I was brought up on a mixed farm, in lower Furness, and subsequently moved to Grange-over-Sands on Morecambe Bay. When I was 13, I started as a Saturday lad in Asplins Butchers, where I worked in one of the few remaining shops, where you could train to be a Master Butcher. They had a small abattoir and Edwardian butchers shop, still retaining the cash office at the back of the shop. The training I received here encompassed the whole food chain. I trained as a slaughter man, with some farming and butchery. Some of the expertise I learnt at Asplins was hanging and maturing, bacon curing on a slate slab, plucking and dressing game birds, rabbits and hares from local shoots . This was my grounding to what has now become the artisanal butchery skill, which I’ve become renowned for.
After Asplins I went to work for James Fisher & Son in Barrow-in-Furness. This was a high-class market stall in a very working class town. While there I learnt a totally different form of butchery. Having been there for a couple of years, I went to work at, what can only be described as a bottom of the market, a shop called Leming’s Butchers. Cows, ewes and sows, also added value pork butchery; pies, sausages, potted meat and much more. Once again this taught me another completely different butchery style.
From Leming’s I went back to Barrow Market, at the age of 20, to run my own stall. At this point, my uncle Thomas bought for me economically viable produce, which included British Friesian Barren heifers and Herdwick Barren ewes. After some years of trading, I started to supply Lake District Hotels, in a time where quality had been overtaken by price. Interesting times.
After this period I went through the disaster that was BSE. It was very challenging for all meat and farming businesses, to say the least. Followed by the foot and mouth outbreaks. This struck home as my cousin was culled out a bit too close for comfort.
As it was my ambition from a very small boy to follow my grandad and his son, my uncle Thomas, into farming the fatherly advice given to me, when being asked, what you going to do when you grow up, my reply was ‘be a farmer like you uncle Thomas’. His instant reply was ‘ do you have £350 000?’ my reply ‘don’t be stupid, of course I haven’t’. And his reply set me on the course of a career in the meat trade. His words were ‘go in the meat trade and make some money, and then start farming’. Wise man. Which I subsequently did.
My first foray into the metropolis of London was during a BBC Radio 4 program, which looked at helping farmers to add value to their animals by selling at farmers markets. As part of the program, I had to go the now famous Borough Market. I took 2 Herdwick lambs with me. This set me on the route to living in Cumbria and trading in London every weekend, some 600 mile round trip. I then was getting regular inquiries from restaurants which I rebuffed having had the negative experience of supplying catering establishments in the Lake District. Eventually, I succumb to the constant requests and started to supply the wonderful Herdwick sheep and Galloway beef.
During the difficult period of recession, I ceased trading in Borough Market and returned to Cumbria to continue trading at home. I have subsequently become an irregular tutor at the School Of Artisan Food and I am about to return to Borough Market to teach butchery there this Autumn 2014, whilst still continuing the butchery in Cumbria.
During my time in Borough Market, I have done many TV and Radio Programmes, and newspaper articles. I suspect I was selected for these programs due to my obsessive interest and knowledge in meat, food and farming. And maybe just a little because I am of strong opinions and a little northern too.
Having built a reputation as a leading expert in the artisanal end of meat, food and farming this sets me in good stead to pass on my knowledge, whether it will be through a piece of meat, being the centre of a fantastic meal, or expounding my knowledge to a group of like minded foodies or industry insiders.