Fringe Box



Bob The Butcher at Bernard’s In the 1970s

Published on: 21 Oct, 2014
Updated on: 22 Oct, 2014

A reader from Porstmouth, Bob Hind, noticed some correspondence on the Guildford Dragon about butcher’s shops that were once in North Street. He got in touch saying he worked for one of them in the 1970s, writes David Rose.

Interested on what he initially wrote, several exchanges of emails took place. I asked Bob to expand further on his career, first with the Royal Navy, then as a butcher, followed by his time spent on the railways. During the latter, he edited a popular staff magazine called The Woking Grapevine. Formerly of Old Woking and Send, Bob now writes a regular history column for his local newspaper the Portsmouth News.

For the Guildford Dragon, Bob has written some fascinating accounts of his varied career, with the first instalment here – that includes his time at Bernard’s on the corner of Swan Lane.

Bob Hind pictured a few years ago while walking in the Lake District.

Bob Hind pictured a few years ago while walking in the Lake District.

I was born in 1950 and at the age of 15 joined the Royal Navy as a boy at HMS Ganges, Shotley Gate, near Ipswich in Suffolk.

I had plans on making the navy a career. We had to spend a year at Ganges and then go for further training at a naval establishment before going to sea.

Unfortunately fate step in and I became rather ill after 18 months and was released. It broke my heart at the time, but there we are.

When I recovered I joined the Portsmouth Co-op butchery department. My younger and older brothers were already in the trade with the Co-op.

Years passed and I had a girlfriend whose mother lived in Old Woking, who we used to visit from time to time.

I was in Guildford one day and went into Bernard’s shop on the corner of Swan Lane. I don’t know why but I was speaking to the manager, whose name was Les, about the trade and I asked if there was a vacancy. “Start Monday week,” he said.

I knew that my girlfriend’s mother took in lodgers and so I asked her if she had room and she agreed on a rent with full board for £10 a week.

I started at Bernard’s and it was a complete shock to me I can tell you. Everything was done fast. The shop was on three floors.

I am on the right in Bernard’s in 1974. The chap on the left worked in the bacon shop next door. I forget his name.

The shop was on the ground floor of course, with a block for shop use almost under the stairs.

On the first floor was a large chiller and cutting room and on the second floor was the freezer and some years later where a bandsaw was located.

There was the manager Les, plus first hand (under manager) Mick Rixon, shopman Alan Field, shopman cutter Albert and a young lad named Charlie Nigh.

Les left after a few months and Mick was made manager.

In Bernard's cutting room. Look how low the ceiling was. I am 6ft 4inches tall. This must be  about 1973 as  we changed from whites to brown coats about this time.

In Bernard’s cutting room. Look how low the ceiling was. I am 6ft 4 inches tall. This must be about 1973 as we changed from whites to brown coats about this time.

I was a shopman cutter, which meant working upstairs and downstairs running up and down the flight of stairs.

I had never worked in such a busy shop before. It was non-stop, all day long.

When I dressed a chicken it took me about a minute and a half. “That’s no good,” Mick told me, “watch.” He gutted a chicken in 30 seconds.

It took me a while, but I eventually mastered it.

At Christmas time when we had hundreds of turkeys, chickens, ducks and geese in, a turkey had to be cleaned in 90 seconds or you were a waste of time.

On Fridays and Saturdays we worked from 6.30am to 5.30pm, opening to customers at 8.30am with a queue out of the door for most of the day.

It took two hours to dress the window. I became very adept at doing this and after nine months it became my job.

I loved it. Customers standing on the pavement outside could not see very far into the shop from the front window as everything you could name was hanging from the railings, with a float in front of them and side shelves as well.

I started off with a dozen legs of New Zealand lamb – six facing in and six out. Then a dozen New Zealand shoulders above them. Then there were English legs and shoulders above them, with two sides of lamb above them.

On the float were chickens with half shoulders hanging below them.

On one of the side shelves was belly pork to the right and left, with turkeys hanging above them.

On the base there were three lines of beef joints, three lines of pork joints with trays in between of mince, steak and kidney, pork and lamb chops and rump and stewing steak, and so on.

Not the best quality photo - but it dates to 1972.

Not the best quality photo – but it dates to 1972.

In the shop the cold cabinet held the offals and large trays of mince and steak and kidney to save using the shop window trays, which were always dressed up.

After some years, and with a change of staff – mostly adults needing adult wages, I was offered the manager’s job at the top shop further up North Street.

It was okay, but never as good as it was in the bottom shop. By now it was 1977 and I had married a local girl. I looked around and became manager of a shop in West Byfleet.

Of the Butcher’s shops that were in North Street, next up from Bernard’s was one with a German manager who lived at Jacobs Well, but I cannot remember the shop’s name.

Next came Baxter’s, a little posher than Bernard’s, and then Matthews and then Bernard’s top-shop all-but next to the library.

There was also a butchery department in the Co-op on the opposite side of the road. There was another butcher at the bottom of High Street, whose name escapes me.

Yes, six shops in North Street plus two fresh fish shops and of course the street market. Lovely days.

While I was at the butcher’s at West Byfleet, I had a very unfortunate accident. Cutting a New Zealand lamb on day, I was taking off the breast when the knife went into my groin. I was ‘dead’.

I was alone in the shop as my assistant was out for lunch, and with the other member of staff off sick.

I grabbed hold of a broom, laid it across my groin and pulled my knee up to my chest so the broom stick acted like a tourniquet.

I was sitting on the floor but no one came in. I thought there must be someone about. I was losing so much blood I knew I could die.

Eventually, an elderly lady came in and I asked her to phone for an ambulance. I remember she said to the operator: “Someone’s been stabbed.” Ambulance and police soon arrived with sirens blaring.

I was rushed to St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey where I was operated on and saved after losing pints of blood.

I came out of hospital after a few weeks, but being a little shook up I decided for a change of career.

In the next instalment Bob describes how he became a train guard based at Woking, and later worked as train crew foreman in operations and control at London Waterloo.

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Responses to Bob The Butcher at Bernard’s In the 1970s

  1. Ewan Gordon Reply

    October 27, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    I too worked in North Street in the early 1970. Having left school at the age of 15 I started work at Baxters the butchers the (posh shop) as Bob called it, two shops up from Bernard’s.
    The shop in the middle that Bob couldn’t remember was of course Vernons, selling cheap meat that was a busy shop as well, paying very good wages as I recall.
    The butchers at the bottom of the High Street was called West, but North Street was where all food shopping was done, butchers, bakers, and of course the weekend market.

  2. Angela Reply

    October 27, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    How I remember this shop and the Workforce. The lad who worked next door is called Jake.

    • Bob Hind Reply

      October 31, 2014 at 11:51 am

      Hullo Angela,
      Bob Hind here. Were you the petite blonde girl that used to be a customer of ours?
      Do you know what happened to Jake at all?

  3. George Taylor Reply

    December 25, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    I worked at Bernard’s top shop in North Street in 1964.

    The butchery manager was “Big George” and the shop manager was Bill Hudson.

    On once occasion George ordered 200 ducks from the head office in Kingston. The order was miss-read and in came 2,000.

    It was a very hot day with not enough refrigeration – what a day!

    • Pauline Jones Reply

      December 11, 2018 at 11:57 am

      Hi George, I’m Bill Hudson’s daughter. I used to love going into the shop and the butcher, George Richardson would weigh us on the meat scales!

  4. David Grainger Reply

    April 4, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    I worked in some North Street butchers from the late sixties through the seventies. I started at the top Bernard’s as a Saturday boy, for 10 bob a day, gutting chickens. (I learned pretty quick and could do one in around 30 seconds or a tad less. They all came New York dressed those days.)

    The butchers convinced me to work full time when I left school which I did. Mo White said, “You”ll never be hungry if you become a butcher,” which was true.

    At 18 I moved to William Rothwell, a butchers by the Pepper Pot in Godalming – long since gone, then Andrews butchers in Friary Street, then the big one – Vernons, highly disciplined huge massive quantities of meat. They had a small slick team of “super butchers” (not my phrase but that of the German manager Paul Steyr, late of the Wehrmacht, courtesy World War 2). It was very, very good money, but the owner, a Mr Vernon Roy, was a truly intimidating force.

    Monday to Thursday he would be buying meat on Smithfield. He would turn up only on Fridays to serve in the business. Huge persona, cigar smoking, Rolls Royce driving, cold, calculating and ruthless: the product of lifetime practising his business. He had unbelievably high expectations that he expected to be delivered or you were history. I adored every second that I was there.

    Les Bulldock, Joe Howe, Steve Cotterel were among the crew and a very funny guy called Brian (I forget his surname) who was blisteringly fast and accurate .

    I remember Mick down at Bernard’s, he always seemed happy as could be. Other personalities were, the always immaculately turned out, Georgie Elliott and super confident Steve Fowler at the top Bernards after I left. What a place, what a time would love to hear from any body that shared those times.

  5. Christopher Tunnell Reply

    October 19, 2016 at 11:53 am

    I worked in Bernards in the early 1970s for a short while (probably around 1974).

    I was in the lower shop on the corner of North Street Swan Lane.

    The shop was in two halves, to the left was all bacon, han and eggs only,and to the right was general butchery.

    I work on the bacon side, sometimes in the shop serving, but mostly down in the basement.

    I cut up the halves of pigs and prepared all the major joints, such as hocks, hams, sides, backs, legs and trotters, etc.

    ‘Boning’ hocks and hams was the hardest. It was extremely cold and numbing work in the winter down in the cellar, but like an oven in the summer.

    The steps down into the basement were quarry tiles and were always covered in grease. I fell down them a few times and always had bruises.

    The bacon side manager was a fella called Ron. I reconise the fella in the brown coat, with his elbow on the till, as I worked with him, but I can’t recall his name.

    One of my chores was to run around the town to deliver bacon and eggs to a few cafes and the Wimpey bar.

    On one day in May 1974 I got back to the shop and Ron said to me: You’ve got to get a taxi and get home ASAP.”

    I asked why, but he just said he’d received a call from my mum’s neighbour. When I got home, I was too late, my father had passed away 10 minutes earlier. I never went back to Bernards after that, as I had to help my mum and look after my younger brothers and sisters.

    I live on the Isle of Wight and on the rare occasion I return to Guildford, I somewhat lament all the changes.

    I had some very good years growing up in Guildford and loved it very much.

    • Susie Hickman Reply

      February 2, 2018 at 12:03 am

      Hi all, I remember Ron. I worked in that shop around 1985.

      His two sons worked there for a time as well, separately, if I remember correctly.

      Fridays and Saturdays used to be great with the market people coming in.

      • Audrey Harman Reply

        January 2, 2022 at 6:47 pm

        I knew Ron Chamberlain very well. My son Brian Slyfield was the Saturday boy at Baxter’s and on leaving school he took his apprenticeship at Baxter’s in Northampton. He worked there until it closed and also worked at Bernard’s until that closed. He is no longer a butcher but still lives in Guildford. I also now live on the Isle of Wight moving from Guildford in 2015.

  6. Marilyn Spencer (nee Wimnill) (then Saunders) Reply

    December 19, 2018 at 1:26 am

    Unless I have missed something no-one has mentioned the butchers on Swan Lane – met my husband (Phil Spencer) there. I went in for couple of sausages, half a pound of mince and a pork chop and came out with him! LOL

    The manager was Graham Webb (Reg). My gran was a Mrs Hobbs (she worked in Cash Homes on North Street for years) and I have fond memories of visiting Bernards with her. She also was known by my husband as a customer of Meatmasters (was it Andrew Charles?) on Swan Lane.

    I used to love the cheese counter at Bernards.

    Bob Hind – the guy you don’t recognise in Bernards, looks like Jake who went on to run the Quick Service Café on Park Street Guildford.

    I also knew Mick Rixon as he lived few doors up from me on Yew Tree Drive, Bellfields. He was married to Valerie Dent who had a brother Peter, my first boyfriend! Small world.

  7. Jackie Povey (nee Mitchell) Reply

    June 2, 2020 at 7:27 pm

    Wondering if anyone could help me, was told that my dad’s cousin was the owner of Bernard’s Butchers. Could anyone tell me any information about the owner please?

  8. David Grainger Reply

    September 9, 2020 at 9:52 am

    From 1967 till 1970, I was a teenager, working at the top shop in Guildford, a few paces from the library and next to the small public garden called Quakers Acre. The shop-owner was certainly a Mr Mitchell who very occasionally visited to inspect his kingdom.

    I say kingdom because these visits were very old school. For any staff other than the store manager to speak to him directly was unheard of. One day, a small film crew turned up to record in detail the workings of the store The shop was essentially a food hall with departments covering meat, then bacon, many cheeses, high-quality cooked hams and premium canned goods and eggs, each place with their own counter and service staff.

    This was certainly no supermarket and with a high level of service as was to be expected more than 50 years ago. Older members would talk of how the business was founded by the father of that present Mr Mitchell.

    At one time, the premises stretched through to a sister business in the High Street, making that site very substantial. There was also a butcher and bacon shop on the corner of Swan Lane At head office in Kingston, the shops were even bigger. Three lorries delivered daily.

    Mr Mitchell was about 5ft10ins, thick-set and in his late forties, early fifties, full head of dark hair brushed back, no grey yet suspiciously toned. He was jowly, no spectacles and dark-eyed. I never heard him utter a word.

    As the supermarkets became more powerful the writing was on the wall and by the mid-Eighties the business was gone. But at its peak, probably mid-Fifties, the combined business would have been very substantial and profitable with about 100 staff on the payroll.

    If you want any more info please email

  9. Malcolm and Tony Wenn Reply

    November 18, 2021 at 4:48 pm

    We were intrigued to come across this reference to Bernard’s in Guildford.

    We believe that our dad, John Wenn, worked for Bernard Mitchell before and after the Second World War.

    We are not exactly sure of all dates but know he worked in Kingston in the 1940s and in the High Street shop in Guildford in the 1960s.

    We lived in flat, 76a North Street in Guildford above the Bernard’s shop next to the garden area. We think that he worked in cold meats and provisions.

    Dad also worked on the company farm at Rowhook Manor in Broadbridge Heath in Sussex. We were youngsters at this time and our memories are very vague.

    Sadly, our eldest brother Derek passed away earlier this year and he would have had much better recollection of these times than us. We remember the names of two lorry drivers – Les and Sam.

    We have found some photos of the firm’s outings in 1935, 1936 and 1937 which are excellent memory jogs. We have sent these under a separate email as we don’t know how to include them here.

    We would love to hear from anyone who remembers our dad or any other facts from around these times.

    Send an email to

    • David Grainger Reply

      December 3, 2021 at 11:23 pm

      I started working there in 1967 and have crystal clear memories of the delivery drivers Les and Sam. They would turn up with fresh stock daily, Monday to Friday. There was also another diver by then, I think he was called Bill. Anyway, that was another time and another place which will never return.

      • Malcolm Wenn Reply

        December 12, 2021 at 12:00 pm

        We remember that either Les or Sam or perhaps both supported Chelsea. I still have some programmes that they gave us. Our eldest brother would have remembered much more about them and that time.

        I was hoping someone would tell me how to send the photos but I haven’t heard anything from The Guildford Dragon yet. I am sure Jackie Povey would be very interested in seeing Bernard Mitchell as he was in the mid to late 1930’s.

  10. Peta Malthouse Reply

    December 30, 2021 at 10:58 am

    I used to buy my weekly meat order from Bernards. Always huge queues but always moved quickly. Good times – times when you could buy offal (spleen etc) to use for pets. Nothing was thrown out.

  11. Norman Finnimore Reply

    March 16, 2022 at 3:27 pm

    I am looking for Matthews Butchers photos. I am formerly of Dewhurst/Baxters myself.

    Please look at my 600+ pics.

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