14th March 1914. Decline of the retail butcher.

The butchers J.H. Dewhurst Ltd were in most British High Streets. However they were no ordinary butchers as they were founded Liverpool, in 1897, by the Vestey meat empire involved in importing refrigerated meat from Argentina.

So the cosy High Street shops were part of a big meat empire, with Dewhursts also owning the Bristol butchers, Eastman and James Nelson, who had 60 shops in the early 1900s.


The Queen Mother at the Royal Show, Kenilworth, July 1970.



However then war loomed, and by Today in 1914, the Chairman of Eastman Ltd., J.J. Thompson in his Annual Report was reporting: ‘The higher cost of meat has brought about the closing of a good many retail shops all over the country.’ (1)



Early butchers with the window well stocked.



It was back in 1882 when a George Drabble returned to Britain after 20 years in The Argentine, after a career in railways, and banking and the founding of the River Plate Meat Co., in London.

He then engaged a British engineer to set up a freezing works in Argentina in 1883, and initiated the export of frozen meat, with ships of 7,000 carcasses of mutton on the SS Meath.

The company had 440 butchers’ shops and joined James Nelson Ltd., to form British & Argentine Meat Co in 1914. This was acquired by Vestey in 1923 to go with his other companies including, W.&R.Fletcher, Argentine Meat Company, Eastmans Dewhurst and later The Empire Meat Co. (2)

In the meantime in World War I, the Family had bought a title from Prime Minister, Lloyd-George, by donations to the Liberal Party, and even conspired to reduce taxation on the business.(3)

After WWII Ronald Vestey wanted a corporate image and chose the Dewhurst name as the brand, later adding Master Butcher to the title, after more home killed meat became available.

However came indebtedness and Nemesis when in 1995, Union International, the core of Vestey’s  Family  Empire went into Receivership. All was not lost as Vesty money moved into fruit, becoming, among other things, the biggest importer of bananas, thus proving the indissolubility of wealth and business acumen.


A collectors’ item.

However the Dewhurst name lived on, but in 2006 The BBC News Online Channel reported that Dewhursts had gone into administration, closing 60 shops on Monday 27th March. The West Country retail butchers, Lloyd Maunder had bought the company from a private equity company only a year before(4)

F.J.P. Maunder had started a meat processing business at Witheridge, Devon in 1879, opening butchers shops in 1886 and were one of the first suppliers to Sainsburys.(5)

The Dewhurst brand was acquired, along with many others, in 2011, by a company called Brand Collar. A sad end.

(1) Eastman closed 500 shops at the beginning of WWI owing to shortage of men and meat. Traditionally butchers’ shops were windowless until glass was introduced by Dewhursts.

(2) Others were R.C. Hammett (London) and Roberts in South Wales.

(3a) Lloyd-George sold many honours, graded according to title rank.

(3b )In fact the Vesteys were great avoiders of tax, being an international company.

(4) Independent butchers at that time represented only 13.8% valued at 5.4 billion of the retail market market (Meat livestock Commission).

(5)  Maunders moved near to the Great Western Railway at Willand near Exeter. The business expanded inter-war, but early in WWII suffered through rationing, but was helped by the nearness of local producers.

(5b) In 1958 chicken processing became important to Maunders, and in January 2008 this was sold to 2 Sisters Food Group, but they retained ‘View Site‘, a chain of shops in the West Country.

Ref: Flickr.Com/ Butchers’ Shops once seen on the High Streets.

Ref: Argentine Meat & British Markets. Simon Gabriel Hanson 1938.

Ref: Ref: Retail Trading in Britain 1850-1950, A Study of Trends in Retailing. James B Jeffereys. P191 CUP 2011.

Ref: Heirs and Disgraces, Guardian.com. Wednesday, 11.8.1999.

Ref: flickrhwemind.net. Pic of Queen Mother.

Ref: diecastbox.blogspot. Lledo Vanguard.com. 1998. Pic of van.

Ref; googleimages/Pics of Dewhursts.

Ref: Norman Finnemore. flickr. History of Meat Trade.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

One response to “14th March 1914. Decline of the retail butcher.”

  1. norman finnimore says :

    Very good potted history of the Vestey group of butchers,

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