Curtis’s Great Local Food…
Tradition meets technology as one of Lincolnshire’s longest established butchers and bakers is making its products available on Yummy, the website which delivers fresh local food, right to you door…
There’s Nothing Quite Like the smell of baking bread. The scent is particularly prevalent on Lincoln’s Long Leys Road, the main site for the production operations of A W Curtis Bakers & Butchers of Lincoln. Happily, A W Curtis is still thriving even amid general trading conditions, and even during Covid-19. And now, the availability of the company’s range of bread, meat and teatime treats will be available from Yummy, the sister company of Lincolnshire Pride which delivers fresh local food right to your door.
It’s one of the oldest butchers and bakers in Lincolnshire, not to mention one of the largest and the one with the most comprehensive ranges of products. So old is A W Curtis, in fact, that its exact date of origin is unknown, but we are certain that it existed in something like its modern form in 1828, beginning life as a pork butcher. Today, A W Curtis Bakers & Butchers and its retail sister company Curtis of Lincoln is the most well-known butchers and bakers in Lincolnshire.
Our High Streets, though, have taken a battering during lockdown with footfall even more thin on the ground and the abundance of out of town retailers – not least among which is the big four supermarkets – driving people out of our town centres.
Today, A W Curtis is almost a 24/7 operation and though he’s researched the history of both his profession, and of the family business, the firm’s Neil Curtis is still discovering new facts about the company and its extensive history all the time.
In addition, he still keeps his hand in across the company, delivering or helping his team with production, despite having nearly 100 employees to look after as well. Neil is still a dab hand with a sharp butcher’s knife but he’s just as sharp as a businessman, and a keen ambassador for local food.
“At times such as these, you’ve got to be able to roll up your sleeves and get the job done when it’s necessary,” he says. “And we’ve 20 shops, so the demand is still there, we’ve got to keep the orders going out! At the same time though you’ve also got to embrace change, hence working with Yummy to provide our very traditional high-quality products but retailing them in a really modern way.”
“We’ve a greater number of products than before, and today there’s a bigger market than ever for especially food to take away. We’ve sausage rolls and pastries, filled baps and coffee for those who pop into our shops at lunchtime and probably half of our shops have seating areas which will reopen when the rules allow us to do so.”
It’s difficult to think of a better advocate for Lincolnshire food than Neil, and as he points out, food and culture are inextricably linked, especially in Lincolnshire. As a rural county it was more common – certainly prior to the industrial revolution – for villages to have regular days when a journeyman butcher or slaughterman would visit local villages and butcher the pigs that each villager would have kept domestically for meat. The practice was known as ‘pig-killing day,’ as prior to refrigeration, techniques like salting were used to preserve food for future consumption.
It was a real ritual and neighbours would gather together to help each other out with ensuring they derived as much value from each animal as possible. They’d share pig fry and many other cuts that have today fallen by the wayside. Diets in previous centuries were incredibly fatty by today’s standards, but of course, their lifestyles were much more active so they’d need the energy for manual labour.
As the industrial revolution consolidated communities, emerging centres of population like Lincoln began to gain areas where butchers habitually gathered to service a larger population.
Butcher’s Court off the city’s Clasketgate Street was one such area, and with more of the population working over the successive 200 years, there became a more consistent customer base and so butchers began to occupy permanent premises, establishing their shops on the High Streets of towns and cities.
At the time, single-species butchers were more prevalent, or at least beef and lamb butchers were. Pork butchers tended to operate as separate entities, because beef and lamb is traditionally butchered and sold only in cuts.
Pork, by contrast, tends also to be cured, made into sausages, bacon, and manufactured into goods such as polony, brawn, and haslet or chine, in Lincolnshire – hence dedicated butchers creating the by-product of butchery.
As the saying goes, every bit of a pig can be eaten, except the squeal. In a more frugal age even the animal’s bladder was retained as a receptacle for storing lard and it wasn’t unknown for people to make clothing out of pig’s hair!
Naturally, there were fewer commercial breeds and a greater number of local ones associated with pre-industrial food production, and Lincolnshire livestock breeds like the Lincoln Red, Curlycoat, Longwool and Buff were more prevalent.
From the 1900s, our High Streets were a little more settled and butchers were beginning to consolidate their trades to become the multi-species butchers we know today.
By the middle of the 20th century, the company was already making pastry for its sausage rolls and pork pies, and so reasoned that selling them too wouldn’t incur much additional effort. The firm’s range of bread and bakery goods expanded and now the business is equally well-regarded for its butchery and its bakery.
A mini-booklet from 1928 in A W Curtis’s archives carries the strapline ‘Serving Lincolnshire for over 100 Years,’ so we can be confident that the company dates back to at least at least 1828, but Neil’s great-great grandfather Charles Curtis; great-grandfather Arthur William Curtis; grandfather Bert Curtis with his brother Frank and father Arthur Curtis with brother Ray and sisters Sheila and Barbara are all known to have run the business through the years. Now there is Neil with Susan and members of the eighth generation involved in the business.
In days gone by, the company’s slaughterhouse was based on St Marks Street, and a legacy of its presence remains in the form of a pig-shaped weathervane on top of what is now the JD Sports store and Tesco.
The vane is located on the site of the old St Marks Church and is a reminder of when the odd pig would escape its fate in the butchery and flee to the church opposite, presumably seeking holy sanctuary… trying to, quite literally, save its bacon. Since then, the company’s operations have expanded and moved to its current location on Long Leys Road.
From journeymen butchers to a permanent presence on our High Streets, to A W Curtis’s two mobile shops, selling meat and baked goods in a radius of about 20 miles from the city and finally to the rather more modern trading environment of Yummy.co.uk, the history and culture of how we buy and how we eat our food has changed dramatically.
Yummy has just extended its operating radius to include all of Lincoln, and now customers in and around the city can purchase products from A W Curtis, from the site’s greengrocers, fish merchants, farmers and food producers, then have all of the site’s locally sourced food delivered right to the doorstep in a single, convenient delivery.
And does Neil believe there’s a place for a traditional butcher and baker in the 21st century? “Absolutely! We still enjoy food; more than ever in fact. Recipe books, TV shows and websites are always presenting us with different ways to prepare food, and we live in an age in which the access to different ingredients is wider than ever, and free from seasonal limits. “So whilst it would be easy to complain about modern retail, actually we live in an age where food is produced to an unprecedented quality, cheaply, and with a better approach than ever to animal welfare. You only have to look at the Lincolnshire Show – when it returns to the calendar – to see that there are amazing farmers in the county who really care about their animals.”
“But as a society we’re busier than ever. The temptation of convenience is understandably appealing but still people appreciate that there’s something wonderful about a traditional family business which supplies great products.”
“This past year has been unprecedented of course, but anecdotally I’ve had plenty of people reporting to me that in lieu of being able to go out, they’ve been enjoying cooking more at home and have eaten less processed meals. In the process they’re discovered just how wonderful local food can be.”
“Being a local food producer, too, we can also champion the products that have a special place in our hearts, like Lincolnshire sausages, pork pies, plum bread, haslets, and stuffed chine. Chine is virtually unknown out of the county, but it’s a real favourite in our family. I was working on our stand at The Game Fair when it was held in the south of the county and one very confused lady asked, ‘what’s all that grass doing in that ham?’”
“We’ll lose products like haslet and chine if we rely solely on national retailers for our food, but people like us can keep them alive. And if, the 21st century, we can enjoy a presence online with services like Yummy, we can suddenly take all of our wonderful local food to a much wide audience.”
Discover Yummy in Lincoln…
Bringing fresh local food – like A W Curtis’s products – right to your door and now the service is available in Lincoln..!
One of Lincoln’s oldest butchers and bakers, A W Curtis is just one of a number of local suppliers you can buy from using Yummy. Yummy is the food delivery service which delivers produce from local butchers, bakers, fruit & veg suppliers, fishmongers and other local food businesses, with shopping delivered straight to your door. How does it work? Simply visit www.yummy.co.uk and browse through the different products available.
Once you’ve chosen your products from each of our different Yummy partners, you complete one single secure checkout. Next, we visit each of our partners in turn, collect each of the different products in your order, then pack them safely and delivery them using our fleet of our refrigerated vehicles.
We’ll deliver your Yummy box to your doorstep which means you can enjoy local food, from local suppliers, delivered to your door for maximum convenience. As well as local produce, Yummy has lots of practical groceries too such as milk, butter, honey, and sliced bread.
Discover Yummy now by visiting www.yummy.co.uk… you won’t be disappointed!