MEAT AND GREET: The frontage of the shop in Galgate
MEAT AND GREET: The frontage of the shop in Galgate

BARNARD Castle’s oldest butcher’s shop marks its centenary this year.

Started by a decorated First World War hero, William Peat Butchers has become a mainstay of the town’s high street. The butcher’s shop was opened in 1919 by William Peat shortly after he returned from the war.

Quite why William Peat decided to become a butcher is unknown. His father was responsible for lighting the gas lamps in the town. It is known William completed his apprenticeship in Darlington.

His grandson, Roger Peat, said: “The story goes he used to cycle through there each Monday.”

When war broke out Mr Peat served with the 9th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, attained the rank of sergeant and went on to earn the Military Medal in 1918 for valour.

Major Thomas Henslop who presented the medal described the sergeant’s leadership of a platoon on a highly dangerous daylight raid on German lines in France to snatch prisoners and valuable information as a “magnificent act of heroism”.

He added that Sgt Peat carried out the mission so well that, despite the danger, they all got back to their own lines safely.

After the war Mr Peat opened his first butcher’s shop at 66 Galgate with the animals being slaughtered in a small yard to the back.

Roger said: “It was his wife Ada that was the driving force behind the business. My grandfather always had to report back to her what happened at the shop when he came home.

“He was very keen on the Masonic Lodge and the golf club. All the businessmen in the town were members of the lodge. It you wanted to get on you had to be in the lodge.”

Northallerton Heating

Another of his grandsons, David, added: “He was a true gentleman. He would never be seen without a suit and tie on.”

He also proved to be an astute businessman and profits were used to buy a farm to supply the shop. Milk was also produced on the farm. Later Mr Peat moved his business to 54 Galgate and expanded the premises to have a double frontage and his son, Billy, became more involved with the business. A bakery was introduced producing bread, cakes and other items each day.

Roger said: “My father used to go round with a horse and cart and deliver the milk using a ladle. We were one of the first to start bottling our own milk.”

Mr Peat returned to military service during the Second World War, when he was a colonel in the Home Guard. His son also served with the Home Guard.

The business was handed over to Billy Peat in the late 1950s and he would go on to buy up more land for the farm. Roger said: “Eventually we became self-sufficient from the farm with beef and lamb.” The business continued to grow and a second butcher’s shop was bought at the current site of William Peat Deli and Bakery.

Later Billy Peat’s son, John, took over management of the farm, while another son, David, became a renowned veterinarian in the area, and Roger took over the management of the butcher shops in the 1980s.

The practice of slaughtering to the rear of the shop continued until the late 1990s when for hygiene reasons – and the impracticality of herding animals up Baliol Street – it was handed over to Simpson’s Butchers, although the farm continued to supply all the lamb needed and about 50 per cent of the beef requirements.

The Peat family’s involvement with the business came to an end in 2004 when Roger saw an opportunity to return to the farm and shops were sold to Castle Bank Butchers.

The new owners decided to keep the name, preserving the long standing tradition, and the name William Peat Butchers remains a part of the fabric of Barnard Castle to this day.