Preserving our trade means knowing the past, as well as teaching the next generation. Here is a timeline of the butchers’ marks on history. Guilds have long been the recorders for meat cutters. We are telling your stories. We are all part of the same story.
-Before recorded history: University of Miami scientists and underwater archaeologists discovered the remains of a butchered giant sloth at a Florida sinkhole. The remains are thought to be about 12,000 years old. An earlier discovery of a sharpened stick and tortoise remains had led them to believe the area was used as a butcher shop for early man.
-2nd Century AD: An ancient relief work from Rome depicts a butcher shop, where the butcher is busy in his work with the help of a cleaver. The relief also displays a butchers table for dressing the meat and hooks for hanging them.
-975 AD: This is the earliest history of butchers in London (London’s Ward of Farringdon Without), when the butchers used to meet regularly at the Butchers Hall located in various parts of the city.
-11th Century: The Shambles, the oldest street in York which is mentioned in The Domesday Book of William the Conqueror, was the location of the meat market in York and the center of the butching profession. “Shambles” means – “Butchers stalls, a Meat-Market”.
-1272: The first reference to a Guild structure in York appears in the Freemen’s Rolls of 1272, with thirty-six names that include two citizens, Robert Withenskirtes and Nich. de Nunnewk, registered as Freemen Butchers. The Butchers’ Gild held sway in matters of hygiene, weights and measures, meat restricted days and fast periods, and over ‘foreign’ (i.e. non-guild) butchers. The Gild Searchers operated as overseers for the good of the trade with powers of search of shops and stalls, of imposition of fines and of application of correction and punishment.
-Mid-14th Century: In the Mediterranean world, there was a rise in the political importance of the butcher due to a receding of cereal crops, mostly owing to the effects of the Black Death. The massive scale of death in both the Muslim and Christian Mediterranean led to the expansion of a sylvan-pastoral economy because of the reversion of farm land to pasture, causing the appearance of more meat on the peasant’s table.
-1415: There were 96 craft guilds in York, at the peak of guild control of trade and civic life.
-14th Century: The Worshipful Company of Butchers was started and remains one of the UK’s oldest guilds.
-16th Century: In Europe, the butchers from the town of Cesky Krumlov took a major initiative to form guilds. This guild issued several rules and restrictions for slaughtering animals, such as the slaughtering could be performed only at the mentioned slaughterhouse and not in private houses or meat market. The town of Cesky Krumlov grew up with the help of these skilled craftsmen.
-16th Century: In Jerusalem, members of the butcher’s guild filled the hisba office, one of the oldest institutions of the Islamic state, responsible for promoting good and forbidding evil as proscribed in the Koran. The muhtasib, the head of the hisba office, inspected market activities and collected taxes, such as the “butcher’s seal tax” guaranteeing the quality of meat.
-1556: Standards of workmanship were protected through the apprenticeship system. In London the authorities decided that: “Until a man grows unto the age of 24 he has not grown into the full knowledge of the art that he professeth.” Seven years was generally agreed as the minimum period of training and servitude before the apprentice became a ‘freeman to ply his trade’. Apprentice registration was controlled so that children of freemen had priority of admission to the learning of a craft. Guild Masters were responsible for the Indenture and for the entry of apprentices in the City’s Register, following one month’s probationary period.
-1640: The first meat packers in America started in the New England area and as the frontiers pushed westward, the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers were used by the early settlers of the Midwest to transport cured meat from that area to the East Coast, via the Atlantic Ocean, before and after the War of 1812. Practically all meats were dry salt cured during this time, making salt a very scarce and valuable commodity. It has been reported that during the Civil War a Mississippi governor actually traded cotton for salt to Union troops in order to preserve meat for the Confederate troops of Mississippi.
-Late 1700s-early 1800s: Americans took their cattle and hogs over the Appalachians after the Revolutionary War, and the volume of livestock in the Ohio River Valley increased rapidly. Cincinnati packers took advantage of this development and shipped barreled pork and lard throughout the valley and down the Mississippi River. They devised better methods to cure pork and used lard components to make soap and candles. By 1840 Cincinnati led all other cities in pork processing and proclaimed itself Porkopolis.
-Early 19th Century: The island of Guernsey near France became renowned for its meat market. Many of the butchers from this island later settled in United Kingdom and got known as Guernsey Butchers.
-1835: The 1835 Municipal Reform Act finally abolished all guild trade privileges. In York, guilds withered and nearly all passed away except for two with property. These, The Merchant Adventurers and The Merchant Taylors, converted into social and charitable institutions. A third, The Butchers’ Gild, struggled on into the 20th century, with just a single member by 1940.
-1839: The Chicago city council granted Joseph Blanchard the right to construct the city’s first public market and to rent out stalls to local butchers, grocers, and produce dealers. The council prohibited the sale of retail proportions of meat, eggs, poultry, and vegetables anywhere else in the city during market hours.
-Late 1800s: The development of direct-expansion ammonia refrigeration and the development of electricity allowed the meat processing industry to become a year-round business and not one controlled primarily by atmospheric temperature.
-1865: Chicago was the U.S.’s largest meatpacking center and the acknowledged headquarters of the industry. It was able to gain this title because most Midwestern farmers also raised livestock, and railroads tied Chicago to its Midwestern hinterland and to the large urban markets on the East Coast. In addition, Union army contracts for processed pork and live cattle supported packinghouses on the branches of the Chicago River and the railroad stockyards which shipped cattle.To alleviate the problem of driving cattle and hogs through city streets, the leading packers and railroads incorporated the Union Stock Yard and Transit Company and built an innovative facility south of the city limits. Accessible to all railroads serving Chicago, the huge stockyard received 3 million cattle and hogs in 1870 and 12 million just 20 years later.
-Mid-late 1800s: Pork packers such as Philip Armour built large plants west of the Chicago stockyards, developed ice-cooled rooms so they could pack year round, and introduced steam hoists to elevate carcasses and an overhead assembly line to move them. Gustavus Swift, who came to Chicago to ship cattle, developed a way to send fresh-chilled beef in ice-cooled railroad cars all the way to the East Coast.
-Early 1890s: At the behest of foreign governments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture started inspecting pork exports.
-Late 1890’s-early 1900’s: Some of the major meat packing companies of the Mid-West (Swift, Armour and Cudahy) established some distribution points (branch houses) at various locations along the Mississippi River as well as near some towns served by the railroads. The predominant meats sold through these branch houses were dry-cured pork (i.e., hams, bacon, salt meat, etc.), canned meats and lard. At first the customers would pick up these products from depots or docks and carry them back to their stores. Later on, local delivery was provided by horse or mule-drawn wagons.
-Early 1900s: Mechanical refrigeration increased the efficiency of both pork and beef operations. Moreover, Chicago packers were preserving meat in tin cans, manufacturing an inexpensive butter substitute called oleomargarine, and, with the help of chemists, turning previously discarded parts of the animals into glue, fertilizer, glycerin, ammonia, and gelatin.
-1906: Upton Sinclair’s sensational novel The Jungle led to the Meat Inspection Act, which put federal inspectors in all packinghouses whose products entered interstate or foreign commerce.
-1920: The meat industry promoted itself through little recipe booklets, most of which were published by the (U.S.) National Live Stock and Meat Board. These booklets, which were published through the ’50s and featured titles like 250 Ways to Prepare Meat, Your New Meat Cookbook, Meat Recipes to Please, Medley of Meat Recipes, There’s Always Time to Cook Meat, Today’s Meat Cookery, All About Meat. The booklets were distributed to consumers for free via local retail outlets.
-1920: Combination grocery stores that sold perishable items were developed.
-1920’s: U.S. Government inspectors began grading beef and pork.
-1930’s: Large supermarkets challenge the dominance of the small neighborhood stores, whether they are independent or a member of a chain. The supermarket took advantage of several developments to become a viable method of marketing low-priced food. The availability of nationally branded packaged foods allowed supermarkets to replace full-service clerks with self-service aisles and counters staffed by “checkout girls.” Increased use of the automobile and home refrigeration encouraged customers to abandon daily trips to neighborhood groceries, meat markets, vegetable stands, and bakeries for weekly trips to the supermarket, where all their food needs were met under one roof.
-1940: Mr. F. Wright, butcher of Goodramgate, York, and Mr. C. N. B. Crombie, solicitor of York, persuaded the last remaining member of The Butcher’s Gild to swear in new members. As a result, the present Gild is able to claim continuous membership from its mediaeval roots. The first Court of the modern Butchers’ Gild was held in 1940 at the Hermitage, Stockton on the Forest.
-1941: The first Feast of the modern Butchers’ Gild was held in the Davy Hall, Davygate on Shrove Tuesday.
-1943: The first new-era Master of the Butchers’ Gild took office.
-1950: The City Council was able to provide The Butchers’ Gild with a suitable hall, appropriately in The Shambles.
-1960s: Business in the older railroad stockyards and city packinghouses declined sharply due to a rise in new packing plants. Unlike the compact, multistory buildings in Chicago, these new plants were sprawling one-story structures with power saws, mechanical knives, and the capacity to quick-freeze meat packaged in vacuum bags. Large refrigerator trucks carried the products over interstate highways to supermarkets.
-1967: U.S. Congress requires states to perform inspection and grading duties in plants selling within state boundaries.
-1970: Chicago’s Union Stock Yard closed.
-1991: The authorities looked for a ‘commercial rent’ for the Butcher’s Hall located in The Shambles. The Butchers’ Gild was unable to match the sum proposed and moved out (although the doorway in the Shambles is still carved with the name ‘Butchers Hall’). The Gild was fortunate in being able to move into, and furnish, the recently renovated ‘Jacob’s Well’ in Trinity Lane, Micklegate.
-2002: During the late 1990’s, the Butchers’ Gild debated and accepted the notion of the entry of Lady Members. (History indicates that this was always acceptable and was particularly applied when a widow continued the running of a business after the loss of her husband). The first three ladies in the modern era were admitted to the Company on Shrove Tuesday, 2002.
-2004: Subscribing membership to the Butchers’ Gild is in the order of eighty persons.
-2004: Butchers once again become important to restaurants when Danny Meyer asks Pat LaFrieda, a third-generation Manhattan meat purveyor, to craft a custom blend of hamburger for his Shake Shack restaurant. The butcher’s name gained so much currency that Keith McNally commissioned a special LaFrieda Black Label made from prime dry-aged cuts that is fashioned into $26 hamburger at his new Minetta Tavern.
-2006: Bill Buford’s article “CARNAL KNOWLEDGE: How I became a Tuscan butcher” is published in the New Yorker, which fashions an operatic meat hero out of Dario Cecchini, a towering, Dante-spouting butcher from the Chianti countryside.
-2009: Quality meat from small producers has started to make a comeback. These farmers do not send their animals to the large processors that dominate the meat industry, creating a demand for butchers. The rise of locally raised meat, and the popularity of so-called off-cuts is causing a rise in the butcher shop.
-2011: The Butcher’s Guild formed and began accepting professional members