Meating the town’s needs

Brighton is now regarded by many as the vegetarian capital of the UK, but ’twas not always thus. In 1848, Brighton had a staggering 54 slaughter houses: Animals slaughtered in that year alone numbered 51,623 sheep; 5,720 beasts; 4,160 calves and 3,120 pigs; 1,097,196 stone of meat was consumed in the town annually.

The abattoirs included four in Henry St, two each in Chesterfield, Paradise and Chapel streets and Essex Place; three each in Colebrook Row and Oxford St; six in Air St; four in Church St; four in North Lane and Zion Gardens; seven in Vine St (next to Robert St); and one each in Egremont St, Mount St, Park St, Colebrook Row, Telegraph St, Crescent Cottages, Upper Bedford St, Trafalgar St, Hart St, Little Russell St and Meeting House Lane. One of the biggest was the one in Oxford Court, between Oxford St and Oxford Place; cattle were herded to this site from the station down Trafalgar St, along London Rd. In 1849, the government appointed a commissioner, Edward Cresy, to investigate Brighton’s health. In his subsequent report, Cresy made repeated references to the abattoirs and the problems caused by the animal waste, which usually ended up in cesspools. These then contaminated the wells which provided water for the local population, resulting in epidemics of typhoid, cholera, scarlet fever and tuberculosis. Cresy said, ‘Nothing is more injurious or ought to be deprecated more than that custom of keeping pigs to devour the offal of a butcher’s slaughterhouse’.

In June 1894, all the North Laine abattoirs closed and slaughtering transferred to the Brighton Municipal Abattoir, Hollingdean. This was built so that, post-Cresy, the abattoirs in poor residential areas could be closed. Nearly 7,000 animals were handled in the first year and, by 1928, the figure had risen to some 34,400 animals, with only 11 other slaughterhouses remaining; there have been no independent abattoirs in Brighton since 1936. The Hollingdean site included a special casting pen for slaughter according to Jewish ritual and, by the late 60s, granted a license to a Muslim ritual slaughterer. Business would start at 6am and end at 1pm but, for many years, private butchers and their staff carried out the work, sometimes late into the evening.

In the 1950s, two slaughtering contractors, the Brighton & Hove Meat Traders Ltd and the Fatstock Marketing Corporation Ltd, both meat wholesalers, were based at the abattoir. In 1949, nearly 50,000 cows and sheep were slaughtered there. In the 50s and 60s, the number of cattle decreased but, in 1959 alone, over 80,000 sheep and pigs were killed there. ‘Humane’ slaughtering of animals was adopted by Brighton in 1922, 11 years before it became compulsory throughout the UK. The public abattoir was closed in 1986, after repeatedly failing to meet hygiene standards.