When reading last week about 18th c. milk-maids, I wandered off into London's street vendors in general, many selling wares that no longer have a market. Curds and whey, anyone?
To my horror, one of these was the cats' meat man. Now I'm that stereotypical writer with a pair of thoroughly spoiled cats, and though I knew Georgian England was a rough-and-tumble place, I didn't want to imagine my kits on Samuel Johnson's dinner menu. Fortunately, my first reading of this trade was wrong: the cats' meat in question was food for the little darlings, not food made from them.
The cats' meat man (or woman, since later in the 19th c. this seems to have become a female trade) trundled his barrow through residential neighborhoods with chunks of raw horse-meat on wooden skewers. This he would cut to order on the wooden board that topped his barrow especially for the purpose. Like their counterpart, the dogs' meat men, the best cats' meat men knew their customers well, and could greet them and their owners by name. As Thomas Rowlandson's 1819 illustration, left, shows, the doubtlessly fragrant barrow also attracted quite a following, with eager pets racing to greet his arrival. I particularly like the cat leaping from the upstairs window.
Charles Hindley's Cries of Old London was first published in 1880. More a poem than an actual cry, this selection does reflect a time when cat food wasn't a scientific mix from a specialty pet store. Hark! how the Pussies make a rout – To buy you can't refuse; So may you never be without The music of their mews. Here's famous meat – all lean, no fat – No better in Great Britain; Come, buy a penn'orth for your Cat – A happ'orth for your Kitten!
See here for more about Rowlandson's vendors, and here for a lengthy, grisly description of the finer points (aka butchering) of being a successful cats' meat man in the Victorian era. But don't say I didn't warn you....
Above: Cats and Dogs' Meat? from 'Characteristic Sketches of the Lower Orders' by Thomas Rowlandson, published 1820.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.