Before burgers, fish and chips and kebabs came the original takeaway: German pork pies, sausages, rissoles and other ready-made foodstuffs. During the 19th century, while most European emigrants were making their way to North America, a significant number of Germans were quietly making England their new home
In the Hohenloheregion in the north-east of Germany, population growth, agricultural depression and a series of crop failures provided a significant push-factor. Germans from the region began looking outward for new opportunity, with a number of skilled professional butchers making their way to England in 1817.
The butchers quickly established themselves and found a ready market in the rapidly-expanding cities of Northern England. Industrialization was leading to a burgeoning population who demanded cheap, ready-made basic foods. The butchers had arrived at an opportune moment to serve a market of factory workers who wanted a convenient, hot meal after finishing work.
The demand quickly outstripped the supply, leading more butchers to open shops across England. In Sheffield, for example, one lone butcher shop in 1817 grew to 14 shops by 1883, and 18 shops by 1914. Soon, the number of qualified Hohenlohe butchers could no longer meet the demand, so they called out to young men back home.
Young farmers’ sons were ready and able to take up the challenge. Once the winter set in, they jumped into butchery courses where they learned the art of slaughtering and butchering. Back home, their mothers taught them to produce the savory German sausages and salted, smoked and pickled meats that were in such high demand in England. With well-honed skills, the young butchers entered the British market near the middle of the 19th century.
As butchers grew wealthy, some sent letters home recruiting young women for household help. Others wrote home looking for wives. German women answered the call, bringing with them a whole set of skills and delightful family recipes to add to the butchers’ offerings.
The German butchers and their families quickly spread to all parts of Northern England, eventually establishing themselves as far afield as Scotland and Ireland. Butcher shops were soon opened in London as well as the German community continued to spread and grow.
The demand for cheap, ready-made foods continued to grow, and in the 1870s, the immigrant butchers called for a third wave of emigrants. A whole new flock of young apprentice butchers and young girls finished school and set off for work in Britain. The boys immediately jumped into their new employment, and girls served in German households.
A 1897 newspaper ran a story documenting the phenomenon, noting “The Germans created this business amongst us … In every town there are many of them, and there is now hardly a village (…) throughout the North of England that has not one or more. Englishmen have all along been to blame for neglecting the pig as a subject of human food (….). But the German is the pork man par excellence”
At first, the Germans stayed in close, tightly-knit communities. They spoke little English, and maintained their traditions, customs and stories. Eventually, however, they realized that their enterprise would be better served by integration into British society. This allowed them to thrive even further, with some taking leading positions in pork butchers’ associations.
Unfortunately, the two World Wars brought widespread intolerance toward the German butchers. The once-thriving business went into decline, and the rich history of the Hohenlohe butchers was greatly diminished. A few establishments did make it through, like the Herterichs in Ireland and the Haffners in Burnley; however, little remains today of the once-famous German takeaway specialties.
1. New light on the German Pork Butchers in Britain (1850 – 1950)” by Karl-Heinz Wuestner, Ilshofen, Germany http://www.surrey.ac.uk/cronem/files/conf2009papers/Wuestner.pdf