the trade buy it in large quantities from the ' knackers,' who carry away horses which die in the streets.
The writer remembers seeing a number of legs hanging up in the back-yard of one of these sellers of cats' meat. Though the flesh is generally kept in tolerable preservation, the odour arising from it is so disagreeable, that it is not always easy for an extensive dealer in cats' meat to secure a local habitation. People are naturally rather sensitive on the subject of having horse-flesh forced upon their notice. One dealer in the article told the writer that he had been driven from one place to another in London, owing to the objection of the neighbours to the stench arising from horse-flesh being kept on the premises. The cats, however, are by no means sharers in this prejudice. As the cats' meat man passes by the different houses, and announces his approach by a peculiar nasal yell, the cats may be seen furtively stealing up their respective areas, and eagerly seizing the meat which is thrown down to them. In large warehouses or breweries in the city, where numerous cats are kept, ' feeding-time' is a scene almost worthy of the Zoological Gardens.
For the convenience of all parties concerned, the meat is fastened on email white skewers and thrown down into the areas. Of course, casual customers pay for the meat as they get it, but it seems that people who deal in large quantities pay by the week, and look for the approach of the cats'-meat man with the same regularity as they would for the coming of the milk-man. So fond are our London cats of this meat, that after being long accustomed to it, they turn away with a well-bred disgust when anything else is offered to them as a substitute. Nor is this altogether matter for surprise. Unpalatable as the food would be to many of us, it may easily be believed that there is many a half-starved human being, buried in the hopeless abyss of some London court, who in his hungry agony would even swallow eagerly the worthless offal which is cast to our cats and dogs.
There is probably no branch of street-trade in which there are so many different degrees of success as in this. We find men, like our friend in the picture, who earn a very fair livelihood in this way, and do their best to maintain a respectable appearance. On the other hand, this branch of street trade numbers among it men, whose sole worldly possession is the miserable basket, in which they carry their merchandise, and women, who can just manage to crawl along from house to house with their scanty baskets of horseflesh. It is impossible exactly to state the number engaged in this business in our streets, but there must be many hundreds. And, if Mr. [Henry] Mayhew's calculation, that £100,000 is annually spent in London and the suburbs on the purchase of cats' meat be correct, the statement is a little startling. When it is remembered that human beings are sometimes left in this great Christian city to die of starvation, this care of dumb friends first seems very like reviving the old order, and casting ' the children's bread to dogs.' We would not have one cat or dog less well fed, but we should be thankful if the thought that these dumb animals are thus supplied, should stir men up to a more tender care for the bodily wants of many a brother and sister in Christ who is less carefully fed than many a cat, less tenderly housed than many a dog.
Most horses, even famous steeds, ended up as cat or dog food. “THE END OF FLEET STEED: The papers announce an interesting death, that of Caradoc, the mare on which Lieutenant Zubowitz rode from Vienna to Paris. She died at the stables of a horse-dealer in the Champsa Elysees, who had bought her from the Austrian. Her body was sold for 50f. to a cats’ meat man. “(Dundee Courier, 30th August 1875) Another source of horsemeat were the racehorses which “went to the dogs” when their racing days were over, or if they lacked ability. Because the yearlings had been out at grass, some breeders fed them on cattle cake so they “put on condition” for the sales. “How far all this stuffing is necessary or advantageous to an animal destined for activity of the training gallops instead of the grim carcase repose of the Metropolitan Meat Market. What useful end is served by this laying on of fat, which may be regarded as matter out of place in bodies not intended for food, until the merciful hand of Jack Atcheler places them out of their misery for ever, and their remains are hawked about by the cats' meat man.” (Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 19th May 1877) and “The number of [thoroughbred racehorse] yearlings sold at the large meetings is astonishing . . . Many a one "goes to the dogs," and is hawked about on sticks by the dog and cat's meat man, despite his lofty pedigree and perhaps many valuable engagements.” (Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News , 29th November 1884) No wonder that the cats’ meat man and his wife might enjoy a day out at the races, knowing that even if he didn’t win a few bob by betting on horses, the both winner and losers would eventually end up on his barrow: “ASCOT DAY. —The road through here on the morning of the Cup Day was all alive with vehicles of every description, from the cat's meat man and his wife, with a small pony front of his "trap" and a loud tiger's skin behind, to the splendid team of greys of Colonel Whitmore's. “(Middlesex Chronicle, 17th June 1876).
When a working horse, pony, mule or donkey could no longer be worked there was no room, or money, for sympathy and retirement. The carcase was sold for whatever it would fetch and the animal was replaced. A case reported in the Croydon Chronicle and East Surrey Advertiser, 24th December 1910 questioned the fate of a horse that was sold to the cats' meat man. Stephen Page, of Grand-parade, Streatham-road, Mitcham, was summoned on charges of cruelty when Inspector Ellis, of the RSPCA, supported by Frank Hill, MRCVS, found Page’s horse to lame on three legs. Page claimed he had bought the horse for 20 guineas only two weeks previously and had not worked it since the Inspector had called his attention to its lameness. He claimed he had sold it to a cats’ meat man for £5 (less than a quarter of the price paid for it) and it had been destroyed. The Inspector asked for evidence that the horse had been sold for slaughter or destroyed.
THE MEAT OF A MILLION CATS (Pearson's Weekly, 26th May 1894) also gave a description of the trade in horseflesh.
“ALTHOUGH London is not one of those towns, like Newmarket, where horses occupy a primary and mankind a secondary position among the inhabitants, yet one may often see almost as many horses as human beings in a busy London thoroughfare, especially at night-time. It is very natural to wonder what becomes of all those honest hard-working cattle [a term used for working animals in general] when their short lives of usefulness are ended. A day never passes in which hundreds of horses in cabs and buses, drays and tradesmen's carts, may not be seen whose lives have reached their very lowest ebb, and who have long since earned a rest from their labours in the sleep of death. Almost every one of these, when its last load has been drawn, or when it has actually fallen dead in its harness, is taken to the knacker's yard, where day and night the work of slaying and flaying, boning and boiling down, goes on incessantly. The horses, when they are dead, make food for the cats and dogs. One firm alone kills, and afterwards retails, nearly 30,000 London horses in a year.
Horseflesh, as everybody knows, or ought to know, is eaten in France, but in England the trade is not carried on openly, although the cook at our favourite restaurant may occasionally play us false, and call the cab horse of yesterday curried mutton a la Bombay; with boiled rice, 10d. For the present purpose, therefore, we may suppose that all these 30,000 horses go to feed the dogs and cats of London. The carcase of a French horse is said to yield 450lbs. of meat, but the meat from the average horse in a London knacker's yard turns the scale at about 300Ibs. Six hundred horses slain in a week, yielding 300lbs. apiece, give 180,000lbs. of meat, and each pound cuts up into half a dozen ha'porths, as retailed on the streets. It will be seen that this one firm, therefore, supplies meals for over 1,000,000 cats and dogs, and the trade in horseflesh is large enough to employ at least thirty other wholesale men in London. As for retailers, with their carts and barrows and perambulators, they are a multitude. The skewers on which the meat is threaded are thrown in by the knackers, although it takes no less than half a ton of them to deal with a whole day's consumption. It is almost incredible that one firm alone should use over 180 tons of deal in a year in fixing up cat's-meat, and yet this is the case.
Now and then there comes a time when there is a glut in the meat market, and horses come pouring in at the knacker's gate much quicker than the cats and dogs can eat them. Under these circumstances the meat is stored away in a refrigerator—vast underground cellars, in which nearly three hundred carcases can be accommodated, in a temperature which only an Arctic explorer would care to face for long. If you venture to poke your nose inside, you see on all sides piles of meat frozen solid and glistening with crystals of ice, while overhead and at the back of this strange larder the beams are thick with pure clinging snow, and even as you put your foot inside the flakes begin to fall in a listless way and float down on to the silver covering which wraps the bodies of those faithful creatures, whose lives have been spent in the service of man. It is far from pleasant to spend even a few minutes in a knacker's yard, but it is a thousand times pleasanter to stand and watch the blow which mercifully ends the days of the poor creatures than to see them with sunken eye and protruding thigh bones staggering along the streets with burdens they have not the strength to pull, and wincing in their patient way beneath the cruel cuts of the whip. There are few sights in the world which give me more genuine satisfaction than seeing a brute arrested for ill-treating his horse, or for using it when it is obviously unfit for work. The heavier the hand of justice presses on that man the more delight it affords one. “
It’s a strange irony that in modern times, horsemeat is not used in pet-food in the UK even though surplus wild ponies, failed racehorses and unwanted horses. The only reason for this is a strange English taboo against eating horsemeat. Previous generations were much more pragmatic about the disposal of horse carcases (for those interested, poleaxing – similar in its effect to a captive bolt pistol - was a usual method of dispatch).
According to Frances Simpson (1903): "One of the strangest and most profitable trades in London is the wholesale and retail business of horsemeat for cats. In barrows and carts the hawkers of this horse-flesh cry their wares throughout the city and suburbs, and find a ready sale for them. It is stated that 26,000 horses, maimed, or past work, are slaughtered and cut up each year to feed out household pets. Each horse means on an average 275 pounds of meat, and this is sold by pussy's butcher in half pennyworths skewered on bits of wood. The magnitude of this trade can be estimate by the fact that it keeps constantly employed thirty wholesale salesmen. I may mention that a cats'-meat men's supper was organised last year in London but the editor of Our Cats, assisted by Mr Louis Wain and others; and a most successful entertainment was given at the City of New York Restaurant. The applications for tickets were so numerous that 400 men had to be refused; and when the 250 guests were seated, it was clearly proved that every available inch of accommodation had been utilised. Having been present, I can testify to the excellent supper and entertainment provided for the cats'-meat men of London."
Not everyone saw the cat's meat trade as a valuable one. For example, in Beeton's Book of Poultry and Domestic Animals (1870), the authoress [the domestic goddess of her era] wrote: "Never allow your dog to eat what is commonly known as 'cat's meat.' I am loth to say a word that may work ill towards any branch of industry, but there is little doubt that the abolition, of the "cat's-meat" business would be an immense benefit to the canine and feline races. Consider the long odds that exist against the chance of the horseflesh being nutritious? First, It may be safely reckoned that at least a fourth of the number of horses killed are diseased. Secondly, it is generally pitched into the cauldron almost before it is cold; and as it does not in the least concern either the wholesale or the retail dealer, whether the meat be lean or tough, very little attention is paid to the boiling. Thirdly, the retail dealer—the peripatetic cat'smeat man—as a rule, brings the meat hot from the copper, and though, perhaps, equally as a rule, yet by no means as an exception, souses it into cold water to make it cut "firm." After these explanations, the owner of a dog may judge of the nutriment to be derived from cat's-meat.
This excerpt from the memoir "Peter: A Cat o' One Tail" by Charles Morley (published c. 1917) illustrates a suspicion about the cat's meat man having the opportunity to poison cats if he disliked their owner badly enough. In this case the alleged motive was the fact the owner fed her cats on prime mutton from the butcher rather than discount meat from the cat's meat man. "We had often laughed at the odd old lady who lived two doors higher up, for the anxiety which she displayed when any of her pets were missing . . . This same old lady [Mrs. Mee] was very fond of her cats, and had nine of them at the time I am writing of. Mrs. Mee was not very popular in the neighborhood, except with the milkman and the butcher. The cats'-meat-man, indeed, who supplied various families in our road, positively hated her — so I gathered from our servant, — and had been heard to say sotto voce in unguarded moments, "Ha! ha! I'll be revenged." It was not unnatural, as the cats were fed on mutton cutlets and fresh milk, and cats' meat was at a discount. ... Mrs. Mee, in the short space of three or four days, had lost no less than five cats by a violent death [...]"
Some cats’ meat men did very well out of the trade. According to Time Magazine, 11th November 1929 "In a London magistrate's court a Mrs. Albert Cratchitt, estranged from her husband, was being sued for non-payment of bills. Trouble reconciled the Cratchitts. In the dock Albert Cratchitt, beaming, prosperous, appeared beside his wife. "It's all right, Your Worship," said he. "Mrs. Cratchitt and I, we've forgotten our little differences. I've arranged to pay all her debts. As a matter of fact, I've done pretty well. For 30 years I've had a cat's meat round in the City, and if I do say so I'm a man of independent means." "What," cried the magistrate, starting beneath his wig, "you made a fortune out of cat's meat?" "Yes," said Meatman Cratchitt. "Funny, isn't it?" However, after a lot of digging around in old London newspapers, it appears that Time Magazine fabricated ther story of Mr and Mrs Cratchitt, basing it on a real-life case of Mr and Mrs Etteridge. According to the(Daily Herald, 9th September 1929: "A FORTUNE FROM CATS' MEAT - “I don't do any work really; I have an income," said a witness in a case at Marylebone Police Court. Magistrate: You are of independent means. Is that what you have saved? Witness: Yes, sir. I had a cats', meat round for 30 years. Magistrate: And made fortune out of cats'-meat, did you?” “Yes, funny, isn't it," replied the man, laughing." while the Dundee Evening Telegraph, 9th September 1929 gives details of the couple’s name, which was Etteridge, not Cratchitt: "It was revealed at Marylebone, when Mrs Rose Etteridge, aged 53, was remanded in custody, accused of attempted suicide, that her husband had made a fortune by selling cats’ meat. The husband had retired, it was stated, and had ordered a house to be built for him."
A BRITISH "CURIOSITY"
The business of cats’ meat man was quite a curiosity in the USA. The Chicago-based Daily Inter Ocean, 15th May 1887, printed an interview with a cats’ meat man, headed “THE TOILERS OF LONDON” [in which] Robert P. Porter Interviews a Cat’s Meat and Divulges Trade Secrets. A Way of Feeding Family Pets That Will Be Read with Interest Here. Dark Hints Anent Sausage Manufacturers — Woman in the Business — Some Fortunes Amassed.
An army! Of what? Cats in London. At least half a million strong. [. . .] How is this army of toms and tabbies of high and low degree fed? That is a practical question. There are In London at least three thousand men and women who earn comfortable livings as caterers to cats. This trade, while It extends somewhat into the West End, does not flourish in the wealthy neighborhoods, where the cats are often fed with dainty scraps from the table. In the East End, with its two millions of human beings closely packed in single rooms, in narrow streets, there are no spare scraps from the table. “We are obliged to eat close,” said a Bethel [Bethnal] Green woman to me; “our cats get no dainties. The old man or the young ‘uns get the last dainties, and often times the last bones.” A vast majority, therefore, of the half million or more of London cats have to live on boiled horse-flesh, and the “cats’ meat man,” of whom I am about to speak, is the purveyor of this meat for the poorer, middle, and lower cats of the metropolis.
An able-bodied cat can live comfortably on half a pound of cats’ meat per day. The cost of this meat at a cats’ meat shop is a penny per pound. If the entire army of cats were supplied with a full half pound of meat; It would take about 833 horses per day to keep them supplied, as the average product of meat of a dead horse, I am told, is about 500 pounds. A considerably less number of defunct horses than this is made to go round, owing to the skill of the cats’ meat man.
“The greatest h’art is in the cutting up,” said an experienced cats’ meat artist to me last Friday night
“You tell me,” said I, “that you have a route embracing 600 customers, and that you use one hundred weight (112 pounds) of meat a day. Now how do you cut up a hundred-weight into 600 half pounds?” -
“Well, you see, a nice dry piece of meat is better than h’under done. It looks more on the skewer. Between two bits o’ nice and dry we claps a little bit o’ rough, and ‘olds it up on the skewer, and the customers say ‘that is something like a rosy ha’p’orth Mr. Cats' Meat Man.’ The h’art is, sir, to make five ounces look as much like 'alf a pound as possible. Some men adulterates their meat, but I don't do that unless meat is very scarce.”
“Adulterate the meat,” I remarked, with surprise. “why what meat is cheaper than horse-flesh?” -
“Why lights is cheaper; bullocks lights. We buy ’em seven pounds for threepence (6 cents) all ‘ot and fresh. But the trouble with lights is the cats don’t like ’em. We as understand the ropes do our best to cultivate their taste by throwing a bit down to see if they will eat it, but cats are getting that dainty as ‘alf of 'em won’t. If a cat don’t eat it of course we can’t put none in the meat. We ‘ave to be very h’artful or else we should never get on.”
The man who thus addressed me seated on a bench in a little back work-shop in a court not far from Shoreditcb Church. He is said to be one of the most popular purveyors of cats’ meat in London, and is known among his class as “Wag.” He was a good-natured fellow, and something of a wit in his way. On his head he wore a saucy billycock, and around his throat in place of the customary neckerchief was a collar and scarf, ornamented with a large silver pin in imitation of a stirrup. His waistcoat was long, with a double row of buttons. His manner was that of the regular cockney type, with a dash of the Artful Dodger. When I entered Wag was busily engaged in making skewers for the next day's trade. Offering him a cigar, which he examined carefully in order to be sure and light the right end, the conversation was continued.
"Is the cats’ meat business a profitable one?” - “Middling, so I think. It all depends, you see, on what kind of a walk you ’ave. The ‘orse slaughterers, or knackers, as we call ‘em, have all gone into one large company, and that has done away with competition, excepting with country and foreign meat.”
“Then foreign meat comes into London?” - “Oh, yes It comes all the way from the north of England, Scotland, and even ’Amburg, in Germany. But the foreign and country meat don’t suit the appetite of the cats. What they like best is fine old London trammers or drayers. ‘Ansom cab ‘orses are not to be despised, though the worn-out nd broken-down ‘growler’ is little relished by the class of cats as I serve.
“How much can you make a week?” - “Well that again depends on the walk. There are two ‘undred, one ‘undred, ‘alf a hundred and quarter ‘undred walks. A good ‘undred pound walk ought to be worth four pounds a week. I ‘ave about six ‘undred cats on my walk, and generally make a ‘undred weigh go round. The meat costs me from eight shillings ($2) to twelve shillings ($3) per ’undredweight, and I make out of it by h’exercislng the legitimate h’art of the trade six ’undred ’ansome-looking ‘aporths.”
“Don't your customers ever complain about short weight?” - “We ’ave to be keerful. Some old ladies as I serve likes their cats better than their children, and they will sometimes examine and even weigh the meat. You see, we ’ave the best meat in one corner of the basket, a little better in the middle, and the awful at the end. If the old lady ain’t about, and the cat is, we can run in a bit o’ rough on even the most fastidious on ’em. In such oases the danger lies with the cat. If she eats it up close, all right, If not, all wrong."
“How do your customers regard these pleasant tricks of the trade?" - “Some of 'em takes it jokingly like, and they say, ‘You wicked butcher, you gave my poor cat such a rare old ‘aporth yesterday, that it took her twelve hours to eat it.’ I takes the hint, and don't try it on them again. If they growl too much we chucks 'em up and gives the tip all round, and the next man that comes along gives her less than I did, so you see she is bound to come back."
“Then the cat’s meat men stand together?” - “If we didn't don't you see we couldn’t sell our rounds. For example; I paid £60 ($300) for my walk, and some walks sell for £100, and so on down to £10 and £15. Another dodge is the h'area trick. If we see the cat down the h'area we sling it down very much under weight. If the cat is not there, we thrown full weight, for fear the missus might see it.” [The ‘area’ was the small front courtyard outside the basement rooms.]
“Do the cats get to know you?" - “As I go along a street what I serve, the cats kick up a row and almost fly into my basket. They are my customers. These same cats pay no more attention to the other cat's men that pass down the street than they would to you. I ‘ave had cats come from Central street, St Luke's, right across 'ere after me if I have been late. Suppose I am an hour late; why all the cats are flying about as savage as the master himself would be if breakfast wasn't ready. Know me? You can just bet a pot of fourpenny they know me.”
“Have you ever been able to classify the various cats of your acquaintance?" - “Only generally. We observe the drift like of its appetite. We ’ave the dainty cat as won’t stand no rough and is squirmish over the awful, and leaves the gristle all round where the missus can see it. Nothing but very nice will suit this kind of a cat. Then there is the every-day sort of cat, as can stand a bit o' lights when meat is dear, and don't turn up ‘er nose at a cut o’ 'Amburg or of country. Lastly comes the devil-of-a-cat. To that sort of cat we give some ‘ard pieces of gristle to amuse ‘er. Give such a cat as that very nice, and before the missus could turn her back it would be gone."
“So there are all sorts and conditions of cats as well as of men. I am sure your experiences will be amusing on the other side of the Atlantic; and I should like to know what other purposes horse-flesh is used for, if any.”
At this question I thought our friendly informant would have a fit so violently did he wink both eyes, and so hard did he try to suppress his emotions at the childish innocence displayed in my inquiry.
“Other purposes,” the cats’ meat man repeated when he had sufficiently recovered from his droll proceedings to answer me, “why, much of the best of it, and some of the worst, goes into German puddings and sausages. I once dealt with a horse slaughterer who was a great sausage man.”
“Tell me all about the sausage man.” - “I used to go in there sometimes of a night when it was dark, and I would hear them draw a cart slowly across the ground, and then I would see ’em load up 'alf a ton of 'orse-flesh. All the best of the meat used to go for sausages and German puddings. The result was the poor cats had to suffer. So the cats meat men held an indignation meeting at a public ’ouse, and agreed to go down to ‘im and ask ‘im why he could not leave off supplying the German pudding maker who had twelve or thirteen ‘undedweight a week. ‘Ave you ever noticed how lean those puddings are. The bits of fat are stuck in and it sells at a good price; you cannot buy German sausage at any shop under eight-pence per pound.”
“Do they use horse flesh very much?” - “One man I know used to have fourteen ’undredweight a week off him. I ‘ave seen some exceedingly bad stuff go into sausages. The ’orse flesh is always taken into the pudding makers’ at night, as it would not do to have it seen. A little while ago there was one man fined two ‘undred pound for selling ‘orse flesh in sausages, [so-and-so] of Bishopsgate street. That is the second time he has been fined. Then there is a man named [so-snd-so] in the Bethnal Green Road, got fined sixty pound, and he was a man that everybody thought had good meat.”
“Did it ruin him?” - "Yes, it ruined his business, but he had tinned his kettle, and, having a kettle full of quids, I don't suppose he cared. I know one man that did nothing else but supply sausage-makers. We used to call that ‘ung-up stuff. He did not sell for cats; he was one of those that was above selling for cats. They have a very good line of business among them. Nobody knows what line of business they carry on. The ‘ung-up stuff is for German puddings.”
“Who boils it?” - “The sausage-maker boils it. They always chop it up and fill the skins with the mixture before it is boiled."
At this juncture I asked “Wag" if he would allow me to take a look at his cart, which, I had been informed, had rather a taking sign on it. “With pleasure.” he said, and. leading the way into the back of the premises, pointed to the device upon the little two-wheeled cart, which he remarked was his own idea. It read as follows: “V.R. Purveyor of Meat, to Her Majesty, the Queen's Most Humble Servants, the Cats.” The letters were printed on green on orange background, and the whole arrangement was very effective for a royal highness-loving people.
Resuming our conversation, I remarked: “Are many women engaged in the cats’ meat business?” - “There are six or seven hundred girls that have walks, and some of ‘em cut up a ‘undred weight a day. Wives with walks of this sort are not despised among the trade and out of it, too, for that matter. Why a friend of mine who was in the bedstead line married a cats’-meat girl, and a beauty she was too. That girl now presides over the bedstead shop, and nobody would know she had ever been a cats’-meat girl."
“Some cats’ meat men have made fortunes?” - “Yes, I know of one who bought twenty-one houses not so long ago. He ’ad learned the ’hart of cutting up, too; that he ’ad. But then him and his wife are teetotallers and did no boozing."
“Is boozing, as you call it, a common fault with the trade?” - “Some in our business is diabolical fellows. They will go on the booze for a day or two and neglect the cats that shamefully. Once let him get a taste of the unsweetened, and tight they are, sir. Then, of course, we 'ave our respectable ones. I know a young cat’s-meat woman who is a Sunday-School teacher. She's a tulip, I tell you, and it's a treat to see her with her class well in hand Sunday. I know one man who conducts a mission ‘all; and so it goes.”
Among other things I learned from this interesting young cats’ meats vendor, were that all kinds of horses went into cats’ meat, diseased and otherwise; that in buying their meat they were obliged to take it just as it came; that some cats’-meat men owned trotting horses, others fancied dogs, and indulged in a little private “scrap” sometimes, Sundays, at a friend's house, while the tastes of others ran to fighting chickens. So far as he was personally concerned his ambition was a country “pub," which he hoped some day to keep. A business I thought peculiarly fitted for one so skilled in the “h’art” of adulteration. If he made as many glasses of beer out of a barrel as he did half pounds of meat out of a hundred weight, a beerage and ultimately a peerage would be within range of possibility. Who knows?
Altogether my hour with the cat's-meat man was amusing, and would have been instructive did my tastes and fancies run to German puddings and sausages. As a type of the peculiar people we meet in London he is certainly worth a niche in this series, and my artistic friend, Mr. Hitchcock, has faithfully represented him in the accompanying sketch. Robert P. Porter.
THE CATS-MEAT MAN. A UNIQUE FIGURE PECULIAR TO THE STREETS OF LONDON. — Frederick Stansbury in N. Y. News. (The Evening Republican, 22nd March 1893) The true home of the cats’-meat man — do not make the mistake of calling him the cat-meat man — is London. In America, he is as yet a fragile flower — a transplanted growth that has not taken strong root in the soil. In London, however, this gentleman flourishes like a green bay tree. Dickens would have immortalized him, but he was a household word before Dickens appeared, to charm his age and be freely criticised by the generation that succeeded him. Dickens is out of fashion now, but the cats’-meat-man is still dear to the British heart. He has his niche, too, in the temple of fame. Does not Tennyson sing: “The curse has come upon me! Cried the cats'-meat man?"
The cats’-meat man of London is a unique figure in the life of that great city. How he acquired his original right is as much a mystery to most people as is the legend, “ancient lights,” which confronts the visitor to London from many a dingy wall. A cats’-meat route is valuable as property, is transferable, is saleable. So sacred is the right to it held that there is no suit at law on record for the recovery of a claim of this kind that has been “jumped.” The cry of the cats’-meat man is as well-known as the tinkling bell of the muffin man, or the hoarse roar of the wretch who peddles coals. For an illustration of the methods of the person in question let us select a street, say within the purlieus of Red Lion or Russell Square — Lamb’s Conduit street, will answer the purpose. Here are rows of doorways, exactly alike, mostly Queen Anne in type, though some are of the Georgian period. The hour approaches when the welcome presence of the cat’-meat man will make itself known. We know this because each doorway contains a cat, on whose face is plainly written anxious expectancy. “We know he will come,” the faces seem to say, “but what if he should not!” But now anxiety gives place to agreeable certainty. A cheerful purring pervades the air, and, echoing softly from far down the street comes the refrain “meat-meat!” On one doorstep sits in great dignity a magnificent Persian with solemn whiskers. Next door is a huge tom, of the variety known as “yaller,” whose eyes are of the color of the sea. Further on, a white mother with amber eyes plays decorously with some young parti-colored kittens, keeping an eye, the while, in the direction from whence comes the welcome sound. Nearly every doorstep contains a cat. They are of all colors, races and breeds, but the sober gray, tiger-marked, seem to predominate. As the presence approaches they become uneasy and restless. They arch their backs, walk to and fro with glistening eyes and quivering tail. But, soft you now! The cats’-meat man stands before us. He has a basket on one arm. In his disengaged hand is a skewer, on which are pitted certain “slithers” of cooked meat—beef, horseflesh or liver, as the case may be. “Meat, meat,” cries the cats’-meat man, as he agitates the knocker or rings the bell. He pays no attention to the cats, most of whom hold him in awe. The more bold among them rub their highly-arched spines against the sides of his trousers, but offer no further familiarity. Someone comes to the door and takes the skewer from him, and, selecting another from the basket, he passes to the next house. In a few minutes the cry of “meat, meat” becomes more and more faint, and before he is out of sight not a solitary cat is to be seen in his wake. They have retired for breakfast.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, 22nd March 1897 mused on the proposed ban on the sale of horse-meat for consumption and how such a thing could not possibly happen in London: “Among the important bills introduced at Albany on the 10th inst., was a measure, ‘to amend the penal code, prohibiting the sale of horseflesh as an article of food.' It provides that any person who sells or offers for sale horseflesh as an article of food shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”—Evening Post. If such a bill as this were introduced into the British Parliament, the Prime Minister would soon have a deputation of cats’ meat men after him. The sale of horseflesh as an article of food for cats is an important industry, especially in the deserts of Whitechapel. I recall some amusing facts in connection with this peculiar business, which I gathered in a morning’s talk with some “cat’s meat men,” as they are popularly called. It might be interesting to an enterprising reporter to find out how the army of toms and tabbies of high and low degree in this metropolis are fed, and whether the law proposed by Assemblyman Soper will interfere with their rights. That is a practical question. In London I found an army of at least 3000 men and women who earn very comfortable livings as caterers to cats. London people, especially in the East End, eat close, and a vast majority of the half million cats of the metropolis have to live on boiled horseflesh, and the “cats’ meat man” becomes the purveyor of this meat for the poorer, middle and lower class cats of London. An able- bodied cat can live comfortably on half a pound of cats’ meat per day. The cost of this meat at a cats’ meat shop is a penny per pound.
THE CURIOUS BUSINESS OF THE FAITHFUL “CAT MEAT MAN” (The Star press, 23rd August 1914). Constantinople has been celebrated for the great number of dogs that roved the streets, and this glimpse of a London neighborhood might give the uninformed an idea that cats were quite the animal familiars in the streets of London. But the familiar sight is not so much the cats as the "cat-meat man,” whose dally coming is eagerly anticipated by Tom and Tabby. The "cat-meat man” is a vendor of horseflesh, which seems to be a highly appreciated fare; though a London wit, in disputing this fact, contends that the cats would be every bit as satisfied with porterhouse roast. The “cat-meat man” himself admits this argument unanswerable, but the owners of the cats are glad that they do not have to pay porterhouse prices. The cats, however, are not complaining and they are so familiar with the voice of the vendor that they detect it from afar, sometimes meeting him a quarter of a mile from their homes. And they follow him until the food is bought and they get their share.
THE LONDON CAT’S-MEAT MAN By Vincent Edwards (The Whitewright Sun, 12th August 1943). It seems appropriate that the city of Dick Whittington should have always had a warm place in its heart for cats. Still, one of London’s most cherished memories is the cat’s-meat man. That familiar figure in the battered old hat, the long coat and apron, was no ordinary tradesman. Every day he made his rounds with his jounty little cart, peddling meat for Pussy and all her relations. Americans who were lucky enough to see the cat’s-meat man roll up in the old days never forgot the sight. From hidden alleyways, from dark cellars, from warm firesides even, cats by the tens and twenties suddenly appeared to greet the driver.
The cart alone was a magnificent spectacle. It had pictures on it just like a circus wagon, and over the top there was a gaudy sign: “Purveyor of Meat to the Canine and Feline Patrons of the Metropolis.” But Pussy’s choice in meat couldn't be guessed in a week. It was horse meat! Beef and lamb and chicken were all right in their place, but she preferred something less common. There was one cat’s meat peddler by the name of Dobbin whose cart had a picture of a fine, sleek cat that had invited a very thin cat to supper. “Ah,” says the guest, “This is indeed a treat.” The fat cat replies, “Glad you enjoy it. We buy all our meat of Dobbin.”
At soon as the cart would pull up, the driver would step out with a large basket on his arm. It held about as curious an assortment as was ever sold off to the public. The basket was filled with meat on small, wooden skewers; there were pieces of various sizes, depending on the cost. A half-penny bought no more than a mouthful for Pussy, but three-pence was enough for a Christmas dinner. The meat wasn’t raw, but had all been boiled for about two hours.
FEEDING HORSE MEAT TO PETS NO NEW IDEA (Santa Cruz Sentinel, 11th September 1943). Some interesting sidelights on the horse meat situation were revealed in a letter recently received by the Sentinel-News from James Bewley of 106 North Branciforte avenue. Bewley tells how horse meat was utilized in England a hundred years ago, where it was used in the city of London to feed cats and dogs which were abundant there at that time. Most of the work of preparing the horse meat for sale was done at night, as the process included skinning, disjointing and cooking, after which the meat had to be cooled. In the morning it was ready for delivery in different parts of the city. The lean meat went to the cats while the tripe or tougher parts were Rover’s share. Bewley’s inside knowledge on the trade comes from the fact that his father was a “Cats Meat Man,” besides which he used to walk three miles each day to deliver the meat when he was about five years old, which he recalls very clearly in spite of the fact that he is now 89.
A GOOD REPUTATION AND A GOOD TRADE
Further to Frances Simpson's notes, the cats' meat man sold meat on wooden skewers ranging from a ha'penny snack to a threepenny feast. With regular customers, he would post the skewer through the letterbox and be paid weekly. The meat was sometimes too rotten or foul for the cat to eat. Owners had to carefully inspect the meat, dipping it in weak vinegar and water, or in plain boiling water, then rubbing it with a cloth to remove flies' eggs and maggots. Occasionally the cat got their first and ate the skewer, which would cause bowel problems. Some customers paid him to deliver when they were away on holiday, though an unscrupulous vendor would push empty skewers through the letterbox leaving puss hungry.
However, most cats’ meat men were aware that they were performing a valuable – and often lucrative – service, and were concerned about their reputations with regular customers as this excerpt from the Western Mail (28th October 1898) illustrates. At Whitechapel County-court (before Judge Bacon) William Archer, a dealer in horse flesh, claimed damages for personal injuries from Solomon Hyman. Mr. Wills appeared for the plaintiff. Mr. Vandamm defended. Plaintiff's case was that that on February 11th he was wheeling his barrow down the Cambridge Heath-road when he was knocked over by a barrow pushed by the Hyman. His back was injured, his barrow broken, and his stock of horse flesh was scattered in the road and spoiled.
Mr. Vandamm: You went to work next day. You could not have been very much hurt.
Plaintiff: If I was in any other line than this of cats'-meat I should have laid up. But you can't; the public expects you. (Laughter.) It would be a nice look out if my cats had no dinner. The ladies is on the look out for me so is the cats. (Laughter.) If I disappoints them I loses my reputation. (Laughter.)
Mr. Vandamm: You say the meat was spoiled. Surely the cats would not have minded if it had been spilt in the road.
Plaintiff: And got all gritty with mud. Bless you, you don't know nothing of the profession. There ain’t a daintier creature a living and a breathing than a cat. What a cat can eat a Christian can. Them Frenchmen ain't no such fools if they eat cats -meat. (Laughter.)
Judge: Do you buy the meat fresh every day?
Plaintiff: Every day I live. One hundredweight and seven pounds. It must be fresh. Cats is that particular, you wouldn't believe. And so is their missuses, especially the old uns. (Laughter.)
Judge Bacon: The same quantity every day.
Plaintiff: Yes, you see I has my regulars; mine ain’t no chance trade. My cats all know me and my time to a minute, for it would do your heart good to hear them when I go in a street and call out "Me-eat." (Laughter.) They meows for me as if they loved me. (Laughter.)
'We have said Petticoat-lane is chiefly inhabited by Jews; our readers must not, however, fall into the mistake of supposing that its Sunday fair is held only and frequented only by Jews, for whom it might be said that their sabbath is not our sabbath. There are multitudes of Christians there; at least such Christians as a well-intentioned cat's meat man, who said once to a missionary, " I never trade on a Sunday, sir: I am the only cat's meat man that don't. When people wants meat of me, I tells 'em that I'm a Christian, and don't wait upon dumb animals on that 'ere day." ' (Church of England Magazine, 1855) However, for many traders, the trade had been 7 days a week until 1890 when the “Mutual Protection Society of Horseflesh Retailers," North London Branch, met in conclave, and decided on abolishing Sunday trading starting from the second day of the following month. They hoped that the general public would support the effort to obtain a day of rest for the men by purchasing a double supply on Saturdays. (South Wales Echo, 7th January 1890)
Some traders did become very well off. “On Tuesday a cats’ meat vendor, whose name is supposed to be Joseph Davis, died suddenly at the bar of a public-house at Deptford. On the body was found £45 15s. 6d., whilst concealed in a shed in which deceased lived, was found £85 in money, and a bank book with an account of 140. Deceased was about fifty years of age. “(Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press, 5th March 1892) and “The hearing of a summons under which a man named Mansell, who keeps a cat’s meat stall, was summoned by his wife for maintenance, threw a sidelight upon the profits realised by the sale of cat's meat.—Mr. H. I. Sydney, who appeared for the wife, elicited in the course of the case that meat bought at the rate of 1-and-quarter penny per lb. was sold at 2-and-ha’penny per lb. —a profit of 100 per cent. - The defendant apparently did but a comparatively small business, and Mr Cecil Chapman fixed the sum to be paid by him to his wife at 5s. per week. “(South London Press, 28th August 1908)
In a slander case brought by Mr Pain, a coffee-house keeper in Brewer-street, Somers-town, against Mr Batchelor, who was “described as a cats’ meat man, but it was stated that he was worth many thousands of pounds” the jury found in favour of the coffee-house owner and awarded him £50 damages. We can deduce that Mr Batchelor must have been doing well from his trade, or else had some lucrative sidelines. (London Daily News, 3rd June 1857)
Others, however, were not so lucky; “The will of a cat's meat man directed to his elder daughter was read in City of London Court by Mr. Morle as follows: I hereby ortherize you take poseion of all my worldly goods in this house and all else that belongs to me & that is due to me. You know where my papers are, & what to do. Go to no more expence than you can help for my funeral & If there is a little money over give £1 to your sister & one to your brother. Put it on his bank. Take care of all is things till he cum home. And God will bless your loving father, lett no one despute my rite to this. Dear liz. Privet for you only. I have left all to you but I should like yon to give eny little thing to others if they wont it. I mean eny little thing in memory. Do not sell things if you can help it, they will be very andy, keep the best they all cost money & will not fetch much & when you marrie wich you will some day love the man you marrie & do best you can for him, he will return it & dont get overburdened with children never mind what people say 2 is enauf now days. God bless you all. —Mr. Artemus Jones, one of the counsel in the case, explained that the will was evidently a pre-war document.” (The People, 7th October 1917)
But even those who weren’t so well off thought of others who were in worse straits: ‘Subscription in aid of the distressed cotton operatives in Lancashire [. . .] although large sums had been given by the rich, he was more struck by the sums contributed the middling and working classes, many of whom were only a little above the level of actual poverty. There was a fund being raised by the working men in the metropolis. He had heard of a contribution sent anonymously, and explained in these terms " I am a dealer in cats' meat, the last week has been very favourable to my merchandise, and have made 4s., above my average profit! I beg to send it to your fund. Say that it comes from a cats' meat man and shall continue to send all my extra profit as long as the price of cats' meat keeps up." That was one of the many instances of men who had little to spare sending that little to the relief of their fellow countrymen.’ (West Middlesex Advertiser and Family Journal, 20th December 1862) and a similar act was reported in a paper a few years later 'One day a cats’-meat man stopped his barrow opposite the office of the “British Workman,” and touching his cap to the editor, wished to speak with him about the poor people in Lancashire. And he spoke as literally as be remembered in this fashion “Ye see, sur, me and my missus we’ve been thinkin’ and talkin’ a good bit about them poor men and women as is suffering so much down in Lank’shur, and we wants to do summat to help ’em. Well, ye see, I sells cats’-meat, sometime syn I ’tracted for a lot on’t, for so much a pound ; but it’s riz, and I gets more for it in consequence. So I says to wife, and says she to me, we’ll give the difference to the Lank’shur sufferers ; and that’s what I come for, to ask you to send them this here half sovereign, as his the difference this last week just gone.” So this was the way the cats’-meat man took advantage of the rise of his stock in the market. Once a week, for a considerable period, he halted his barrow at the editor’s office and deposited his half-sovereign, the extra profit of what had sold at the advanced rate.' (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 12th January 1867)
Some cats' meat men were canny enough to diversify, as this excerpt from the Dundee Evening Telegraph (16th October 1897) illustrates: "A cats' meat man drove a thriving trade the winter before last by selling paper bags full of cut-up meat to these humane visitors to the starving gulls. The birds came in flocks to receive this bounty, like the frozen out dock labourers who hovered around the little soup kitchens arranged by the Sisters of Mercy on the banks of the Thames during the severe frost of two years ago."
And then there were the occasional wagers where tradesmen challenged each other to a race or other feat.
“Our sporting contempories have, for the last few weeks, been full of challenges from merrie Islingtonians, to walk any man, fight anyone their own size, &., and I now notice that a cat’s meat man challenges any other cat’s meat man to walk mile a for £5 a-side.” [i.e. each wagering £5, so that the winner claims £10] (Islington Gazette, 14th February 1888).
Seeing that there are so many champion mile running men in the cat’s meat trade, H. Moakes, Camberwell, will run any one them one mile for as much money as they can find. Truly, H. Moakes, if not strong in grammar, is a gallant fellow, who does not mince matters. Let us hope that the cherished honour being champion mile-runner of the cat’s meat trade will never fall into less worthy hands. The form of reply to these cartels usually varies but little. Possibly there may some cat’s meat man venturesome enough to tackle the redoubtable Moakes, in which case we shall probably read something like this: ‘ln reply to H. Moakes, John Smith will run him a mile for the championship of the cat’s meat trade and £10.’ In such an event a match would probably be ratified which would cause great interest and excitement to a small, but on the whole not unworthy, section of society, a good deal of whose money would certainly change hands over the result of the contest. But possibly Mr. Moakes is a man of exceeding reputation, and feared as an opponent on the track by his trade competitors. In which case some such reply as this may be made to his advertisement, ‘John Smith is surprised at H. Moakes desiring to run any one in the cat’s meat trade level, but is prepared to accept a start of 60 yards in a mile. To run for £5 aside in a month from signing articles.’ “Article forms" are provided by the sporting papers, the offices of which the stake-money usually deposited. (Globe, 24th February 1888)
THE CAT’S MEAT MEN’S SUPPER IN LONDON (1901)
The service of the itinerant meat traders was appreciated by their customers and was recognised by a dinner in their honour. In January 1901, the Editor of Our Cats, supported by the National Cat Club's Mr. Louis Wain among others, honoured the 'Cats Meat Men of London', with a dinner held at the City of New York Restaurant, Holborn. In "The Book of the Cat," Frances Simpson wrote: "The applications for tickets were so numerous, that 400 men had to be refused; and when the 250 guests were seated, it was clearly proved that every available inch of accommodation had been utilised. Having been present, I can testify to the excellent supper and entertainment provided for the 'Cats-Meat Men of London'."
WHY PUSSY BREAKFASTS LATE TO-DAY. AN EVENING WITH THE CATS’-MEAT MEN. Pall Mall Gazette, 11th January 1901
This morning the London cats had to wait for their breakfasts. There was a meeowing and a wondering, and that faint, empty, sinking feeling among them-the feeling that humans have when ready for meals that are long delayed. The fact of the matter is that catdom was obliged to breakfast late because its caterers were out late last night eating and drinking and being merry in such high and distinguished company as that of the Duchess of Bedford, Mr. Louis Wain, and others, and the cats’-meat men’s feast of yesterday is the cause of the cats’ fast of to-day. The cats’-meat men of London did not go to bed till after three o’clock this morning, and so now they sleep while Pussy meeows and makes up her mind to spit at them and scold them right roundly, when they shall come round with their cries "Cats’ meat! Cats’ meat Nice and fresh and sweet!”
The City of New York Restaurant, in Hand-court, off Holborn, had the appearance of being prepared for an Anglo-American banquet when the Cats -meat men, two hundred and fifty strong, arrived there last night to partake of the supper given to them, as Mr. Wain, from the place of honour at the end table, explained by a little paper called “Our Cats.” At Mr. Wain’s right hand sat that lover and friend of the feline race, her Grace the Duchess of Bedford, who took the liveliest interest in the affair, and made a bright little speech, which was loudly applauded. At the table where sat the Duchess there were a few ladies and gentlemen well known as members of the Cats’ Club. There were serviettes, folded mitre-shaped, at this table, but at the other half-dozen tables which faced it the banqueters felt no need of such superfluities, bless you! Had they not their coat-sleeves? There were times when a cats’-meat man sitting on one side of a table in the Baronial Hall got a longing in his soul to have a chat with friend in trade who happened to be seated on the other side, and arguing that it was a long way round one way and a short cut the other, decided to take the short cut, which was a stepping from his chair to the table and walking across it. when the feast was over, there were mud tracks just the size and shape of human feet on some of the tablecloths.
There were mutton and beef and brussels sprouts and beans and potatoes and plum-pudding and ginger-beer and real beer served to the banqueters, on whose appetite good digestion doubtless waited, and as for health, that shone forth from all their round and ruddy faces. Not a sad-looking nor lean one among them. All seemed fat and happy. They were well-dressed, too, the cats’-meat men of London. Those spectators who went with the idea of seeing a supper given to a sort of Ragged School Union were agreeably disappointed. Every banqueter wore a nice, clean, whole suit, with white shirt and coloured necktie, though it is hardly necessary to say that evening dress was neither compulsory nor general.
Unlike most other banquets, unto this one came more guests than it was the original intention of the Cats’ Club to entertain. At first, one hundred and fifty was said to be the limit to the tickets that could be issued, but on the last day one hundred more were applied for and issued; so there was a crowding at the tables, and the guests to a great extent waited upon themselves and upon each other, since the regular waiters hired for the occasion could not pass along the aisles between the tables. But there was plenty to eat and to spare, and few of the plates were emptied when they were piled up for washing. Then after the feasting came the entertainment provided by artists who went to the cats’-meat feast direct from the theatres. One of the artists, Miss Janotha, took with her a large black “lucky cat,” who was covered with medals, and has been stroked the right way by most of the European sovereigns and by President and Mrs. Cleveland in Washington as well. The cats’-meat men were allowed to stroke it too. It was the first supper of its kind ever given the world over, but not the last, for every year now it is expected that a cats'-meat man’s banquet will be given in London.
CATS’ MEAT MEN AS DINERS-OUT > London Daily News, 11th January 1901
LETTER FROM THE PRINCESS OF WALES. SPEECH BY A DUCHESS. MR. LOUIS WAIN ON POOR PUSSIES.
Between eight and nine last night small Holborn boys were saying “Mee-aow!" in Hand court. They knew what was afoot, but the white cat seated in front of a little shop and looking so interested, could not have known. A banquet was being given at a hotel in the court-the City of New York Restaurant -to the cat’s meat men of London. The class is more numerous than the promoters of the gathering supposed. They gave a genial invitation to all, specifying merely that the bona-fides of each should established by a letter from a purchaser. Alas! there were 600 would be guests, and room only for 270. The court was inconveniently crowded at quarter to nine, when the scene derived additional animation from the business activities of gentleman disposing of powders warranted to restore ailing cats to health.
Pressmen and visitors - the latter including many elderly ladies interested in cats -occupied a portion of the gallery of the Baronial Hail, which was the scene of the feast. The tables were spread with spotless linen and decorated with vases of flowers -manifestly this was not to be one of your rough-and-ready dinner to the destitute feasts. The diners were not bit like one would have expected. They didn't look all like cat's meat men as we know them in the streets. Such clean faces, smartly brushed hair, bright ties, and neat clothes! Many were not cat meat men at all-they were cat's meat boys. There wasn’t single guest with a bald head, and there was actually one wearing spectacles. At twenty minutes past nine Mr. Louis Wain, the chairman, appeared at the head table, being welcomed with boisterous cheers. “We meet as pals,’’ he said, “for this not a charity dinner.” Then he explained that the gathering was got up by a little paper called “Our Cats,” which, he added, was the first journal devoted solely to their dumb friends which had been successful. Then Mr. Wain explained that the Princess of Wales, on hearing of the dinner, had desired to learn particulars of it, and those particulars had been acknowledged in the following letter:
Sandringham, Jan. 8. 1901. Dear Sir. I have submitted your letter the Princess of Wales, and her Royal Highness desires me to express her best wishes for the success the entertainment, and regrets that absence from London must prevent her having the pleasure of being present it.- Yours truly, Charlotte Knollys. [addressed to] Mr. F. Carl, Editor of “Our Cats.“
The Chairman resumed his seat, the waiters entered with plates of mock turtle soup, and the hungry guests, singing “Meat! Meat!” fell to with gusto. Never was a merrier banquet. The boiled legs of mutton, with caper sauce, were only less esteemed than the roast ribs of beef, while the plum pudding was voted splendid. Ale was the chief beverage, but not few availed themselves of non-intoxicating alternatives. A great roar of applause greeted the entrance, what time the soup was on the table, of the Duchess of Bedford, who. seated on the right hand of the Chairman, entered thoroughly into the spirit of the occasion. Dinner over, there came two speeches. Mr. Wain said they all knew the old tom who rushed after the cart and sneaked the weak cat’s ha’porth. He could look after himself. They also knew the cat who came and meaowed after the barrow. He got his whack. There was also the swell cat with two homes, who got his whack in each house. But it was the poor cat, left entirely to itself in a room, with which they sympathised. Circumstances. chance, or cruelty threw it out into the world, and it might starve for a whole week without being found out. Those were the cats that he wanted them to help to the full extent of their power. (Cheers.)
The Duchess of Bedford said that she, as President of the National Cat Club had often heard of cats' meat men going out of their way to be kind to starving pussies which had no money to reward them. Her own experience was that one could not be with animals without loving them. It was said that cats only loved one for what one gave them, but she did not believe that. (Cheers.) There was one way in which they could help cats, and that was by stopping any wilful cruelty that might come under their notice. (Cheers.)
After dinner a musical programme was pone through by Miss L. Pounds, Miss Phyllis Rankin, Mr. Scott Russell, Mdlle. .lanotha (who came attended by her favourite cat, “White Heather"), Mr. K. Cameron, Mr. Joseph Wilson, Miss Alma Stanley, arid others. The Duchess Bedford, besides contributing £10 towards the expenses, presented each guest with half a pound of tobacco.
A DUCHESS WITH THE CAT'S MEAT "MEN." PROTECT POOR PUSSY. Hull Daily Mail, 11th January 1901
The supper of the London men week was a great success. The Duchess of Bedford (who is president of the National Cat Club) had a tremendous reception. She was accompanied by two or three other ladies. The Princess of Wales wrote a letter. At the conclusion of the supper, the Duchess of Bedford, who was again enthusiastically cheered, made a short speech, in which she thanked her hearers for the kindness Which they had, often shown to stray and starving cats. Of course, with many of them a livelihood was as hard to gain as it was with the cats themselves; but if they could not always give food, they could do their best to stop wilful cruelty to cats when they saw it, and give notice of the lost and the strayed to the homes which were ready to receive them. After the Duchess had withdrawn, it was announced that she had presented to each person present a tin of tobacco as a memento of the occasion. The evening finished with an excellent and much appreciated entertainment, in which Mlle Janotha, Mr Courtice Pounds, Mr Scott Russell, Miss Phyllis Rankin, Miss Alma Stanley, and other well-known artistes took part.
[A CAT'S MEAT MEN'S DINNER IN LONDON] Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 12th January 1901
The company assembled at a cat's meat men's dinner in London on Thursday night, though oddly assorted, managed to enjoy themselves, and maintain the harmony of the proceedings uninterrupted. There was a duchess present -the Duchess of Bedford-whose position as president of the National Cat Club gives her a footing in all gatherings in the interest of the harmless and necessary cat; Mr. Louis Wain, the cats' artist, appropriately took the chair; Mdlle. Janotha, attended by her favourite cat, discoursed music far finer than the variety to which her four-footed friends are addicted, although in such a meeting it might, perhaps, have been heresy to say so; and there were many other visitors, as distinguished from the members of the noble association in whose honour the feast was held. In fact, pussy's providers very nearly had a Royal personage to smile on them, the Princess of Wales regretting that absence from London prevented her having the pleasure, etc. And yet, such is the levelling tendency of the age, and the influence of a common interest-whether commercial or benevolent-that there was nothing but unanimity and good fellowship in this strangely mixed assemblage. The "Globe" even goes so far as to say that the Duchess of Bedford, who made a speech, received a compliment such as was never paid to orator before. the midst of the hammering of knife handles on the tables the clapping of ample horny hands, and a perfect tempest of hurrahs, a voice arose shouting with enthusiastic abandonment, "Onkor." This may be merely flight of the imagination, but even so enough remains to prove that the cat as bond of union has a power one did not suspect.
FIRST ANNUAL NEW YEAR'S SUPPER The Gentlewoman, 19th January 1901
It was not inappropriate that the first annual New Year's supper and entertainment to the cats'-meat men of London (held last Thursday in the Baronial Hall of the City of New York Restaurant) should be organised by the editor of Our Cats, or that Mr. Louis Wain should take the chair at the feast. The Duchess of Bedford, Lady Reid, and Mrs. Stennard-Robinson were also present, the three hundred guests enjoying their evening immensely. In the course of the proceedings the chairman read a letter from Miss Knoilys (who wrote to Mr. Carl on behalf of the Princess of Wales) as follows: "Sandringham, January 8, 1901.—Dear Sir,—l have submitted your letter to the Princess of Wales, and Her Royal Highness desires me to express her best wishes for the success of the entertainment, and regrets that absence from London must prevent her having the pleasure of being present at it." The Duchess of Bedford (president of the National Cat Club) made a speech, as did also Mr. Louis Wain. After the dinner an entertainment was given by Mlle. Janotha, Miss Alma Stanley, Miss Phyllis Ranken, Mr. Courtice Pounds, Mr. Scott Russell, and others. Each man received a half-pound tin of tobacco from the Duchess of Bedford as a memento of the occasion, which was organised in recognition of the invariable kindness of cats'-meat men to the starving cats in our streets.
PLACE AUX DAMES, BY LADY VIOLET GREVILLE - The Graphic, 19 January 1901
A delightfully eccentric dinner was that given to the cat’s-meat men, to which the Princess of Wales was invited, and where the Duchess of Bedford handed round the vegetables. The Duchess, as the President of the National Cat Club, of course, assumed the lead among the ladies, who included Lady Reid and Mrs. Stannard Robinson. Mr. Louis Wain presided and Mlle. Janotha brought her black cat and her violin. Whether cat's-meat men are specially interested in cats may be open to doubt, but, at any rate, their raison d’etre is inextricably bound up in the existence of cats, so presumably there is love between them. Cat shows and cat lovers are much to be commended, but the keeping of ordinary cats in London should certainly be placed under restrictions. A small lax on cats would, no doubt, answer the purpose, prevent half the needless cruelly, and make night less hideous to the quiet sleeper, or, rather, the sleeper who aspires after quiet.
"CA-DOE-MEE" - THE DINNER GIVEN TO CATS'-MEAT MEN OF LONDON (Black and White Budget, 26th January, 1901): "CATS'-MEAT men of the metropolis were highly honoured the other evening at the dinner and entertainment arranged on their behalf at the City of New York Restaurant, Holborn, by a letter from the Princess of Wales, expressing Her Royal Highness's best wishes for its success, and her regret that absence from London prevented her from having the pleasure of being present. Mr. Louis Wain, the famous cat artist, presided, and, rapping on the table with a soda-water bottle, explained that the gathering was not a charity, but the guests were invited as cat lovers, and met as 'pals'. Visitors were impressed by the youth of many of the vendors of pussy's favourite dainty. They were a hilarious assemblage, and greeted the appearance of the soup, the roast beef, and the boiled legs of mutton with prolonged cries of 'Mee-att!' in the familiar notes of the street. At the end of the repast, Mr. Wain said that all knew the old tom who ran after the cart and sneaked his ha'porth, and her who said 'Meauw' till she got her bit.They were all right, but he appealed for pity for those poor cats who by chance, circumstances, or cruelty were thrown out into the world. During the dinner, the Duchess of Bedford, rendered invaluable assistance, by passing the sprouts at a critical juncture. Lady Reid was there, and Mrs. Stennard-Robinson, of The Ladies Kennel Association; also the Editor of 'Our Cats' by whose efforts the dinner was organised. By the nature of his calling, the 'cats-meat man's voice is singularly well developed, and as the evening went on things became very merry. Several theatrical people very kindly came and sang. Mdlle Janotha brought her cat, and the Duchess of Bedford gave the men 250 half pound tins of tobacco!"
HORSE MEAT SHORTAGES AND THE DECLINE OF THE CAT'S MEAT TRADE
As cars became more common there were fewer horses around. This began in the early 1900s as illustrated by this quote: “I heard the other day from a cat's-meat-man that his trade was bad. He attributed it the fact that horseflesh was dearer owing to the prevalence of motors! Thus, even so poor an individual, a mere fly on the wheel of society, is caught in the machinery, and suffers in his humble way.” (Islington Gazette, 29th December 1908) and according to an item in the Morpeth Herald, 9th February 1940: “One lady of my acquaintance is able to get horseflesh at 3d pound [for her dog], which is as good as any other meat if it comes from an animal that has not been physicked, but that, course, is not as plentiful as it used to before cars were common. A cat’s meat man will often have access to supplies that cannot be drawn upon by ordinary people. “
While the rise of the motorcar was gradual, the outbreak of World Wars badly affected trades that were dependant on horseflesh. Horses were requisitioned for war use and the lesser quality animals, that might once have been sold off and replaced, were kept by their owners. From the inquest into the death of Louis Martinelli (aged 70), of 21, Tunnel-road, a cat's-meat seller, we learn that the war had affected his business. “He had a job to get his meat from the Station, and had difficulty in supplying his customers as a result.“ He had 30s. to his name when he died (Kent & Sussex Courier, 1st January 1915). In 1917, on the grounds that he had lost three Government contracts and now had very little to sell, Thomas J. Wendes, a cat's meat purveyor, of Clifford-street, Southampton, applied for the reduction of a maintenance order of £2 a week made by the Court to his wife about six weeks ago. He put his average net profit at £3 a week – still an appreciable amount at the time (Hampshire Advertiser, 28th July 1917). Some cats'meat men argued that they were an essential trade and should not be called up for war service, such as the Ramsgate cat’s meat man who told the tribunal that if were called up would mean a severe loss to the cats, but whose claim was refused. (Surrey Mirror, 13th June 1916 )
In 1919, a superior young man who had been recently demobbed bought a cats’ meat business, which he intended to work instead of returning to his pre-war occupation as a schoolmaster. The paper reported that there was one cats' meat man who made £60 minimum in a six-day week, something that schoolmasters did not make over six months! (Yorkshire Evening Post , 13th December 1919) However he might have chosen the wrong time to enter the cats meat trade. The Sheffield Independent (10th August 1920) reported a grave shortage of cat’s meat. It had become a common thing for vendors to go two or three days without supplies. When a joint was forthcoming it was usually so small that it was only possible to ration it to regular customers, and the long queues at the market stalls went away empty-handed. Some described it as a famine in cats’ meat and the cats were looking careworn as a result. During the summer they could catch young sparrows, but winter was going to be hard for them. In the old days, ran the report, a halfpenny bought a good meal on a skewer. But in 1920 cat's meat cost twopence a portion - when the cat got. And even then it was the merest cut from the joint of an elderly mule. The anticipatory ecstasies of the cat that used to herald the bringing of rations were becoming unknown to the rising generation. In 1914 the cat would twist and jazz from the lawn to the front door on hearing the cry of Me-e-et. His fur would bristle with electricity and he would utter little loving cries and writhe between the nearest human legs available. But lately the voice of the Cats meat man was silent. Often he did not turn up because he had no meat to sell.
LONDON CATS FACE A FAMINE (The Leavenworth Times, 20th September 1920) The cats of London are facing a crisis unparalleled in feline history. There is a famine in “cats' meat.” Clapham and Camberwell know it; Peckham, Tooting and Muswellhill swell the cry of complaint that the barrow which brought its blissful cargo once a day comes now but once a week to succor the tabbies and tortoiseshells who watch at their doorsteps as piteously as Hero kept vigil for her white-limbed Leander. The basic cause of the famine was expounded by a cats’ meat man of Clapham. “A dead horse,” he said, “Is as rare nowadays as a dead donkey. We cannot get the meat from the horse slaughterers. Horses are getting scarce because of motor cars, and when a horse does get too old to work they send it to one of the homes.” The cats’ meat man also explained that horses do not get killed in London street accidents with anything like the former frequency. When a smash occurs it is generally a motor omnibus that suffers, and not even the hungriest of cats can make a decent meal off torn tires and broken spark plugs. You may convey the glad news to your cat, however, that the hunger clouds are breaking over this city of famished felines Messrs. Harris & Berber, the big firm of horse slaughterers, stated that the present shortage will be relieved in a week or two.
Kelly’s Post Office London Directory in 1929 listed 200 cats’ meat dealers, although this was at a time when the trade was in decline.
THERE'S a cat of my acquaintance (Gladys, by name) I won't call her a friend, as I hardly know her, who lives in small shop near us . . . believe me or believe me not, that cat will sit for hours on the counter watching the door for the cats’ meat man. Customers may come, and customers may go, but she heeds them not, the business doesn’t interest her, all she thinks of is meal time. (Daily Herald, 11th March 1936)
Things were to get worse for the cats, meat man due to social change. A cats’ meat man sued at Clerkenwell County Court in October 1938 said that business was very bad. When it was suggested that people who bought meat for their cats kept on buying it, and that it wasn’t a trade that fluctuated much, the man replied, “These new flats they are building are killing things. They won’t allow my customers to have cats there.” (Daily Mirror, 18th October 1938)
In the years before World War II and rationing, the cats' meat man, with his often gaily painted cart, was still a familiar sight and many people remembered him with fondness in post-war years. After World War II, mechanisation had supplanted the horse as main motive power and, around the same time, commercially prepared cat foods were gaining in popularity. As the supply of broken-down cab horses and dray-horses petered out, horse-slaughterers closed down. Packets and cans of cat food could be purchased from grocers' shops and "lights" could still be bought from many butchers' shops. The cats' meat man, once a familiar sight, vanished.
CATS’ MEAT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION
It was well-known to cats’ meat men, especially those in poorer areas, that the meat was sometimes bought for human consumption, not for pets. “Cat's meat is an item in the diet of the poor of London. In his report to the London County Council Public Health Committee the subject of foodstuffs entering London, the medical officer says that about 1,000 tons of cat's meat are received annually at London railway stations, and the bulk of it is consigned to the East End of London. It is largely sold in extremely poor neighbourhoods, and the women seen buying ‘fourpenny worth’ or ‘fivepennyworth’ are, it is stated, clearly not buying for cats. A sinister side of the trade is that meat admittedly unfit for human consumption is supplied to a certain cats’ meat dealer, and is treated in a way that the Council’s inspectors do not regard as consistent with the preparation of food for cats.” (Leicester Daily Post, 15th March 1907)
However, meat destined for pets’ dinners all-too-often ended up diverted by unscrupulous traders who used it as cheap sausage filling. The cats’ meat man was not to knowingly supply meat to butchers. Reports titled “Cats’ Meat and Sausages” appeared with surprising regularity in the press. For example, this case in the Norfolk News, 13th May 1899: “At North London Police Court Frederick Thomas Adams, a wholesale sausage manufacturer, of Chalmer’s Road, Homertoa, has been summoned for having on his premises unsound meat for the preparation of food for human consumption; and Charles Hart, jun, cats'-meat salesman, was summoned tor selling such unsound meat, with knowledge that it was unfit for human consumption. [. . .] The defendant Hart stated that he bought a large number of carcases, some of which he sold as cats’ meat and others he boiled down for fat for soap and candlemakers. He had had two or three transactions with Adams, his plan being to send carcases which were too good for cats’ meat and too valuable for boiling down. He sent the meat in question on approval for him to purchase or send back as he pleased. [. . .] Mr. Bros, in deciding the case, said it was admitted that Adams gave orders to Hart to send meat to him. He knew the kind of meet which Hart dealt in, which was none other than meat for cats. “
The Cornish & Devon Post (1st April 1893) reported a case of a local tradesman who was sent to prison for sending diseased meat to Smithfield Market in London. ‘A case that has caused considerable local interest was heard at the Guildhall, London, Tuesday, being that of John Cann, of Canworthy Water, Jacobstow, who really carpenter, but has recently taken up the business of newspaper vendor, butcher, grocer, wheelwright, job master, end all things general. Prisoner was charged with sending diseased meat to the Smithfield Market [. . .] He killed both animals himself, but, of course, no one in the village would touch it, and “as it was looking rather measley,” as he is said to have acknowledged himself to a neighbour, he added “Any’ow I’ll send it up to Lunnon; it may be good enough for the people up then. If not it’ll do for cat’s meat.” Unfortunately for this man of many trades and his liberty for the next six weeks, however, Fate ordained that it should “do” for neither cat nor man; for on its being consigned to a Smithfield salesman, with the polite note—”If not good enough for you hand over to the cat’s meat man” a wily Inspector sussed it, and the “Canny John Cann” was cruelly called from his quiet but busy home at Canworthy Water to play the new role of ”The Cats’ Meat Man in Lunnon.” Of course he was only modestly charged with sending meat to the London market unfit for human food, Dr. Saunders giving evidence that if anyone had eaten the veal they would have run great danger of disease; but had the poor cats received a stomach fall of it, it must have been ”rough on cats” too, and they might have had to mourn a cholera visitation. At least so thought Alderman Ritchie, and in order to give the confiding John time for a little needed rest from his many occupations and food for serious consideration what his next calling should be, sentenced him to six weeks’ hard labour. We don’t know what the Cann-worthy people think of it; but all the “Lunnoners” say “Sarve ‘en roight. As if we wos going to choked with cat’s meat!” ‘
CAT'S-MEAT MEN IN OTHER COUNTRIES
The New York cats' meat man was evidently a well-known character and was featured in articles and illustrations over a number of years.
THE CAT'S-MEAT MAN (IN NEW YORK) -Harper's Young People, March 16, 1880
In one corner of Fulton Market in New York city is the snug little stall of the cat's-meat man. He is a jolly, merry-looking fellow, as you may see by his picture; and he sings and whistles as he works. In the morning he goes about the streets feeding his cats; but his afternoons are devoted to preparing their food for the next day. Most of this food is raw meat, which, with a sharp knife, he cuts up into very small pieces, until several hundred pounds are thus prepared. Sometimes a small portion of the meat is boiled; but this cooked meat is only intended for cats who are not very well, and who need something more delicate than raw meat. Once a week—on Thursdays—the cat's-meat man cuts up fish instead of meat; for on Fridays all his cats have a meal of fish, of which they are very fond, and which is very good for them. After the meat or fish has been nicely cut into bits, it is all done up in small brown-paper parcels, each of which weighs a pound; and these parcels are packed into great strong baskets. Each basket holds forty or fifty of these pound packages, and is pretty heavy for the cat's-meat man to carry.
Bright and early in the morning, soon after sunrise, the cat's-meat man begins to feed his cats, starting out from the market with a big basket of meat on his shoulder, and threading his way through the crooked streets and lanes of the lower part of the city to the homes of his little customers. Everywhere the cats and kittens are anxiously waiting and watching for him, and sometimes they run out and meet him at the corners half a block or more away from their homes. Often when he is feeding the cats on one side of the street, those living on the other side run across, and rubbing against his legs, mewing and purring, seem to beg him to hurry and get over to their side. Of course these cats do not belong to the cat's-meat man, though he takes just as much interest in them, and is just as fond of them, as though they were his own. They are the cats that live in the stores and warehouses of the lower portion of the city, where they are kept as a protection against the armies of fierce rats that come up from the wharves, and do terrible damage wherever the cats are not too strong for them. For this reason the cats are highly prized and well cared for in this part of the city, and the cat's-meat man finds plenty of work to do in feeding them. He is paid for this by the owners of the cats, and as he has about four hundred customers his business is quite a thriving one.
The cats all know and love him, and are generally expecting him; but if he opens the door of a store where one of his cats lives, and she is not to be seen, he calls "Pss-pss-pss," and the kitty comes racing down stairs, or from some distant corner, so fast that she nearly tumbles head over heels in her hurry to get at her breakfast. Some of the cats are only fed every other day, and they know just as well as anybody when it is "off day," as the cat's-meat man calls it. On these off days they lie perfectly still as he passes, paying no attention to him; but on the days they are to be fed, these "every-other-day cats" are the most eager of all, and travel the greatest distances to meet their friend.
Besides the cats, several dogs are fed daily by the cat's-meat man, and of these the most interesting is Carlo. Carlo used to be a sailor dog, but now he lives quietly in a store on Old Slip. His first master was a sea-captain, with whom Carlo made voyages to many different parts of the world. At last his kind master, who was as fond of Carlo as though he had been an only child, became very sick with a terrible fever, and when his ship reached New York, he was taken to a hospital to die. Carlo went to the hospital with him, and just before the dying sailor breathed his last, he begged a kind gentleman who stood beside his bed to take care of Carlo. The gentleman promised to do so, and has ever since kept his promise by giving Carlo a good home in his store, and paying the cat's-meat man to feed him every day. Carlo repays this kindness by keeping the store free from rats, and his reputation as a famous ratter has spread far and wide through the neighborhood.
Many stray cats watch for the coming of the cat's-meat man, for they know that he will befriend them, and many a tidbit does he give to some lean hungry creature as he merrily trudges along through the winter snow-drifts. At certain corners the cat's-meat man is met by one of his assistants, with whom he exchanges his empty basket for a full one. These halting-places are well known to all the forlorn and homeless cats and dogs, and at them a number of these always await his approach. He most always throws them a few bits from his well-filled basket, for which they seem very grateful, though they look as if they would be very glad of more.
Besides feeding cats and dogs, the cat's-meat man cares for them when they are sick, preparing special food for his patients, and sometimes giving them small doses of medicine. So, you see, the cat's-meat man is a real benefactor, and it is no wonder that all the cats and dogs in the lower part of the city watch for his coming, and are glad when they see him.
In New York, this cats' meat man supplied meat to the cats that lived at the wharves and warehouses. THE CAT MEAT MAN (The Lake Country Star, 31st March 1881): The proverb that where there’s a will to do anything a way will be found, is strikingly proved true in the case of a young man in New York who makes his living by supplying pet cats kept in down town stores and offices with food. Five years ago, when all kinds of business were dull, this young man lost his situation as clerk in a grocery store. He had a family to support, and was almost discouraged at the prospect. During his search for employment he one day chanced to step into a wholesale dry goods store in which an acquaintance was employed as clerk. While talking with his friend his attention was attracted by the piteous mewing of a large maltese cat. He asked what ailed it, and was told, ‘The poor thing is hungry and not a mouthful of food in the place.’ At the same time the friend stated that there were scores of cats kept in the stores and offices in the neighborhood that were half starved. On his way home the idea suddenly suggested itself to the mind of the unemployed man that business might be established in furnishing food for cats. He talked with his wife, but she laughed at the idea. That night he says he hardly slept a wink. The more he thought about the matter the more he became convinced that he had hit upon an idea that was worth dollars and cents — something that he was then very much in need of. He very reasonably concluded that any man who owned a cat would willingly pay five cents a week to have it supplied with food, for which sum he believed he could furnish it. Having resolved to at least make an attempt, he began solicitations, and within a week had secured 100 patrons.
When he first began business the cat-food man easily did all the work himself, but it has become so extensive that he now employs four assistants. He buys in market quantities of beef, mutton, pork and other kinds of meat. These are cut into small pieces and tapped in small paper parcels, and tied with twine. Early in the morning the ‘boss’ and his assistants start on their rounds, and so well are they known to the cats that their customers are usually waiting at the usual place to greet them with a mew and a purr. Even those who are fed only every other day know when the feeding day comes, and seldom appear on the off days.
The man has made a success of the business, and not only makes a living, but is earning money. Of course others have tried to imitate him, but he has always been able to undersell them, besides, having the advantage of being known to the cats. One fellow attempted to drive him out of the business by offering to supply fish — which would nourish the brains of the cats as well as their bodies — at two cents a week; whereupon the cat-food man drew on his bank account and supplied it for one cent. In two weeks his rival proposed a partnership, and that being declined, he retired. Besides supplying the cats with meat, the cat-food man has a boy traveling over a milk route. He carries a large can from which be serves his customers. The ‘boss’ charges a high price for milk, but there are those who want to raise kittens and are willing to pay the price. But it is said meat is the best kind of food for cats, and that if they eat meat and drink water they grow fat and their fur becomes sleek and glassy.
The success of this man ought to encourage men out of employment, with no apparent prospect of securing any, not to give up until they had looked about them, and seen whether or not there was a demand of some kind not yet supplied. It was a good thing for that young man that, having once been a clerk, he was not above doing honest work, notwithstanding it was not especially desirable. Had he been high strung he might now be promenading the public thoroughfare, arrayed in apparel of the latest style, but not a stitch of which was paid for.
Interviews with "The Cats’ Meat Man," appeared almost annually in the early 1880s; this one is from the Philadelphia Times and was reprinted in Phillips County Freeman, 2nd February 1882: In one corner of Fulton market, in New York city, is the snug little stall of the cat’s meat man. In the morning he goes about the streets feeding his cats; but his afternoons are devoted to preparing their food for the next day. Most of this food is raw meat, which with a sharp knife, he cuts up into very small pieces, until, several hundred pounds are thus prepared. Once a week - on Thursdays - the cats’ meat man cuts up fish instead of meat; for on Fridays all his cats have a meal of fish, of which they are very fond, and which is very good for them. After the meat or fish has been nicely cut into hits, it is all done up in small brown paper parcels, each of which weighs a pound; and these parcels are packed into great strong baskets. Each basket holds forty or fifty of these pound packages, and is pretty heavy for the cats’ meat man to carry.
Bright and early in the morning, soon after sun rise, the cats’ meat man begins to feed his cats, starting out from the market with a big basket of meat on his shoulder, and threading his way through the crooked streets and lanes of the lower part of the city to the homes of his little customers. Everywhere the cats and kittens are anxiously waiting and watching for him, and sometimes they run out and meet him at the corners half a block or more away from their homes. Often when he is feeding the cats on one side of the street, those living on the other side run across, and rubbing against his legs, mewing and purring, seem to beg him to hurry and get over to their side. Of course these cats do not belong to the cat’s meat man, though he takes just as much interest in them, and is just as fond of them as though they were his own. They are the cats that live in the stores and warehouses of the lower portion of the city, where they are kept as a protection against the armies of fierce rats that come up from the wharves, and do terrible damage wherever the cats are not too strong for them. He is paid for this by the owners of the cats, and as he has about 400 customers his business is quite a thriving one.
In the following year, The Boston Globe, April 1883 told its readers "How a Young German Earns his Living in a Somewhat Novel Manner: “You notice," said Officer Moran to a Globe reporter down among the warehouses early the other morning, “you notice how the cats keep their heads to Fulton street. That’s curious, isn’t it? But you will soon see the reason. Ah, here he is.” A figure of a man carrying a blue basket could be barely distinguished in the distance. Suddenly the cats saw the figure and with one accord scampered away in the direction of Fulton street. Soon after a rosy-cheeked young German, in white shirt, jacket and apron, came down the street with a basket heavily laden with cold, uncooked meat. He was surrounded with cats of all sizes, sexes and breeds, who occasionally jumped up and tried to paw out a piece of meat, but the German, who knew every cat and just
where it belonged, gave to each its allotted portion, wrapped up in yellow paper. Then the representatives of the feline race retired to the fastnesses of the cellars to eat their daily meal in peace.
“How long have you been in this business, Hermann Muller?” - “Four years,” answered the cats’ meat man. “I was then and am now working in Fulton Market. I used to notice the great amount of scrap and unwholesome meats then wasted, and formed the idea of using this for the benefit of animal life. I have suceeded very well.”
“How many cats have you now on your list?” - “About 117 in all. The meat is good and nutritive for them. I get five cents for each small package and ten cents for each double one. You can fool with a bulldog all you like in daytime, but if you meddle with him at night look out for yourself. That is the reason I come around in the morning. Well, I am going to see another cat in William street and hope she will get well. But there is no certainty about anything, not even about the cats. Good day.”
The Cat-Meat Man. - New York Sun (reprinted in The Buffalo Commercial, 6th March 1885). At 12 O’clock every day, except Sunday, a shrill whistle sounds in Cedar street. The cats which are nodding in the corners spring to their feet and run with cars and tail erect to the doors of the stores. A chorus of miaoaws is heard from every side. Each repetition of the whistle is greeted with a fresh chorus. Then an old man comes along with a heavy basket on each arm. In the baskets are portions of chopped liver tied up in packages. He distributes these at each door, and a little later the crats are purring and licking their paws. The cat-meat man is paid by the firms along the street to look after the cats. On Sundays the cats have to provide for themselves.
BOYS AND GlRLS’ COLUMN. [CONDUCTED BY GRANDPA] - The Cats' Meat Man. By Tappan Adney. (Evening Standard (New York), 9th November 1896)
What a curious occupation that of the cats’ meat man! When one hears for the first time of a person who goes about feeding cats, one is apt to fancy he has something to do with the A.S.P.C.A., which of course always cares for hungry cats or dogs, or else that he is an eccentric old gentleman who takes pity on the wretched street waifs that but for people with tender hearts like him would go for many a day without so much as one square meal. But the cats’ meat man is led by no such motive. His clients are sleek, well-to-do cats, and he simply follows in a business-like way an occupation that secures him a very good living, as any-one who will go at the right time down into a certain part of New York may see for himself. Yet, how few even of those who live in New York have ever heard of him!
To find the cats’ meat man at his work, one may have to rise early and wait patiently at some spot, unless he has a friend who is one of the wholesale grocers or commission merchants who occupy almost exclusively Greenwich and Washington streets, together with the cross streets for some distance north of Washington Market. Here are the market-men, the dealers in country produce, and warehouses where everything like butter, eggs, cheese, and tapioca and spices and tea, is stored. These places would be over-run by rats and mice, in no one knows how short a time, but for the cats, of which every store has at least one, while others have perhaps nine or ten. Ordinarily the passerby sees not one of these cats, though there may be hundreds in the neighborhood, for they all keep back in the cellars and lofts where their services are needed. Only at certain intervals do they come out upon the streets; but when they do appear, then is the time to see the cats’ meat man and he will not have long to wait either, for these cats know the time of day as certainly as by a clock.
The owners of all these cats are prosperous business men, and the cats are as much employees as the office-boy or book-keeper; and though they cannot be paid in the usual way, their owners see to it that every cat has a big meal as often as he needs it. They must not be fed too much, or else they would not hunt rats and mice as they should. But they are regularly fed, and the cats keep tally on the hours and minutes in a way that is marvelous. For the small sum of five cents per meal for each cat, the carts’ meat man engages to supply each one with a portion of fresh meat, either once a day or four times a week, just as you choose. Not more frequently than that, because the men who own the cats know that it is not well to feed a cat too often. They know that by nature the cat is carnivorous and that, in a wild state, a full meal is only had by the expenditure of a large amount of energy. Hence a cat which shifts for itself, in the presence of a favorable food supply, is always lean, because meat does not fatten, while exercise makes it thin. What is true of dogs is also true of cats, that, if fed but once a day, and then sufficiently, the creature keeps in better health and attains its highest usefulness. To some who stuff their pets at meal time and between times, and then have them lie around in idleness that dulls their wits if it does not actually make them sick, this may seem heartless and cruel. But indulgence is not kindness to animals any more than to children, though it often passes for such among many well-meaning people. No one ever saw a warehouse cat than was ill treated. Their trustful manner and their sleek pelts, their tense, hard muscles and their extraordinary activity and suppleness, all bear witness to their good treatment.
The cats’ meat man goes his round usually in the morning. It he is due at a certain place, say by eight o'clock, you will need no watch to know when the hour has come. As the minute draws near, cat after cat emerges from the back places – black cats, white cats and spotted cats, yellow cats, striped cats and maltese cats, bobtailed cats and cats with scarred visages – tokens of hard tussles with the big wharf rats as well as with their fellow cats. They take the stand on heaps of bales, on boxes, on sheds, or on the sidewalk, nervously watching every passerby, or else they walk up and down on the flagstones, under the broad awnings, stopping now and then with lifted paw to look.
Presently a simultaneous “meow” is set up; every cat rushes towards an old man with cheerful, kindly face, wearing a respectable suit of faded black, who trudges along with a heavy market-basket on his arm. He sets the basket down on a step or box, and instantly the cats crowd around him, rubbing his legs with pleasure, and sometimes one of them. springs upon his back “meowing” joyfully. The old man (he is the cats” meat man) has a bundle of square papers tucked into the basket. On each side of these pieces of paper - as many as he has customers at that place - he puts about a quarter of a. pound of fresh beef-heart, chopped into little pieces, and he lays before each cat the square bit of brown paper that serves as a plate. Sometimes, leaving his basket on some doorstep where no one disturbs it, he goes up a cross street with his arms full of bundles of meat. On his way back some of the cats have finished, and he lets them lick his hands. One cat bit him severely a while ago, but it was only by accident; because they are very fond of him, and manifest their pleasure in every way a cat can.
The present cats’ meat man (for there have been others before him) is a man of more than ordinary intelligence, and I am told (in confidence) that he is a man of education, but that his eyesight failed him until he could not follow his profession; and he chose to earn an honest though humble living in this way, rather than to become dependent upon other people. Not one of the merchants whose cats he feeds knows who he is or where he goes; indeed, for reasons perhaps best known to himself, he does not care that they should know. He evidently earns a comfortable living, for he feeds not less than a hundred and fifty cats a day. The meat is always of the best beef-heart, for which he pays about eight cents a pound; but when the cost was twenty cents, every cat received its full allowance.
The cats’ meat man is a picturesque figure, and it would be hard to say how we should get along without him.THE CATS' MEAT MAN. - New York Tribune (reprinted in The Butte Daily Post, 28th February 1900).
South of Fulton street the cat is not a pet, but a business investment. The rats from the river infest the business houses, and every cat is of the nature of an insurance policy against the loss which the rats might inflict on a store of valuable goods. Savage as are these mousers of the wholesale district, there is yet one man to whom all cats purr in approval. It is never the senior partner; cats regard no such distinctions. It is not even the office boy, for, these mighty hunters do not even fear such a common calamity as a mere boy. The only man for whom they will lay aside their deep hatred of one another and of the human race is the vender of cats’ meat. When a little dried up old man with a market basket turns the corner and is on the block, then every cat hurries to meet him with tail in air and loud purring and yowls of contended anticipation, for that is the cats’ meat man.
“Sure, I don’t know all them cats", he says: “there’s no man could; and, besides, there's changes all the time; what with kitten that where’s too many of at one place and they give to me to dispose of at another where they’re wanting such, and what with the drays and the big rats and the cats themselves, there's many are killed all the time. But if I don’t know them they all know me, every last cat of them. And they're wise; cats is the wisest beast that lives, and if humans were like them, things might be better off for some of us poor folks. You see, every cat on the block has run to meet me, but they are always on their good behavior. Now, here's a place where I leave meat for six cats; you see them all follow me in when I give it to the porter. Them's the cats that belong here. And the rest of the cats is waiting peaceable and orderly for me to come out. Now, see them four cats run ahead and into the next place; they’re the cats that belong there, and they line up to meet me.
“It reminds me of long ago when I took the shillin' and it was forever ‘Turn out the guard! Gineral Orficer!’ Well. There was no chance for such as me. and now the cats must be saying in their own speech ‘Turn out the guard! Cats, meat man! But I ain’t complain’ at all; there's only myself, and I manage to make a living, and in all the years I've been at it I have been able to put away in the savings bank the few dollars that'll see me through my Iast sickness and put me safely away in my own slip of real estate, and I'll be a landed proprietor and of the gentry then.
“But 'twas my living and not my dying you'd like to know. Down here beyond at the big markets there's a lot of butchers that’s kind to me, and they let me have the run of the barrels where they throw the bits of meat that's no good at all for Christians, and so my meat costs me nothing. Then all these big houses pay me for bringing them meat for their cats. Some big places pay me as much as $2 a week; but there's a sight of cats there, and others don’t pay as much. The lowest I get is a quarter; there's no fixed charge; they pay just what they like, and it's ail one to me. Then I'm independent, and can have my little free list the same as the theaters. If ever I meet a tramp cat one that's lost its situation in a business house and is running the streets, I can always spare a piece of meat to feed it, if the savage will only let me get near enough.
“But I forgot to tell you about the wisdom of these cats. Five mornings in the week l get around my beat from 7 to 8 o'clock, but on Saturdays I am always late, and, for instance. don't reach this block before it's gone 9, Well, on Saturday morning's the cats know that I'm late, and they won't put their heads outside the doors until it wants only a little of 9. Of course there's calendars hanging up in every office to tell the day of the week, and clocks too, and there’s nothing to hinder the cats from consulting them like folks. And it if isn’t that, how do the cats know when it’s 9 o’clock Saturday mornings. They are mighty sagacious bests.”
The Inter Ocean, 19th July 1909, interviewed a New York vendor called Henry Peters. HE FEEDS CATS FOR LIVING: A man, followed by half a dozen cats of all complexions, created some little comment in Seventh avenue, just off Times square, and passers-by wondered what might be the secret. “He is advertising a vaudeville stunt,” said a skeptical person in the crowd. “Naw, he ain’t; them's his pets,” said a street urchin. “Wonder where he's bound,” chimed a third. By the time the man had reached Seventh avenue and Forty-Second street a crowd of fifty or more was following him. The man explained to an inquirer that he was not an advertising agent. “My name is Henry Peters,” he said, “and I am the ‘cat meat’ man. It has long been a lucrative business in London to prepare food for store cats, and that’s what I do. The business of a waiter, which I follow usually, does not pay so well in the summer months, so I sell meat tor pet cats. Cats should have a little boiled liver from time to time, and I get the best liver I can, fix it up into portions, then go round to my regular patrons and sell the portions at from 2 to 5 cents each. Many of these cats have come to know me and wait on the sidewalk for me on stated days of the week. Their owners feed them on the sidewalk often, and this attracts stray cats. These are the cats that follow me for blocks to pick up a stray morsel from time to time.” Then the “cat meat” man moved on with a string of seven cats in his wake, and a crowd following him. Every now and then he would drop a bit of liver on the pavement and watch the cats scramble for it. This seemed to afford him much amusement.
The Warren Tribune, 7th May 1928 - One of the strangest occupations in New York is that of cat-meat supply man. The cat-meat man makes the rounds of residential districts giving bits of liver, catnip and other hors d’oeuvres to toms and tabbies of persons who pay him by the month for the service. The cats know the hours when the cat-meat men make their rounds and are always waiting for them.
A CATS’ MEAT MAN IN BOSTON, 1881
This account of a cat’s meat man comes from The Boston Weekly News, March 2, 1881: " A REGULAR ANGORY AND CAN’T BE BEAT. Would take a prize at any cat show, or at least ought to. There! ain’t that a beauty?" continued the old man, as one of the most perfect specimens of its kind bounded forward for its breakfast. "Regular Angory. Keerful, keerful, there! It don't mean no harm, but it has no idea of how sharp its claws are. Should think it might catch enough for a living,” continued The Globe man [reporter]. “No! rats and mice are scarce here, and livin’ would be mighty uncertain." After passing by some of the smaller "fry" the merchant remarked, “Now I'll show you a cat that for size and knowledge can’t be beat. There," said he, as with admiring eye he gazed upon an enormous feline that sprang from the counter, "how’s that? Tips the beam at eighteen pounds and knows more tricks than Barnum's horses."
"Sell him." - "Well! I should judge not; never heard a price set on ‘im, - but I know money wouldn’t be any consideration. The most particular cat I feed belongs in the next office here, but I ain’t fed her for some days; queer story, and p’raps you’ll think it a leetle too strong. However, yer k’n take it at your own valuation. One day, when Mr.S—- was busy and the cat tumbling round in the way, in a cross sort er way be said: "Get out, I don't wan’t yer round, aud if yer’l believe it, from that day to this the cat can't be coaxed into the house, do what they can; she jest stays round and looks sorrerful like but yer can't coax her in, not much. I've gone from hoof up to tenderloin and tried all the changes in my bill of fare, but she knows and won't touch it. What’ll come of it, I can’t imagine; knew some men were fools enough to starve themselves but didn’t believe it of a cat."
"Any others following example?" - “No; not many. I keep pretty close, and few know what I do for a livin’, and no one hardly believes I make anything out of it. One or two tried it, but they didn’t have the capital or ’sperience, so I soon ran em off," and the veteran in the cat food business straightened himself up with a comical air of superiority. Well," continued he, “my first trip ends here, and I must return for another lot; good mornin',” and off he trudged to his place of business, while as the quill driver walked on the truth of the old saying came to him with greater force than ever that "truly one half the world knows not what the other half is doing."
CAT’S MEAT MEN IN PARIS
In Paris, France there was a substantial market in cat- and dog- food as this account from 1860 demonstrates. The French have never had the same taboo against eating horse-flesh as the British have so the trade seems to have had a more respectable image and the food was not merely meat scraps on skewers, but gruels and pates! My translation is inexact, but gives the relevant information.
The only food for cats in populous neighborhoods is a small branch of commerce. She provides a living for, among others, Bernier and his young family. Bernier is what you might call an interesting man; he makes gruel for cats in the true sense of the word. He is a child of the Anvergne. He was a coalman, but an accident forced him to leave this social position for the one just mentioned. The business is established in a good quarter for workers; each house has dogs and cats. He began to make gruel for some, and pate for others, attaching a small business selling soft calf. His reputation was soon established on a solid basis in the district; the well-to-do came knocking at his door. Nowadays, in the vicinity of the Temple, a favoured cat or a dog is considered abused if her dinner doesn't come from Bernier, who is top of this trade. Bernier does much the same in more remote areas, and many a Countess's Angora or a Marquise's bichon send their servants to do their food shopping at his modest shop. His trademark is "A old trusted name in the feeding of animals." For, it is necessary to say, many people have tried to do competition against Brillat-Savarin in trade in quadrupeds. His brand is a protest against plagiarism.
(La nourriture seule des chats dans les quartiers populeux est une branche de petit commerce. Elle fait vivre , entre autres , Bernier et sa jeune famille. Bernier est ce qu'on nomme un homme intéressant; il fait de la bouillie Pour les chats dans la véritable acception du mot. C'est un enfant de l'Anvergne. Il était charbonnier; un accident l'a obligé de quitter cette position sociale pour celle que nous venons de dire. ll est établi dans un bon quartierde travailleurs; chaque maison ayant ses chiens et ses chats , il se mit à fabriquer de la bouillie pour les uns, de la pâtée pour les autres, en y joignant un petit commerce de mou de veau. Sa réputation s'établit bientôt dans l'arrondissement sur des bases solides; la vogue était venue frapper a sa porte. Maintenant dans les environs du Temple , un chat ou un chien favori passerait pour être maltraité si son dîner ne venait de chez Bernier, le Vèfour du genre. Bernier fait même des envois dans les quartiers les plus éloignés, et plus d'un angora de comtesse et d'un bichon de marquise envoient chaque matin leurs valets faire emplette de pâture à sa modeste boutique. Elle a pour enseigne : A l'ancienne et ‘véritable renommée de la nourriture des animauax. Car, il faut le dire, bien des gens ont essayé de faire concurrence à ce Brillat-Savarin de la gent quadrupède. Son enseigne est une protestation contre le plagiat.)
And according to the Conservateur des Abattoirs in Paris at that time, the cat's meat trade was a good source of income for slaughter-houses. Parisian cats received offal from cattle, in particular lights (lung) and heart (mous et coeurs) rather than horse-meat like their British and American cousins.
The results of all this work are huge when you consider the industries they fertilize. Thus the flesh is food, skins feed mills, tanners, leather-workers and jnégissiers, which in turn fertilize the industries of shoemakers, coach body makers, saddlers, layetiers, bookbinders; hatters, the glove makers, upholsterers, etc. The tallow, processed into candles and ointments (pommades), fuel the trades of grocers and perfumiers. Just after that, the specialist trades in tripes and offal which consists of various beasts. These offal from organs interiors, heads and feet of sheep and heads of oxen or cows. This trade, to give an idea of its importance, to Paris, annually furnishes 325,000 fr worth of ox and cow hearts and lungs for cat food alone to satisfy their appetite, that is to say 89,000 hearts and lungs, but another 12,000 soft hearts, surplus to the tripe-mongers' trade, can be acquired in the suburbs. The price of the heart and lungs is 2.50 francs.
Les résultats de tous ces travaux sont immenses quand on considère les industries qu'ils fécondent. Ainsi la chair sert de nourriture, les peaux alimentent les fabriques des tanneurs, corroyeurs et jnégissiers, qui fécondent à leur tour les industries des cordonniers, carrossiers, selliers, layetiers, relieurs; des chapeliers, des gantiers, tapissiers, etc. Les suif-, transformés enchandelles, eu pommades, vont alimenter le commerce des épiciers et des parfumeurs. Vient, après cela, le commerce spécial de la triperie qui se compose des abats des divers bestiaux. Ces abats proviennent des organes intérieurs, des têtes et des pieds des moutons et des têtes de boeufs ou de vaches. Ce commerce, pour donner une idée de son importance, à Paris, fournit par année seulement à la nourriture des chats pour 325,000 fr. de mous et de cœurs de bœufs et de vaches; il faut pour satisfaire leur appétit, nonroulement tous les cœurs et les mous îles bœufs et des vaches qui approvisionnent Paris, c'est-à-dire 89,000 cœurs et mous, mais encore 12,000 mous et cœurs auxiliaires que les tripiers vont acquérir dans la banlieue. Le prix du coeur et du mou est de 2 Ir. 50
OTHER SNIPPETS ABOUT CATS’ MEAT MEN
In case the number of court cases mentioned give the idea that the cats'-meat man was a rogue, this was not the case. The cats’ meat man was a respectable tradesman and just as familiar as the dustman, chimney-sweep, milkman, butch and baker, all of whom had delivery routes in towns and cities. Some got themselves into trouble and others, because of their regular rounds or their familiarity with their customers and their customers’ pets, were called as witnesses. The details in some of the court cases give an idea as to the various characters in the trade and the income they were earning.
This case, rendered in dialect, is from the Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Western Counties and South Wales Advertiser, 19th July 1834. - COURT OF REQUESTS. – “THE DISOWNED.” - John Hollingson, the plaintiff in this matter, who described himself as a ‘wender of dogs’ and cats’ wittles,’ claimed from Mr. Saml. Peter Furzebush, a grave, courteous-tacking, elderly personage, the sum of 2s. 4 and ha’penny, for horse-flesh and other feline dainties, said to have been furnished to the defendant for the sustenance of his cat. The defence against the claim was not based on the ‘general issue,’ but rested on the more formal ground of a denial, by the defendant, of all property in the cat.
‘Please your vurthy vertships (began the plaintiff) this here gentleman for the last three veeks, has been sot down in my mind as von of my reglar customers, consequently l makes a pint on it to call at his house and leaves his cat a hap’orth of wittles. New, venssomer I has ’spectable customers, as is ‘spectable, I always serve ‘em vith my goods, and never axes ’em for the ha'pence down, but I lets the bill run on for veek after veek. Vell, your honourable verships, I serves this here good gentleman’s cat reg‘lar vith her wittles, sometimes a pen'north, and sometimes a ha’porth o‘liver, as might he,-and so I continued to serve for veeks.’
‘Without orders from me, as my housekeeper. Sally, will presently satisfactorily prove,’ said the defendant, nodding to the bench.
‘Arter I'd done this here (continued the plaintif?) ven I seed the young hooman as alvays opens the street door to let out the cat - for, your vorship, the cat nose my woice as nat’ral as if she know'd vot said, I ax’d, with all the ciwility in the uniwerse, for to pay a little summut orft the score, as I vos only a poor wender of cat's meat, as goed to the nakkers to buy my goods, who vould'nt never give nobody-no, credit vithout the ready money down. So, sis she, Lauk! Mister cat‘s-meat-man, it aint my cat, nor it aint my master’s cat, vot you’ve been a feeding: its only a wisitor, as belongs to som of our neighbours, Werry well, marm, sis I, that's a rum go, sis I; but, blow me; if it’ll fit, and as she stuck out and stuck out, vy I made up my mind to put the arms of the law on ’em.’
‘Your worship, (said the defendant, in a strong nasal twang, peculiar to a certain class of Sunday orators,) my housekeeper, Sally, is in court, and as she is acquainted with all my private domestic affairs, she can prove that the cat was not my property. Further than giving the poor creature a little drop of milk or so, my housekeeper, Sally, can inform your worships that I have always denied being the owner of the cat in toto.’
The defendant’s housekeeper, Sally, a plump, black-eyed, pink-and-blue-ribbon-bedizened lass, with a handsome boa round her neck, came forward, and assured the court that not a thing was done in the defendant's house but what she was privy to, and therefore she could safely swear that the cat’s-meat-man had never been authorized by either party to leave his ‘wittles' at her master’s house. She could not tell to whom the cat belonged, and all her efforts to drive Miss Grimalkin away were fruitless.
In fact (said the defendant), my rest has been so much disturbed, that I have been forced to get up in the night and expel the cat with a broomstick, as my housekeeper, Sally, can prove.’
‘ Yes (said Sally). me and master have both got up ogether to stop her “molrowing,” and when we have got to bed . . .’
That’s enough, (said the defendant, stopping her,) his lordship must feel satisfied with your corroboration.’
The plaintiff still insisted that the cat belonged to the defendant; and in proof of his opinion, said Miss Puss had recently had an accouchement in the defendant’s house.
‘Not in my house (replied the defendant), but in the dust-hole, which is detached from my house, this event took place, as my housekeeper, Sally, can prove.’
The cat’s meat-man having stated, that if allowed a short time he could produce evidence which would place the ownership of the cat beyond doubt, the court allowed the matter to stand over for a few days. Mr. Furzebush bowed profoundly to the bench, tucked his ‘housekeeper Sally’ under his arm, and walked gravely out of court.
A wretched young creature, who had left her friends to live with a cat's-meat man, was charged by a boatman with having attempted to drown herself [suicide was a crime at this time]. She had been with difficulty prevented from committing the act of self-destruction by the boatman. The Cat's-meat Man (quite a lad) came forward, and appeared to be anxious to take her home, but she expressed no wish to accompany him, although she admitted that he had not treated her roughly. The Lord Mayor, upon making farther inquiries, learned that the girl's friends had been given to understand that she was under the protection of a husband, and in comfortable circumstances, particularly as she was in the habit of giving halfpence to the children in the neighbourhood in which she formerly resided, and had shown other kind recollections of her former home. The Cat's-meat Man proposed to resume his care of the drooping girl, who wore a ring upon the marriage finger, but The Lord Mayor said it was quite evident that she was conscience-stricken at the change in her life, and he would take care that she should be properly protected for a few days. (London Evening Standard, 4th March 1851)
James Wells, a cat's meat man residing in Bermondsey, was summoned for killing a valuable tom-cat belonging to Thomas Whitehorn, and committing damage to the amount of £1. Complainant said he resided in Salisbury-street, Dockhead, and gained his livelihood by working at the docks. On Monday last he had a valuable cat which he set a great price on, as it was a good one for destroying the vermin. He left the animal at home while, he went to his work, and on his return, he was surprised to find it dead He was then informed that the defendant had killed it, consequently he summoned him for the value. The defendant said the cat was a thief, and no customer of his. When he was in the street, and as soon as he called out "cat's meat," the half starved animal jumped on his barrow and run off with a large piece of meat. It did so on Monday afternoon, and as it was running off with about a pound of cat's meat, he struck it with the back of his knife to make him drop it. The animal jumped away quick enough then. Mr. A Beckett told the complainant that he should keep his cat in and not allow it to run the streets and rob people's barrows. He did not think a cat's meat man would kill a customer's cat. Defendant: He arn't not any customer of mine. He's a regular thief, yer worship (laughter); and complainant starves it. A female stated that she saw the cat jump on his barrow and steal the piece of meat, when the defendant struck it. The cat ran away then, and she did not see it any more until the evening, when it was dead. She knew the cat to be a regular thief (laughter). Mr. Beckett told the complainant that there could be no doubt that his cat was a regular thief and had stolen meat from defendant, although it had its lawfuI quantity from another dealer. He should have taken more care of the cat, and not allow it to roam the streets. There was no evidence to prove that defendant killed the cat, therefore he should dismiss the summons. (Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, 26th June 1853)
John Griffiths, a cat's meat man, was summoned for not supporting his wife and three children. Mr, Buchanan appeared for the defence, and said, although the magistrate had no power to interfere between man and wife, except through the intervention of the parish officers, he would not take that objection to the summons, but explain what were the merits of the case upon which the defendant resisted the claim of his wife. Sir.R. W. Carden said it was no use going into the case when he had no power to adjudicate upon it, and he therefore suggested to the defendant to allow his wife and three children 10s, per week, which, with their own earnings, would be sufficient to maintain them. The defendant, who, it was alleged, was making between £4 and £5 per week by the sale of cat's-meat, declined to allow more than he had been paying until very lately, upon which Sir R. W. Carden advised the wife to apply to the pariah for relief, and, when the officers brought their complaint, he should be able to deal with the case in a manner that would soon induce the defendant to come to terms. The summons was then dismissed. (Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, 28th April 1861)
CATS’ MEAT MAN. But perhaps the most. unique personage of all these morning callers is one who emits a sound from between his lips quite beyond, at least, Yankee experience. To the Londoner who charges us with talking through our noses, by all means commend the London "Cat-meat man.” His voice is all nose. It is his nostrils. and not his palate, which articulate. About ten in the morning you may hear him everywhere. He goes along rapidly, in a white blouse and dusty gray felt hat, with a small basket on his arm. His cry, as nearly as I can imitate it on paper. is something like this:- “Catss – hmeat – hmeat – hmeat – hmeat!" exclusively through his nose. As he goes along the street, mingled with his curious shout, you hear a chorus of lively and eager caterwauling from all the cats in the neighborhood around; which come jumping and bounding out of the doors, and up the areas, rush up to the bringer of their morning breakfast, and follow him in a loudly mewing group until he stops. The "cats' meat" is simply horseflesh, boiled, cut in thin slices, through several of which a narrow stick is punched. One of these sticks with, say four or five slices, is sold to the mistress of the house for a penny, and supplies all the numerous feline inhabitants of her household with a hearty morning meal. (The Evansville Daily Journal, USA, 29th April 1870)
The cats’ meat man is a favourite object of ridicule. I don’t see why he should be. His business, it appears to me, is eminently serieux. I am the more inclined to take this view of the case from a spectacle that met my eyes this afternoon. It was a neat, trim little gig, to which was harnessed one of the smartest, nattiest ponies you could see. At first I thought this turn-out was a gentleman farmer’s, but on closer inspection I found it was a cats’ meat man. (Western Mail, 20th September 1877)
CAT’S MEAT. Correspondents of ‘Knowledge,’ in treating of cats, do not seem to have remarked some acts of intelligence which may be observed daily in the streets of London. At the cry of the cat’s-meat man all the cats are in commotion, but all are not excited by the cry of the same man. A dozen men may walk up and down the same streets with tempting morsels, crying “Meat, meat!” but only at those houses they are accustomed to serve will the cats be roused by the call. No sooner does the proper man arrive in the street than every cat he is accustomed to serve rushes frantically to the door, or, if allowed, into the street, running, mewing toward him, rubbing against his legs, or sometimes sitting in a begging attitude before him, but never, as far as I have observed, attempting to steal from the open basket. One day I noticed a cat whose man had either forgotten her portion or had been unable to make her mistress hear, and so had passed on. The cat, however, insisted on being attended to; she ran after him, mewing piteously, and when at last she made him understand, she ran back to the house before him, where, by this time, the mistress was ready to take the delicacy so much prized by all London cats, however well fed. I nave often watched this act of discrimination in our own cat. Tom would sit quietly dozing while man after man went by with the familiar cry of “Meat, meat!” but presently he would jump, rush to the window, and remain in a state of great excitement, and soon after a distant cry of “Meat!” might be heard, and we knew that Tom had recognized his own man long before we had heard him. As the cry drew nearer, Tom’s excitement increased, and he would almost fly to the door. A singular fact remains to be told. On Saturdays the man would leave two portions, as he did not go his rounds on Sunday. These were often thrown into the area, to which Tom had access. He would always greedily devour the one portion, but never touch the other, although they lay side by side. [. . .] The fact of cats distinguishing between one meat man and another seems to me to disprove the oft-repeated assertion that cats attach themselves only to places and not to persons, for here we see them able to pick out a certain man by his voice alone, even at a great distance. - Buckland. (Wyoming Democrat, 2nd May 1884)
The cats’ meat man got a mention in a parliamentary discussion about licensing hours (of pubs). “The House was amused by an illustration he gave of a cat’s meat man earning two pounds a week. This man's labour terminated early in the day. He could not read the newspapers to kill the ennui of sublunary existence, and so, using his own words, this miserable cat's meat man ‘regularly got drunk every afternoon.’ Mr. Gedge objected to legislation compelling the working classes to do without beer on Sundays. “ Belfast News Letter, 11th February, 1897)
“Lord Lansdowne used to relate that when, after Turner's death, he went to the artist's house, on a foggy day, in the hope of getting a sight of his reserved works, the old woman in charge, looking up through the area railings, took him for the cat's-meat man, and told him he needn't come again, since some rascal had stolen her cat.” (Westmorland Gazette , 14th February 1863). Ether the lady was in the habit of mistaking people for the cats’ meat man, or the tale mutated because another version went “Of Turner’s housekeeper many tales are told as to her strange habits and rough manners. She lived out of the house, and came in early every morning to her work. One day the Duke of Chandos, who was one of Turner’s patrons, and dressed somewhat shabbily, called. He rang the bell several times without result. At length the housekeeper dashed out into the area, and, looking up the man at the door, shouted, ‘What you want? I told you the cat died last week.’ “(Lancashire Evening Post, 17th October 1906)
ALLEGED ASSAULT BY A TRADES-MAN'S WIFE describes a fracas between a cats’ meat man and his landlady, the latter having accused him of stealing and disposing of one of her cats. “Emma Blofield, the wife of greengrocer, of No. 11, Brill-terrace, Somers Town, was summoned before Mr. Barker for an assault upon William Hales, cat's-meat man, her lodger. Mr. John Wakeling, of the firm of J. and T. Wakeling, appeared for the defence. From the complainant's statement it appeared he sold cat's meat, and was a lodger of defendant's, occupying the first floor, and had lived there two years. On Monday, the 29th August, the defendant charged him with taking away her black cat, which he denied, upon which she abused him about the cat, and struck him on the side of the head, knocking his cap into the fire. [. . .] Mr. Wakeling, for the defence, characterised the case as one of the most trumpery description, and ought not to have been brought into court. The fact was defendant had fine black cat, and on the day in question it had disappeared. Complainant was seen to leave with something in a bag, and upon his return with the bag it was empty, and having missed her cat, defendant asked complainant where it was, and he, not content with denying he had taken the cat, added insult to injury, and abused the defendant by telling her she had walked the New-road, and was no married woman. She felt not only annoyed the loss her black cat, but indignant at the imputation upon her character as a respectable married woman for many years. She did what every right-minded woman would do—boxed the ears of the cat's meat man, and in doing so knocked his cap off, which he (Mr. Wakeling) felt, as no doubt the learned magistrate would feel, it served him right. He (Mr. Wakeling) submitted there was nothing in the case to call for the interference of the court, and asked the magistrate to dismiss the summons, upon which Mr. Barker immediately dismissed the summons, and the defendant left the court highly pleased with the result.” (North London News, 10th September 1864)
CLERKENWELL COUNTY COURT – TUESDAY. BOYCE V. BATCHELOR – THE MORALITY OF CATS’ MEAT MEN. This was a most extraordinary case. The plaintiff is a cats’ meat man, living at No. 53, Blundell-street, and the defendant, who is also a cats mean dealer, lives at no. 11, Brandon-road. The suit was to recover £1 10s., for “services rendered by myself and my wife,” as the plaint note stated, and it transpired that the services rendered by plaintiff were in procuring for the defendant a woman to live with him as his wife. The services of the wife, for which 10s. was claimed, were charing for defendant previous to his obtaining his novel housekeeper. . . . Plaintiff’s case was that in May, 1867, his wife kept defendant’s house in order for four weeks, for an agreed sum of 2s. 6d. a-week, and that about that time defendant asked plaintiff to find him a “housekeeper,” and promised to pay him, should he prove successful. In the following June, plaintiff found a suitable woman, and she went to live with defendant, and had since lived with him as his wife. [The case was dismissed because of questionable morality of all parties!] (Islington Gazette, 3rd December 1869)
George Searson, of 4 Walgrave Road, Earl’s Court, Kensington, appeared to answer the adjourned summons for neglecting to maintain his wife who is an inmate of Kensington Workhouse. Mr. Essex, the relieving officer, said he had the cats’ meat man to give evidence, but the baker had gone to America. The cats’ meat man was sworn and said that he supplied the defendant’s wife with meat. It would not take more than a minute to serve the meat. He had been inside four or five times. On one occasion she asked him to assister to put up her bedstead (laughter). He was never intimate with her. [Summons dismissed as the woman had been indecent with the baker – sufficient reason for her husband to throw her out.] (West London Observer, 28th January 1871)
“John Thomas Lawrence, 45 described as a "purveyor of cats' meat," of North-street, Chelsea, was charged, at Westminster police-court, on Friday, with the wilful murder of his wife, Sophia, on Thursday evening, at the above address. The prisoner keeps a small shop, and it is stated that on Thursday he was heard quarrelling with his wife. She was found stabbed in the body at half past two o'clock, and a knife, supposed to be used to inflict the injury, was discovered in the shop. “ (Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, 2nd March 1890)
A cats’-meat man at one of the English universities printed a card with the letter P.F.D.A. (Purveyor of Food for Domestic Animals). This conduct, however, was less reprehensible than that of persons of higher social position who append the initials of purchased or bogus degrees. (Wrexham Advertiser, 22nd August, 1891)
On Wednesday morning two women - mother and daughter - were stabbed in Street-buildings, Sumner-street, Southwark. William Coombe forty-five, a cats' meat man; his wife, Elizabeth Coombe, forty- three his daughter, Rose Coombe. seventeen, and a son, occupied three rooms in the buildings. There had been frequent quarrels between the parties [. . .] (Reynolds's Newspaper, 28th August 1892)
Mr. N. H. Tomlinson, of 8, Fairlight-avenue, Harlesden, was yesterday summoned to the Harlesden Petty Sessions, by Frank E. Newell, of No. 24, the same avenue, for illegally detaining a silver grey tom cat, value £1. Mr. Firth, for the Complainant, said he should call nine witnesses to prove the cat was his client's, and Defendant's solicitor was going to call eight witnesses to prove it was his client's. Three out of the six Magistrates immediately left the Bench, amid laughter. The Complainant's Witnesses stated that the cat was brought from Broadstairs, and that it was fourteen months old. The Defendant had been served with a notice to produce the cat, and it was accordingly produced. Each Witness examined it, and swore to it by particular marks. The family cats-meat purveyor said it was the cat he attended to. The Defendant's witnesses all swore to the cat being Defendant's by the same marks as the Complainants witnesses knew it, and that it was two years old. The Defendant's cats-meat man swore that he doctored the cat for him at 'Shepherd’-bush. The cat was a sleepy-looking creature, and every time it was brought forth from a hamper mewed its disapproval at being disturbed. Mr. Bird said it was a very strange thing that every-one had such a strong impression on his mind as to the cat. He might go to a house fifty times and never make the cat's acquaintance (laughter). He thought the Complainant had made out his case, and he must have the cat or its value. Defendant decided to give up the cat. (London Evening Standard, 3rd November 1893)
One of the minor tragedies of recent fire in the City is the disappearance of many cats which gained an honest, possibly even a luxurious livelihood in the burned warehouses. Some of them escaped, no doubt, but probably the remainder were suffocated, or actually burned to death. We are sorry for these poor pussies which thus perished at the post of duty; but we are sorrier for the unlucky cats’-meat man in the neighbourhood who has tragically lost their custom. He is making a claim for compensation, and it will be considered to-day by the governors of the Cripplegate Institute, who have undertaken to distribute the Mansion House Fund. (Sheffield Independent , 2nd December 1897)
“That things are often not what they seem was illustrated during the trial for shop-breaking of Fred Spalding, at the North London Sessions yesterday. He carried on the comparatively innocent profession of cat's-meat purveyor, calling, in the course of his business, at many houses. In this way, he picked information about the inmates and contents of the dwelling-places, and imparted what he learned to burglars. Some his pals were caught and sent to prison. Spalding was at length suspected, and watched. Ultimately, he grew ambitious — from spying he got to burglary. He broke into a shop in a street bearing the ominous name of Beakstreet, Soho, with another man. Being disturbed, he scudded along the roof. Leaving a track of broken tiles to connect him with the robbery, he dropped into a yard where a man was working, coolly explained that was being pursued by a mob of enraged men with whom he had been gambling, and walked quietly into the street. In sending him to prison for nine months for shop-breaking, the judge said the case was an extraordinary revelation, for one could hardly realise that a seemingly harmless cat’s-meat man might be housebreaker in disguise.” (St James's Gazette, 20th January 1904)
One can hardly realise,” observed Mr. M Connell, with a catch in his voice, at the Clerkenwell Sessions, “that an apparently harmless cats’-meat man might be a burglar in disguise.” It seems that the cats’-meat purveyor is a sort of advance guard, sent to spy out the land. In future we must sing— Oh. hush ! hush ! hush ! / Here comes the cat’s-meat man; / Shut, all the doors and windows. / He’ll rob us if can.” And so on. But this type of cats’-meat man is, of course, the exception. There’s many honest face beams across a barrow of unappetising horseflesh. (Globe, 20th January 1904)
Charles Dowell, cat’s-meat dealer, was charged at the Guildhall, yesterday, with cruelty to a pony, by causing it to be worked in the City while lame and thoroughly worn out. The defendant, whose sobriety was questioned by the magistrate’s clerk, with many gesticulations denied that the pony was unfit for work. [. . .] The court veterinary surgeon said the animal was totally unfit to work, and must have been for long time. It was quite 20 years old [. . .] It is only fit be destroyed.—The Alderman (to defendant); Will you have it slaughtered?— Defendant (bombastically): No, I won’t; not likely;—Mr. Alderman Simmons: You are fined £5 and 15s. costs, or seven days.—Defendant (marching to the cells); You’ve shoved it on to me this time. (Globe, Wednesday 1st June 1904)
LOVED THE CAT'S-MEAT WOMAN. At London South-Western Police Court Walter Frank Redknap charged with deserting his wife. They had been married for 16 years. All went well till Redknap became attracted by the wife of the local cats’ meat man. [. . .] In the end, Mr Garrett granted Mrs Redknap judicial separation, with alimony and costs. (Dundee Evening Telegraph, 28th June 1904)
Asked what his occupation was, a witness at East Ham Police Court, whose name was Cesar, replied: "A domestic pet’s butcher." Otherwise cat's meat man,” explained a solicitor. (Barking, East Ham & Ilford Advertiser, Upton Park and Dagenham Gazette , 5th October 1907) A response to this appeared in The London Daily News on 30th September, "In a case at East Ham a witness has distinguished himself by saying that he was a domestic pets’ butcher. The meat trade is already well subdivided — there are butchers, pork butchers, meat salesmen, shipping butchers, provision merchants and others — but the domestic pets’ butcher is new to its nomenclature. A solicitor in court explained that the witness was a cats meat man. Careless of the old associations that cluster round the name of cats’-meat-man, this gentleman is resolved to change it. We fear he may succeed. To rest content with three syllables when you can have six is against the nature of cats’-meat mankind. They not appreciate the old title's rugged beauty. The place of the cat’s meat-man, or dog’s meat-man (it is the same thing) in literature is nothing to them. It is even possible that many latter-day dog's-meat-men not know the old English metrical romance, of which the third and most spirited runs: The very next morning was seen / In a coat and breeches of velveteen. / To Bagnigge Wells then, a van. / She went along with the dog’s meat man. / She had shrimps and ale with the dog’s meat-man / She had tea and bread-and butter with ths dog's meat-man / And the coves all said, as around did stan' / That was such very nobby dog s meat man ! Chorus: Oh, he was such handsome dog’s meat-man / Such a sinivating. tittivating dog’s meat. We implore the Ham merchant to respect the tradition embalmed in these lines.
A sad story was unfolded to the Borough Coroner (Mr. T. Buss) on Thursday evening, when the circumstances attending the death of Louis Martinelli (aged 70), of 21, Tunnel-road, a cat's-meat seller, were investigated. Only the previous day Martinelli had been fined £2 and costs at the Borough Police Court on the ground that had performed a certain operation on a cat [presumably castration] in such a manner as to cause the animal great pain. His body was found the next morning hanging from a bedstead in his house, where he lived alone. [. . .] Ellen Gilbert, of 22, Tunnel-road, said that on Monday morning she talked to deceased, who was "awfully down about the Court business., and said was he was sure it was done for spite. He had a job to do at the Station, and said that all the same he must be at the Court, although it would not be much good him going, as they would not let him speak. [. . ] Had the war affected his business? Yes. He told me that he had a job to get his meat from the Station, and had difficulty in supplying his customers as a result. [. . .] They took the body the mortuary, and it found the note (produced) which addressed Mr. Prior. The note said: "There is 30s. in pocket for my burial. It is all I have got." Another note found on him said: ".. . . the cat was done in a skilful, experienced way, and with great care. Thirty-five years' experience." [. . .] Verdict of "Suicide whilst of unsound mind" was returned. (Kent & Sussex Courier, 1st January 1915)
A sad-eyed, elderly woman complained to the Marlborough-street magistrate to-day of the nocturnal performances of a cats meat man on an accordion. "He tortures me to death with, his playing," she said. Mr. Mead (magistrate): How does it arise? The Woman : He plays and uses bad language. Does he sing bad language ? He plays at night, and won't let me have any rest. She was referred to the County Court, so that she might apply for an injunction to prevent the solos on the accordion (Pall Mall Gazette - Saturday 22 July 1922).
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