Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Cats' Meat Man ...and Jack the Ripper (Part 2)

Following our introduction to ‘The Cats’ Meat Man’, this second post looks further at his work and considers the grizzly (and real!) link between a Victorian pet food seller and Jack the Ripper.

            But firstly, consider what a service the Cats’ Meat Men provided to previous centuries of animal lovers. Each Meatman had a territory and knew where prospective clients lived and who was prepared to pay what. Some customers were ‘every other day’ clients and on the off day, the neighbourhood cats learnt to ignore the Meatman as he passed by.

For regular customers the Meatman was prepared to post meat skewers through the letter box and collect his money weekly. The cheaper cuts were dyed green as unfit for human consumption and the customer would dip it in weak vinegar and rub with a cloth to remove fly eggs and maggots! Yewh!

But not all customers were good ones; again Charles Ross writing in 1868;
            ‘Old maids are bad though very plentiful customers… they will pay one half-penny and owe another, and forget that after a day or two.’

            Cats’ Meat Men were not just a UK phenomena and in New York, there was also a thriving community of them. Artist and cat lover Louis Wain celebrated their humane services to strays by hosting an elaborate supper in honour of the Cats’ Meat Men. It seems the American Meatman offered whale to his customers, as well as horsemeat; the meat sold raw, except for a small amount boiled specifically for invalid cats. Not to be outdone there was shark on the menu for customers of Meatmen in Australia.
A typical painting by 'cat' artist Louis Wain.

            But what has this to do with Jack the Ripper – I hear you ask. Well,
            Even in deprived areas of London selling pet meat could be lucrative enough to finance a shop. One such shop at
29 Hanbury Road
, Whitechapel hit the news in 1888 when one of Jack the Ripper’s victims was discovered in the back yard. The shadowy cut through neighbouring the property was popular with local residents, a fact that hadn’t escaped the Ripper.

29 Hanbury Street, Whitechapel.  A Pet Meat shop and site of Anne Chapman's murder.
The mutilated body of Anne Chapman was found in the yard of Samuel Stockton’s Meatshop on 8th September, by one of the 17 residents living in rooms above the shop.
The back yard at Hanbury Street. Anne Chapman's body was found lying parallel to the fence, her head almost touching the steps.

Of course, feeding cats or eating cat, was perhaps a matter of need and perspective. In Victorian times, it seems a not uncommon dish for the less well off was ‘Cat Pie,’ as hinted at in this passage from Charles Dickens’, ‘Pickwick Papers’.

‘Veal pie,' said Mr. Weller, soliloquizing, as he arranged the eatables on the grass.  'Very good thing is veal pie, when you know the lady as made it, and is quite sure it ain't kittens … they're so like veal that the very piemen themselves don't know the difference.'


  1. You’ve got some very interesting material here! I actually mention cats’ meat men in a number of places in my forthcoming novel Death and Mr Pickwick, which tells the backstory of Dickens's Pickwick Papers. I also mention “cat pie”. It’s unclear whether cat pie was ever actually sold, though certainly the rumour persisted that London butchers passed skinned cat off as rabbit, and unless you saw the carcass with the head on, you wouldn’t know the difference. (Further info about my novel, for those who are interested, can be found at


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