Vegetarians may want to look away – or read more in order to find more reasons why they should remain vegetarian!
If you’ve heard anything about the Victorian diet, you will probably have realised that, at least as it is commonly presented to us today, it was centred on meat (as a vegetarian I don’t write this with enthusiasm).
As you can see from the adverts on the front page of the Meat Trades’ Journal above, that meant that there was a huge international industry centred on the production of meat, its distribution to consumers and its transformation into products likes pies, sausages and canned and dried meats – Britain couldn’t produce enough meat on its own. Not visible in the picture is the large number of office jobs involved: for clerks – almost all men – had not only to keep track of and organise the transport and transformation of meat but also to deal with the constantly changing legal regulation of meat imports and processing. There were constant outbreaks of disease, including anthrax – all very topical as I write in 2020 amidst COVID-19 and the possible introduction of chlorinated chicken into the UK.
The historian Richard Perren argued that in the late Victorian period British consumers were at the centre of what was a vast global trade in meat: Britain imported live cattle from the United States, Argentina, Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand, and all had to be slaughted soon after arrival. Huge profits were to be made from these imports and there is no surprise that false advertising was common. By the time the 20-page penny weekly Meat Trades Journal was started in May 1888, Britain was importing around ten million animals a year.
Magazines like the Meat Trades’ Journal (surprisingly not studied before, though historians of the food industries have quoted it) encouraged this vast consumption of meat. Like trade magazines in general, it showed how to make all aspects of the trade become more efficient – where to buy more cheaply, what to buy to make the biggest profit, what was legal – and what wasn’t. It offered stories of fraudsters caught, thieves apprehended and battles over regulation (was it good or bad for the trade?). Readers would find out what the latest machinery was and where to get it. Reading it meant you were modern, up-to-date, ahead of (or at least on a level peg with) your competitors. It placed profit at the core of what the trade did.
If Britain was the centre of a global meat trade wheel, Smithfield market in London was the pivot at the centre of the centre. The Meat Trades’ Journal was published literally across the street to Smithfield’s, at 63 Long Lane. The magazine was resolutely hi-tech for the day: it even had a codename through which it could be contacted by telegraph: the wonderfully appropriate “Stallfed.”
But if profit seems to be the sole reason it existed, as with all trade magazines, there are lots of other things it delivered to its readers from “sensational” court cases involving the theft of a bit of meat in issue 470 to speculation about the countless untold stories its contents could suggest. What it was like to have to deal with an anthrax outbreak on your farm? Why did Charles Robinson (20) and Frederick Jennings (37) steal five sheep (p. 1000 in issue no 468) – was it worth the 6 months hard labour they were sentenced to? What effect did this sentence have on their lives and the lives of their families?
It wasn’t all work, punishment and horror either: the Meat Trades’ Journal did run a few ads for holidays abroad! See if you can find them.
 Richard Perren, Taste, Trade and Technology: The Development of the International Meat Industry since 1840. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2006.
 Higgins, D., & Gangjee, D. (2010). “Trick or Treat?” The Misrepresentation of American Beef Exports in Britain during the Late Nineteenth Century. Enterprise & Society, 11(2), 203-241. doi:10.1017/S1467222700009046
Issues of the Meat Trades’ Journal on this site
As with almost all Victorian trade journals, copies of the Meat Trades’ Journal are very rare indeed, however important the magazine was to a huge industry. Very few libraries have copies, especially individual copies such as we have located and reproduce here. As a magazine, the Meat Trades’ Journal lasted 130 years – until 2018. It still exists on social media, published by the business and trade magazine publisher William Reed, a family firm, very important for the history of trade magazines, that started in the 1860s with the publication of The Grocer.