History of Guernsey Butchers

Sources for researching ancestors in the Meat Trade

Many of the sources for researching butcher ancestors in the Channel Islands are much the same across England and Wales, with a few notable exceptions. As with all genealogical research, the first place to start is with the births, deaths and marriages.

Births, Deaths & Marriages

Since the introduction of civil registration in 1837, the standard forms have recorded the father's occupation on births, the individual's occupation on death, and marriages often recorded the occupations of both spouses and their fathers. Before that, the using the parish registers to trace baptisms, marriages and burials, it can be more hit or miss. The quality and quantity of information recorded depends largely on the personal style of the vicar.


The censuses, taken every 10 years since 1841, will reveal the occupation of an ancestor. Often butchers were just listed as Butcher plain and simple - however, this can often obscure the true nature of his work. Before the advent of refrigeration in the early 20th century, the butcher would be involved in the whole process from purchasing the live animals from the farmer, fattening them for market, slaughtering them, then butchering them into cuts for market, right through to running the market stall.

Therefore occupations related to the meat trade could include Master Butcher, Journeyman Butcher, Slaughterman, Cattle Dealer, Pork Butcher, Butcher's Apprentice, Butcher's Labourer, Butcher's Porter or Butcher's Boy. Butcher's wives sometimes appear as either Butcher's wife or Butcheress.

Trade Directories

William Foote

The next best source for confirming the occupation of an ancestor is through Trade Directories. These have a number of advantages over the census. Firstly, they are accessible for the whole of the 20th century as well as the 19th. They also have the advantage of being able to easily see the names of all butchers working in a particular town or market, something it is not possible to do with the census. However directories usually just list the names of the market stall holder or shopkeeper, and would not include the names of his staff.

It is also worth searching through the advertisements section of the directories, as there may be an additional details there (see example). You can find these in local record offices - and some are now available online at sites such as the University of Leicester's Historical Directories site.

Apprenticeship Records

Between 1710-1811, all master craftsmen, including butchers, were obliged to pay a tax to the Inland Revenue on income from Apprenticeship indentures. This collection has been indexed by the Society of Genealogists, and available at the National Archives in Kew (for further details see their Research Guide "Apprenticeship Records as Sources for Genealogy"). The index is now available online from British Origins. These indentures recorded the name of the apprentice, the name and occupation of his father, and the name and occupation of the Master to whom he was being apprenticed. (The tax did not apply in the Channel Islands, so there would be no details there).

The Overseers of the Poor had a responsibility for ensuring orphans and other children living in Workhouses learnt a trade, so details of apprenticeships arranged by them can be found in the parish chest at County Record Offices. In Guernsey, the equivalent was the Town and Country Hospitals, whose archives record the same thing.

Guilds and City Livery Companies

Up until the middle of the 18th Century, craftsmen's guilds fulfilled an important role in the regulation of the meat trade, ensuring that all butchers had served an apprenticeship and had the necessary skills to carry out their trade.

In London, a butcher had to be recognised by the Worshipful Company of Butchers in order to practise his trade in the city up until the middle of the 19th century. For more details, recommended reading is "The Butchers of London" by Philip Jones (Secker & Warburg 1976). The records of the Workshipful Company of Butchers can be found in the Guildhall Library in London.

Licensing & Market Administration

Outside the major cities, where the number of butchers were far fewer, and guilds did not exist, many local authorities adopted other techniques for regulating the meat trade. A common one was through issuing of Butchers' Licenses - one of the tasks often carried out by the Quarter Sessions (see below).

In larger cities, butchers would serve an apprenticeship under a Master Butcher to learn the trade. Once qualified, they would then be called Journeyman Butcher, and would be able to practise anywhere.

In Guernsey, this role was carried out by the States Markets Committee, whose detailed minutes survive, giving additional insights into the running of the markets. In 1832, the committee noted that

"Les Rats causant un grand dégat dans le Marché aux Viandes. Mr Goodwin at prie d'y voir"
(Rats have caused a great deal of damage to the Meat Market. Mr Goodwin was asked to look into it.)

Quarter Sessions

Quarter Sessions records used to deal with a wide range of minor crimes and other official duties. Many of these referred to the trade or occupation of the individuals who were brought before them. Amongst the most relevant are:-

These records can be found in County Record Offices - many counties are in the process of indexing their collections on the National Archives' Access to Archives site, and a quick "google" here is highly recommended.


Local newspapers can be a good source of information about butcher ancestors. Firstly, advertisements can provide more information about the type of trade carried out by your ancestor - for example here is an advertisement placed in 1845 by a butcher in a Guernsey newspaper:

"Wm HAMMOND, Meat Market and Park Street, has now on sale, wholesale and retail, good GUERNSEY BACON, smoaked and white-dried; HAMS; TONGUES; PICKLED PORK, and LARD in bladders: also a good quantity of OLD SALTED LARD, for grease. He has likewise for sale, two good strong CARTS; prime UPLAND HAY; LONG SPARS for thatching hay stacks; HURDLES, BROOMS, &c. Wm Hammond is expecting from England a few sound useful HORSES fit for saddle or harness. Good dry airy STORES to be let. Meat smoaked and white-dried for the public as usual."

It can also be a useful pointer to other sources, such as reports of criminal trials, accident reports, etc. Most Local Studies' Libraries have a good collection of local newspapers, as does the British Newspaper Library at Colindale.

Further Reading

For more background on the meat trade itself, and to understand more about what being a butcher was like before the introduction of refrigeration, hygiene inspectors, shrink-wrapped supermarket produce and all the things we now take for granted - there are a number of books recommdended on the Reading List.