Our family history since 1860

Manea Cambridgeshire 1870

John Smith and the first shop c. 1870

John Smith and the first shop c. 1870

The first butcher and farmer we know about is John Smith, who farmed in Manea in Cambridgeshire in the middle of the 19th Century, and had a butcher’s shop in the village.

In those days a successful tradesman had to be a skilled slaughterman, a skilled butcher, and an expert in the manufacture of small goods.

G A Smith teaching apprentices

Customers liked their roasts with a bit of fat then

Customers liked their roasts with a bit of fat then

GA Smith – John Smith’s son – came to Birmingham from Manea in September 1879, and was apprenticed to Mr Lewis, who had a shop and slaughterhouse at Hockley Brook, roughly where the Hockley flyover is now.

Six years later, in 1885, he had saved enough money to buy the Lease of a small butcher’s shop at 88 Hospital Street Aston. In 1890 GA moved with his family to 401 Lodge Road Hockley.

Later GA Smith opened a fine shop on Soho Rd Handsworth. He was a good tradesman. When he died in 1935 he left instructions for his ashes to be scattered on the turnip field in Manea.

Walter Smith

Walter Smith

Walter Smith

GA’s son Walter Smith took over the Lodge Road Shop in 1905 and built a strong business, later opening a further sixteen shops between the end of the First World War and his death in 1937.

He purchased Chase Farm in 1934, and the Keep in Weeford Rd, where he lived, and started to farm, following the tradition of his grandfather and father.

Walter Smith’s first shop: 401 Lodge Rd

Lodge Road 1929

Lodge Road 1929

Walter Smith was proud of his first shop. In 1925 it still had an old fashioned wooden window which was pushed up on Saturday nights. All the traders used to pitch to customers and the street was full of fun and life.

There was a slaughterhouse in the back of the shop, but this was not used after about 1926. Walter took advantage of the growing quantities of imported beef and lamb available in the new wholesale market.

The photo of Lodge Road was taken in 1929 after the shop had been refitted.

Geoffrey Smith

The Sutton shop

The Sutton shop

When Walter died of cancer in 1937 Geoffrey Smith took over. War then intervened: after the war there was government control over Meat sales, which didn’t end until 1954.

Geoffrey Smith invested in the business, started to manufacture sausage and cooked meats, and opened two new shops, one in Sutton, and one in Harborne. He also enjoyed Chase Farm and introduced a dairy herd of Friesian Cattle.

He had wide interests, apart from his business. He was Chair of the Bench in Sutton, Treasurer for Christian Aid, and a Member of the Peak Park Planning Board.

John and Geoffrey Smith

John and Geoffrey Smith: outside Harborne Shop

John and Geoffrey Smith: outside Harborne Shop

John Smith joined the business in 1964, and started to open Walter Smith shops in newly built shopping precincts in town centres in the East and West Midlands.

Shops that were close to, or next door to supermarkets traded well. Later when supermarkets began to open with their own car parks away from existing shopping centres, trading got harder.

Walter Smith precinct shop

A typical early 1980s precinct shop

A typical early 1980s precinct shop

Grosvenor Centre Northfield. A typical Walter Smith precinct shop around 1980.

In 1995 the Walter Smith butcher business was sold to a group of senior managers, but Chase Farm was already an independent business retained by the family.