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  • Harrison Barber—Horse Slaughterers

    Hi All,

    Harrison Barber, a public company quoted on the stock exchange, were the go-to guys when a horse was to be slaughtered.

    The following is from "The Horse World of London", by William John Gordon [1893] and provides a detailed look at the type of work going on in Winthrop Street on the morning of Polly Nichols' death—

    Very few horses are allowed to end their days in peace, after long and faithful service, like the Duke of Wellington's old charger Copenhagen, in the paddocks at Strathfieldsaye. London horses, in particular, rarely die natural deaths. Many of them are sent back into the country in a vain hope that they will 'come round'; many of them are poleaxed for very shame at their miserable appearance; some of them slip and injure themselves beyond recovery in the streets.

    A dreadful object this of a suffering horse, sprawling in one of our main roads with the usual crowd around it. 'Why cannot he be killed at once? Why must he linger in agony? Quite so, gentle reader, and indignant letter-writer to the daily newspapers, but do not be in a hurry! The driver has no right to order the horse to be killed; it is not his property, but his master's; and before he can give the order the master has to be found, and the master does not, in many cases, care to lose his horse irrevocably, and appeals to his vet.; and so, while the driver is finding his master, and the master is finding his vet., the horse lies suffering in the street. When the needful permission is obtained, a telephone message to Harrison Barber brings the cart on the scene, and within half an hour of that message the horse is not only dead, but being cut up in one of the Harrison Barber depots.

    There are seven of these depots in strategical positions round and in London [18 Queen Victoria Street, E.C.; 186 York Road, N.; Garrett Lane, Wandsworth, SW.; 19, 21 & 23 Winthrop Street, Whitechapel, E.; Westcott Street & Tabard Street, Borough, SE.; 35 Green Street, Blackfriars, SE.] where the carts are kept cleaned and in readiness, tools and all, like fire engines, ready to be turned out and on the way in less than five minutes from the receipt of the call. [my brackets]

    A curious trade is that of the horse-slaughterer, who must not only have a licence, but carry on his operations in accordance with the 26th of George III. and other Acts of Parliament. No horse that enters his yard must come out again alive, or as a horse. The moment it enters those gates it must be disfigured by having its mane cut off so close to the skin as to spoil its value, and though it may be put in a 'pound' on the premises, which might better be called a condemned cell or a moribundary, it must not remain there for more than three days.

    In Garratt Lane, Wandsworth, is the largest horse-slaughtering yard in London. It has existed for about a hundred years. There it stands, practically odour-less, by the banks of the winding Wandle, with a wide meadow in front of it and a firework factory next door, the magazine of which is within measurable distance of its boiler-house. One fine morning - it was really a beautiful morning - we found our way down the lane, along the field, armed with Mr. Ross's permit, to be initiated by Mr. Milestone into the mysteries of a horse's departure from the London world.

    The last scene does not take long. In two seconds a horse is killed; in a little over half an hour his hide is in a heap of dozens, his feet are in another heap, his bones are boiling for oil, his flesh is cooking for cat's meat. Maneless he stands; a shade is put over his eyes; a swing of the axe, and, with just one tremor, he falls heavy and dead on the flags of a spacious kitchen, which has a line of coppers and boilers steaming against two of its walls.

    In a few minutes his feet are hooked up to cross-beams above, and two men pounce upon him to flay him; for the sooner he is ready the quicker he cooks. Slash, slash, go the knives, and the hide is peeled off about as easily as a tablecloth; and so clean and uninjured is the body that it looks like the muscle model we see in the books and in the plaster casts at the corn-chandler's. Then, with full knowledge gained by almost life-long practice, for the trade is hereditary, the meat is slit off with razor-like knives, and the bones are left white and clean and yet unscraped, even the neck vertebrae being cleared in a few strokes - one of the quickest things in carving imaginable.

    If there is any malformation the sweep of the knife is stayed for a moment; that is all. The same sort of thing has always been seen before, and there is no hesitation about the way to deal with it. No matter of what breed or age or condition the horse may be, his 'boning' is not delayed by peculiarities. And horses of all sorts, some of them sound and in the prime of life, here meet their doom - the favourite horse killed at his master's death, to save him from falling into cruel hands; the runaway horse that has injured a daughter; the brute that has begun to kick and bite; the mildest-mannered mare that has, perhaps, merely taken a wrong turn and made her mistress angry - all come here to die with the hundreds of the injured and the old. Taking them all round, the old and young and sound and ailing, they average out in the men's opinion at rather over eleven years when they here meet their doom.

    Soon the bare skeleton remains to be broken up, and in baskets go aloft to be shot into a huge digester, where it is made to yield about a quarter hundredweight of oil. Following the oil, we see it cleared of its stearin, pressed out between huge sheets of paper, and remaining in white cakes like gauffres ready for the candle-makers; and we see the oil flowing limpid and clear into the tank above, from which it is barrelled off to be used eventually for lubricating and leather-dressing purposes.

    Returning to the bones, we find them out on the flags, clean and free from grease, ready to be thrown into a mill, from which they emerge like granite from a stonebreaker, along a sloping cylindrical screen, which sorts the fragments into sizes varying up to half an inch. And stretching away from us are sacks, full to the brim with bones, all in rows like flour-sacks at a miller's, all ready to go off to the manure merchants. And still further following the bones, we find some of them ground to powder and mixed with sulphuric acid to leave the premises as another form of fertiliser.

    Having seen the bones off the premises, we follow the feet, of which we find a huge pile, not a trace of which will be left before the day is out. The skin and hoofs will go to the glue-makers and blue-makers; the bones will go to the button-makers; the old shoes will go to the farrier's and be used over and over again, welded in the fire and hammered on the streets, so that all that is lost of a horseshoe is what rusts or is rubbed off in powder.

    With a glance at the tails and manes, which will soon be lost in sofas, chairs, or fishing-lines, we reach the heap of hides, which will probably find its way to Germany to be made into the leather guards on cavalry trousers, or, maybe, stay in this country for carriage roofs and whip-lashes. This distribution of the dead horse may seem to be an odoriferous business, but the odours are reduced to a minimum by an elaborate ventilating system which draws off all the fumes and emanations into a line of pipes, and passes them over a wide furnace to be burnt, so that none of them reach the outer air.

    But now for the 'meat,' which, cut into such joints as the trade require, has been boiling in the coppers and is now done to a turn, with just the central tint of redness and rawness that suits the harmless, necessary cat, while the 'tripe' is doing white in another copper to suit the palate of the less fastidious dog.

    Harrison Barber, Limited, the successors of the once great Jack Atcheler, dead some thirty years since, kill 26,000 London horses a year. All night and all day the work goes on, this slaying and flaying, and boning and boiling down, and this cooking for feline food. Go to any of their depots between five and six o'clock in the morning, and you will find a long string of the pony traps and hand-carts, harrows and perambulators, used in the wholesale and retail cat's-meat trade. The horse on an average yields 2 cwt. 3 qrs. of meat; 26,000 horses a year means 500 a week, which in its turn means 70 tons of meat per week to feed the dogs and cats of London.

    This is not all the 'meat' that is sold, nor all the London horses that are killed, for the horseflesh trade is large enough to employ thirty wholesale salesmen; but taking even this ten tons a day, we shall find it means 134,400 meals, inasmuch as a pound of meat cuts up into half a dozen ha'porths - the skewers being given in, though it takes half a ton of them to fix up a day's consumption. Here is another item for the forest conservation people! 182½ tons of deal used a year in skewering up the horses made into meat by Harrison Barber!

    Sometimes there is a glut of the aged and the maimed, and the supply of meat exceeds the demand. To cope with this difficulty a complete refrigerating plant is at work at Wandsworth, cooling the larders, in which two hundred and fifty horses can be stored; which larders are not only a revelation, but a welcome surprise.

    A door is opened and shut, and we stand in the darkness between two doors in an air lock; the inner door is opened and a shiver of cold runs through us as a match is struck and a candle lighted; and there front is what looks like a deep cave in an arctic drift. Around us are piles of meat, all hard as stone and glittering with ice crystals; overhead, and at the back of all, the beams and walls are thick with pure clinging snow; and from above a few flakes fall as the door closes on the silvery cloak that wraps the last to leave the Horse World of London.



  • #2
    Hi Simon

    Thanks, Simon. Suzi Hanney covered the topic of the slaughter of working horses in her article "Poor Ginger" in Ripperologist 101, April 2009. Some of the material you quote was also quoted by her in her piece.

    All the best

    Christopher T. George, Lyricist & Co-Author, "Jack the Musical" Hear sample song at

    Organizer, RipperCon #JacktheRipper-#True Crime Conferences, April 2016 and 2018.
    Hear RipperCon 2016 & 2018 talks at


    • #3
      Hi Chris,

      I haven't yet got around to reading Rip 101, so my apologies to Suzi Hanney. I had no intention of stealing her thunder.




      • #4
        Originally posted by Simon Wood View Post
        Hi Chris,

        I haven't yet got around to reading Rip 101, so my apologies to Suzi Hanney. I had no intention of stealing her thunder.


        No problem whatsoever, Simon. I didn't think you did have that intent, but just wanted to point out that Suzi had covered the topic of horse slaughterers in the current issue of Ripperologist. She even shows a photograph of the ornate monument (with a horse on it) of the late (by 1888) leading London horse slaughterer Jack Atcheler. As you say, "Harrison Barber, Limited, [were] the successors of the once great Jack Atcheler, dead some thirty years since. . . ."

        All the best

        Christopher T. George, Lyricist & Co-Author, "Jack the Musical" Hear sample song at

        Organizer, RipperCon #JacktheRipper-#True Crime Conferences, April 2016 and 2018.
        Hear RipperCon 2016 & 2018 talks at


        • #5
          I came across this image (now on post 8) recently and thought I should share it. It shows a group of working men outside the Fortune of War pub at 184, York Road, Islington. What makes it interesting is that the premises next door (186 York Road) was the office of John Atcheler's slaughter yard. When Atcheler died, the yard was taken over by John Harrison. Over in Whitechapel, Atcheler's equivalent was William Monk. Monk died in 1856 and left his business to his assistant, William Barber. When the two firms merged, creating Harrison Barber, they had an effective monopoly on the horse slaughter business in London.

          James Greenwood wrote about a visit to the pub in 1874:

          " In the shadow of the slaughter-yard is a public-house-a house of call for the poleaxe men and those who, with a hook to catch fast hold, and an enormous knife, denude the worn-out horses' bones of the little flesh that remains attached to them.

          They are terrible looking fellows, these honest horse slaughterers. They seem rather to cultivate than avoid stains of a crimson colour; and they may be seen at the bar of the public-house before-mentioned, merry as sandboys, haw-hawing in the true and original "fee-fo-fum" tone, drinking pots of beer with red hands and with faces that look as though they had been swept with a sanguinary hearth-broom."


          • #6
            Your picture needs to be re-sized Gary.


            • #7


              • #8
                Thanks Debs, Phillip. I'm useless at this stuff. I have already alerted How to my cock-up.

                Great picture, though, don't you think?

                I got it from Historic England and they date it to the 1880s. The landlord of the pub, Charles Ritson, had moved on by 1886.


                Click image for larger version

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Gary Barnett View Post
                  Great picture, though, don't you think?
                  Great pic.. ... looks like working class attitude stance!


                  • #10
                    The two on the right look to me like they've been brushed with Greenwood's 'sanguinary hearth broom'.

                    I've posted this link before but it's a particular favourite so I'll do so again:


                    • #11
                      Glad I wasn't eating when I read that!


                      • #12
                        Unless you're a vegetarian or don't have a dog or cat, you will be eating or feeding Fluffy something done in pretty much the same way.
                        Best Wishes,
                        Cris Malone
                        "Objectivity comes from how the evidence is treated, not the nature of the evidence itself. Historians can be just as objective as any scientist."


                        • #13
                          Nearby Stanmore Street in the 1850s:

                          TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.

                          Sir,- I have read the letter of "Clericus" in your journal of to-day, and I could not conceive that any, excepting either a proprietor of the horse slaughter-house, or one of the Patent Manure Company, would maintain for a moment that these nuisances could be otherwise than injurious to health. I can only meet his statements with facts within my own experience.

                          I have resided in Stanmore-street, Caledonian-road, for the last three years, and I must stay another twelvemonth, if I should survive so long in this filthy and offensive atmosphere. The evil has gradually increased until the effect is clearly showing itself by the desertion of the inhabitants of the surrounding neighbourhood, and if it is possible (which I do not believe) that no actual disease has arisen, it produces nausea and vomiting to many people, of whom I am one, for on four recent occasions on my return home in the evening from the city, when the stench has been more suffocating than usual, I have positively vomited in the gutter in the Caledonian-road. On several occasions two of my children, aged respectively 4 and 6, while playing in the back garden, have come indoors and complained about these smells, which often produced retching, and their health, as well as my own, has been materially affected by those nuisances; and, without pretending to any medical knowledge, it strikes me that an atmosphere which causes nausea and sickness must be prejudicial to health, and that Nature herself indicates that one cannot breathe it with impunity, and it is a positive fact, as stated by one of the correspondent on this subject, that "It has a most deleterious effect upon the health of those who live within the area of its malign influence, rendering their very food unwholesome. Apologising for the length of my letter,

                          I have the honours be, Sir,

                          Your most obedient servant,

                          THOMAS WATERS. 30, Stanmore-street, Caledonian-road, Sept. 28, 1855


                          • #14
                            From The Agricultural Gazette, 1873:

                            HORSE SLAUGHTER ON A BIG SCALE

                            The horse-slaughtering establishment of the Messrs John, Harrison and Co., Belle Isle, York Road, London N., is one of the best-conducted emporiums of art and commerce in the British capital. There are, no doubt, a thousand and one horrible ideas yet associated with the 'knacker's cauldron', but J. H. And Co. have got nearly a score of cauldrons, 300 galls. each, in playing mood daily, and there is nothing about them calculated to irritate the nervous system of the most sensitive. The several departments are so organised that from 30 to 40 horses daily, or about 10,000 annually, are disposed of before there is time for the generation of anything offensive in the process. To give the horse-breeding reader a practical idea of this particular branch of 'British industry' it will be necessary to enter upon special details. The establishment is patronised by her Majesty; in other words the Messrs John Harrison & Co. have the honour of being horse slaughterers to our Most Gracious Sovereign Queen Victoria. Many a noble animal finds its finale in Belle Isle, and a very fitting finale it is, for there everything is disposed of in accordance with the demands of advanced art and science, as the sequel will show. Old or worn-out horses are bought by the Company, and animals that die or are slaughtered at home to prevent death naturally under disease are brought to the establishment in dead-horse carcase conveyances. The Company have a large stable with a fine stud of horses, and a carriage department with conveyances adjoining: horses thus enter the gates of the establishment, some dead, others alive, but the majority by conveyances. The Company, however, when ordered, send slaughterers to the Queen's and other stables, so that they maintain the designation of horse slaughterers. Over the gateway is written the significant announcement, "No admittance save on business." The entrance is about 30 yards or so off York Road, approached by a roadway, with a foot pavement either side. The roadway is set with small cubes set in cement, sanded over and kept as clean as the entrance to her Majesty's stables at Buckingham Palace. The whole of the yard, stables &c., are paved in a similar way with patent impervious cubes set in cement, with a considerable inclination to the gutters and gratings, and as the supply of water is ample from the mains the several departments are kept remarkably clean and sweet. On the left of the entrance is the slaughter-house (or, as it might more appropriately be termed, the "dissecting room"). The conveyances, as they arrive, back in, and by means of tackle the dead horse is in a position for dissection. Two were in this position when we entered - one on the right hand and the other on the left. Half-a- dozen had been operated on before then, whose bones were outside on their way to the "bone department". After the skin is removed the carcase is unboned, i.e., the flesh is removed from the bones. The workmen do this with great ease and rapidity. The skin forms one saleable commodity, the tail and mane hair form a second, and the feet a third. All of these as they are removed go to their respective destinations. As the flesh is removed from the bones it is thrown into a heap for the cauldron. The legs, thighs and shoulders are removed, but the ribs remain adhering to the back bone, so that a dozen skeletons in a group have a very business like appearance. At the further end of the slaughterhouses are two large cauldrons, capable of holding upwards of 300 gals. each. One had been emptied, the other was full of cat's and dog's meat being cooked to perfection. A stalwart cook was stirring up the contents of the cauldron with a large fork, and by the time we left, the cauldron was being emptied and the contents spread upon the floor to cool, and when cooled, the cat's and dog's meat was removed for sale. Sufficient raw flesh was ready to fill one, if not both, cauldrons; and so the work goes on in this department day after day, and week after week, about 10,000 horses being annually thus disposed of.

                            The process of separating the oil from the bones and of preparing the former for soap manufacture and for harness and the latter for the manure manufacturer, is slower, and hence a greater number of cauldrons is required. In one cauldron the oil or fat was cool and nearly of the consistency of butter in the warm months of summer time. Not a few house dames in this great metropolis do not hesitate to say that a large supply of London butter is derived from this source? Doubtless many very unlikely things in these days of piping progress turn out to be too true; but, without going into such a controversy, suffice it to say that the Messrs John Harrison and Co. have not yet begun to make butter. The fat being free from rancidity and of the best quality, they find a ready market for it as above. The bones are never allowed to lie about and stink as in butchers shops and slaughter houses, so that being used fresh daily there is no disagreeable smell in an apartment containing some eight or twelve cauldrons at work in all stages of the operation. The bones come out very white and porous, being only fit for manure, and for this they find a ready sale.

                            We now come to the large stable or covered shed containing the live horses awaiting slaughter. They were of all sorts, large and small, from thorough-breds to the clumsy cart-horse, large and small, some in pretty good condition but lame beyond cure, others skin and bones, not a few had evidently seen better days as carriage and saddle horses in the upper ranks of life. But when the best of horses begin to lose caste they go down hill rapidly, eventually finding their way to this place, for if a carman or a costermonger cannot turn them in to more money in the metropolitan horse market, there is always a ready daily market at Belle Isle. The great demand for cat's and dog's meat enables the company to use up nearly all the offal along with the flesh, which otherwise they would have to send to another department, there to be utilised for a less profitable market. In short, the hide, hair, feet, cat's and dog's meat, fat and manure are saleable articles and into these the horse is turned.


                            • #15
                              An Old Friend

                              From The Era, November 28, 1869.

                              What makes it even more interesting is that involves our old mate PC 26Y R, Amos Simpson.

                              Edit: I think 26Y R at the time was a P.C. Alfred Alcock

                              At the Clerkenwell Police-court, Mr Charles Ritson of the Fortune of War, York Road, Islington, was summoned last Tuesday before Mr Cooke, for unlawfully opening his house for the sale of wine, beer and other distilled liquors, before the hour of one on Sunday, the 11th inst., the same not being for the refreshment of travellers or lodgers therein.

                              Mr Ricketts, solicitor, attended on behalf of the defendant, and pleaded not guilty.

                              Police constable 26 Y reserve deposed that on Sunday the 14th of this month, at about half-past ten in the morning, he was on duty near the defendant's house, and saw the defendant serving some men with beer at the side window. From 10 to 10.45 the defendant served seventeen persons with beer and spirits. He also saw a gallon bottle placed out of the window, and given to one of the men employed at a horse slaughterer's at the end of whose yard the defendant's house is situate. The man who took the bottle paid for the beer. He went and asked the defendant why he had served persons with beer, and he said he had not done so excepting to those who were travellers.

                              In cross-examination by Mr Ricketts, the constable stated that he did not go to the window and asked to be served. The defendant did not ask him or his companions if they were travellers. He was sure that neither he nor his brother constable asked to be served. The window that the persons were served from was in the open street, and the house was near the cattle station of the North London Railway. He was sure that several of the men who were served worked in Atcheler's yard, and he knew them as being about the neighbourhood. The greater number of the persons who were served were not persons who had come with the cattle trains. The defendant did not say that he had asked all who were served if they were travellers. He was aware that there were some cattle trains in the station at the time, and that an inspector or a sergeant of police attended there to grant licences for the removal of the cattle. The defendant had had the house about two years, and this was the first time he had been summoned. All the drink that the defendant sold was drunk in the streets. He knew that some of the persons who were about the house were drovers.

                              Another police-constable was called, and corroborated the previous witness, but upon being cross-examined, he said that instead of knowing that six or seven of the men that were served came from Atcheler's yard, he only knew that one came from there. He was sure that money was paid for the beer that was taken away in the bottle.

                              Mr Ricketts for the defence, made strong complaints that the police had not fairly stated the facts of the case, but had exaggerated them for the purpose of obtaining a conviction. One of the constables had stated that seven of the men who were served had come from Atcheler's, whilst the other had stated that only one came from there. He was not there to deny that a bottle was given out to one man that came from Atcheler's, but that contained beer, which was given to these men every Sunday because they called up the defendant every morning at an early hour. To show the bona fides of the defendant, he had to call the attention of the magistrate to the fact that none was served inside the house. The defendants served none but travellers, and those travellers were mostly persons who came with trains which brought up foreign cattle from Thames Haven. Holyhead, and other ports. The defendant was anxious to keep within the terms of the law, and when the Magistrate had heard the witnesses he should call, he should ask him with confidence to dismiss the summons.

                              A witness living at Tilbury, and who came up with the cattle train from that place on the day in question, proved that he went to the window of the defendant's house, and saw some persons served who had also come up by the train, and who had been engaged with the cattle all night. He also heard the two constables go up to the window and ask to be served, and the defendant refused to serve them. He did not hear the witnesses say they were constables.

                              Mr Ricketts said that the inspectors of the district were in attendance, who could prove that the house was well conducted and had never before been summoned. The theory of the police that the men who were served came from Atcheler's must be wrong, for they would not want to be served at the window if they took beer up to the slaughter-houses.

                              Mr Cooke said after the decision that had been given in the court above on the traveller question, which decided that the onus was upon the police to show that persons served were not travellers, he must dismiss the case. He thought the Act in question was nearly abortive.