The Cat and Dogs’ Meat shop

The Cat and Dogs’ Meat shop

Some of my readers are probably familiar with Wolfgang Suschitzky’s photograph The Cat and Dogs Meat Shop. That was the actual name of the shop! What’s interesting is I always assumed it was on Bishops Bridge Road in Paddington, as official sources claim. Even the Tate Gallery’s pages on Suschitzky’s work state it was located on Bishops Bridge Road. Suschitzky’s photograph was published in 1998, so it’s possible he mixed up the location with another. Cat and dog meat shops may be uncommon in the UK these days, but not in other countries. A cat and dog meat shop would have been a once common sight in the UK. The fact there isn’t any these days is not because cats and dogs have suddenly taken up a vegetarian vow, but rather its the proliferation of tinned and other convenience pet foods.

The Cat and Dog Meat Shop was located near the intersection of Harrow Road and Clarendon Crescent. The narrow profile of the building was not caused by a railway running behind it (as some speculated, on Bishops Bridge Road), but by the Grand Union Canal itself.

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Wolfgang Suschitzky’s famous Cat and Dog Meat shop photograph, 1935. Official sources say 1934 but I put it as 1935 because of the films advertised on the posters. The only source who seems to have got the location right is this Twitter account.

Photographs do show the Cat and Dog Meat shop with public conveniences and a trolley bus route. The former were sited almost at the actual road junction itself whilst the trolleybus route was the 662 to Sudbury (now replaced by bus 18.)

One might wonder why these structures were so narrow. There appears to be no indication of how this occurred. The only reason could be that the road layout had already been established, and because of the slope down from the bridge (it was known as Lock Bridge at the time because it was almost adjacent to the Lock Hospital – which were pulled down many years ago), the junction had to be as level as possible, leaving a tiny sliver of land between the road and the canal. Clearly some saw it as a potential development opportunity! The buildings were clearly established here by the late 19th Century as evidenced by this map at the National Library of Scotland.

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Map I did showing location of the Cat and Dogs Meat shop (marked by a small red rectangle) off Harrow Road. The Devonshire pub should of course read Devonshire Castle pub! Not that it matters!

I would think these very narrow buildings at least had some overhang above the canal towpath. If one looks at the wall on the left side of the Cat and Dog Meat shop, its clear this is the boundary wall. The Cat and Dog Meat shop however can clearly be seen to extend perhaps three feet to the rear of that boundary wall, thus there must have been a steel structure of sorts that extended these properties’ footprint somewhat over the canal towpath. Similarly if one looks at the other pictures (that for example looking towards Harrow Road and the Lock Hospital) one can also see the next shop towards Harrow Road too extends beyond that boundary wall.

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The Cat and Dog Meat shop in Clarendon Crescent – bricked up by the time this photograph was taken, probably late fifties. The canal is right behind the premises. Source: Pinterest

It is said many cat and dogs meat sellers were quite poor. Many traded from a wheelbarrow or perhaps had a peg board on a wall from which hung various offerings of meat for one’s household pets. A few even had shops but these were not any sort of exquisite premises. They were often spartan. No surprise our example had rented the tinniest shop that could be available in practically the whole of London!

And what was it they were selling? It was horse meat. It was a plentiful supply no doubt made so by the huge number of horses that fell by the wayside or expired through sheer hard work toiling the city’s streets to serve the requirements of humanity. Twas quite a sordid business if you ask me, for it required 26,000 horse a year to feed London’s cat population. (Don’t forget the dogs haven’t been fed yet!)

If you want the dogs included, well that meant 46,000 or so horses in total for the chop. Something like an extra 20,000 equines for an estimated dog population of around 150,000. What happened in general is when a horse died it was dispatched to a knackers’ yard and it was the knacker who sold off chunks of carved stuff to the cat and dog meat seller. If one thinks about it, the methodology is quite similar to how humans procure their meat, the only difference being horses died from some factor of work or old age whereas for humans, the cows, sheep, chicken and the likes, were reared in managed conditions and then killed in order to become the prize offering on a human’s dinner plate.

What a cats’ meat seller sold was meat to cats. To be specific, it was horse meat that the seller acquired from horse slaughterers, known as knackers. In the 1860s, it was estimated there were 300,000 cats in London alone. To feed this multitude of cats, it was ‘stated that 26,000 horses, maimed, or past work, [were] slaughtered and cut up each year to feed … household pets,’ and because it was a highly profitable business, it also involved some 1,000 cats’ meat sellers. (Source: Geri Walton.)

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Looking towards Harrow Road. Cat and Dog Meat on the right. These buildings must have hardly been worth their use since they’re extremely narrow! Source: Pinterest

Oft times poor people would buy cat and dog’s meat for consumption simply because it was so much cheaper than the proper sort of meat humans generally like to have. It could well have been a possible sideline this particular shop in Clarendon Crescent had because the whole area about it was full of poor people living in overcrowded, run down houses.

Some unscrupulous sellers did in fact flog off meat intended for cats or dogs as a cheap sausage filling thus th meat intended for canines or felines ended up in human stomachs! Not only that it has been known too that sausages were in fact made from either dog or cat meat!

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How cat and dogs’ meat finds it way into sausages…. Source: Google Books

The British sausage has always been a mystery to us, and a mystery we have felt no inclination to go into. The British sausage has, in our eyes – for we have usually kept it out of our mouth – been a compound, in which our imagination has pictured the possibility of those who have led literally a ‘cat and dog life’, being blended together at last in silent union. Source: Google Books

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A variation on the previous picture by the same photographer. Cat and Dog Meat shop just out of sight on right. Source: Pinterest

The above three photographs were said to have been taken by Bernard Selwyn although they could too have been taken by John Gay. Despite running searches on the Internet I have no idea of verification of these pictures for either photographer.

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Clarendon Crescent in 1960. The houses on the right have by this time been demolished. Those extant on the right would soon go. The pub on the right is the Devonshire Castle. Assume this photograph is by John Gay. Source: Pinterest

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Approximately the same view today! One would never know there had once been a road junction and a Cat and Dogs Meat shop!

Similar perspective as seen on Google Streets.

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The same location in 1960 this time definitely by John Gay. Its a good record of how the road veered away from the Grand Union Canal in order to enable larger properties to be established, rather than the ultra narrow profile offered by the first few premises including the Cat and Dogs Meat shop. The view too shows the public conveniences that once existed here as well as the road leading towards St Mary Magdalene’s church. That still exists by the way. Source: Historic England

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Clarendon Crescent’s junction area showing things in a rather different light during 1964. The new council blocks at Westbourne Green have gone up The first block seen is Wilcote House) and St Mary Magdalene church is no longer visible. Assume the Cat and Dog Meat shop is still there (out of sight) all bricked up.

By the time the redevelopment hereabouts had been implemented and the Westway (A40M) built, many of these locations alongside the Grand Union Canal or the Great Western Railway had been consigned to the past, including the Cat and Dogs’ meat shop. Today the actual site is a small grassy patch overlooking the Grand Union Canal.

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The grassy patch that was once the Cat and Dogs’ Meat shop!

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View of the Cat and Dogs Meat shop looking towards the canal bridge and Harrow Road. The bridge was once known as Lock bridge but these days its Westbourne Green bridge.

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View looking long the canal towpath towards Westbourne Green bridge. The rear of the Cat and Dogs Meat shop would have been about where the wall bends to follow the towpath. Its not the same wall these days however!

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The Cat and Dogs Meat shop would have been immediately on the right (and probably overhanging the towpath by several feet or so.) Wilcote house can be seen, its one of the sixties built tower blocks built to replace the Victorian houses that were once numerous in this part of London.

Fascinating in depth blog on the cat and dog meat trade.