Butchers’ Smocks

Butcher’s clothing became an important subset of the smock trade, the blue colour especially associated with the occupation.  As the trade developed, particular manufacturers specialised in occupational clothing for butchers, which initially meant smocks.  One of these was Frank Blackett, whose family had lived at Smithfield, the famous wholesale meat market in London, since the late 18th century.  In the Post Office Directory of 1808, John Blacket & Co., were listed as woollen drapers at 22, Smithfield.  In 1850, Frank stated in a Parliamentary Commission into the Market that, ‘My business has lain for sixteen years with the butchers. I sell those blue frocks that they dress in.’  He noted that countrymen came to his shop to buy the ‘blue coats’ as well as other things that they might buy back in the country but were under the impression that ‘a man can buy everything better in London than in the country’, perhaps even smocks.  His customers came from Liverpool, Exeter, Brighton and Norfolk.  Thus by 1852, the Post Office Directory noted the business of James and Son Blacket as that of ‘butchers’ clothiers, slopslrs [slop sellers]’, at 31 Smithfield.

Seeing a ready-made gap in the market within their locale they had taken the initiative and thrived.  They advertised widely in the national press in 1866 and 1867 detailing the occupational clothing that they could supply for butchers.  These included blue jean coats, blue jean open frocks, blue linen round and open frocks, so based on simple frocks, the ‘jean’ ones much like denim today.  They also had a branch at the new cattle market in Islington, built in the 1850s, in the Bank Buildings around the base of the clock tower.

Metropolitan Cattle Market – Wikipedia

By 1879, they were supplying Henochsberg & Ellis, well-known clothiers in Liverpool, recognised for selling working clothing for men.  Their advertisement variously claimed that Blackett, as a butchers’ clothing manufacturer, had been established 120 years and that they were the only clothiers outside London who devoted ‘special attention’ to butchers’ clothing, neither of which were quite true! Various shops were agents for Blackett’s clothing including one in Guildford in 1876 and Swansea in 1894.

The firm carried on manufacturing butchers’ clothing into the twentieth century, although this was now overalls and aprons rather than specifically smocks.  As this sector of the clothing industry expanded, there was increasing competition from other firms such as John Peck and Co., based in Liverpool from the 1890s, who specialised in overalls including butchers’ clothing, becoming Pexwear in the 20th century.

Butchers were now wearing what is seen as their typical stripy aprons, but the clothing manufacturers who supplied these had also initially manufactured smocks for them.

Edwardian butchers and their kittens.

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