A glimpse via Winchester into the dealings of the medieval town butchers.
First of all obtain your meat. The butchers of Winchester would sometimes buy their meat on the hoof from local suppliers and see to it being brought into town. On other occasions they would await the drovers, who had purchased the beasts further afield and driven them to market. Sometimes the drovers would fatten the livestock in crofts and fields in the suburbs before taking them into the city for slaughter.
In Winchester, it’s not entirely clear where the meat was slaughtered, but circumstantial evidence and educated guesses suggest that it was done in the garden plots owned by the butchers in Fleshmonger street, and there is also the likelihood that some beasts were slaughtered in the busy High Street itself. By custom all the bulls in the city were to be baited before being slaughtered. This was for the purposes of popular entertainment and was echoed in towns throughout the country. Many places still have areas called The Bull Ring. At one stage the mayors of the city actually had the bulls baited outside their houses. On some feast occasions, daughters were required to lend their own dogs to bait the bulls of others. Butchers were often fined for allowing their dogs to wander and there seems to have been a fixed time of day when the dogs were allowed out. Before and after this fixed time, the dogs had to be kept indoors were chained up.
In the 14th century in Winchester, two meat inspectors were elected from among the town butchers. Their primary duty seems to have been to inspect pork, which was particularly liable to infestation. There is a record of one of their presentations, concerning the sale of a leprous pig. A century later, their brief had expanded to cover the inspection of all meat, including the foul and insanitary beef that had been sold by one William Sequence . They had also to see that all butchers took their pig carcasses to the scalding house. Great care was also taken to ensure that butchers sold their meat fresh and there was a time limit of three days after slaughtering, beyond which meat could not be sold. Which again is interesting. Did people take it home and hang it further to tenderise it?
There were frequent court cases concerned with the waste from the butchers’ trade. Butchers were often taken to court for throwing blood or bloody water onto the public ground in the High Street. In 1429 Henry Coupre and his servants washed tubs and bowls full of the blood of pigs and other beasts at the new common well, and caused the water to lie in the High Street.
Disposing of offal and entrails was another problem. They were supposed to be disposed of by running water and there was an appointed place in Colebrook Street where this had to be done. Entrails had to be cut up small to avoid impeding the flow of water. Offal being carried to the tipping place had to be covered. Many butchers could not be bothered to carry their offal the 600 yards to the stream (they were not allowed to take a shortcut through the cathedral cemetery) and dumped it either in the cathedral cemetery or a nearby stream.
In Winchester, beef, mutton, and pork were sold in considerable quantity, with the likelihood that pork and mutton were the most frequently consumed.
What excellent material for inspiration! I can just imagine a gruesome medieval mystery where the pile of remains in the cathedral cemetery turns out to be non animal!
Sources: A Survey of Medieval Winchester by Derek Keane