How a Lake District butcher is keeping skills alive

PUBLISHED: 17:11 08 September 2011 | UPDATED: 19:58 20 February 2013

How a Lake District butcher is keeping skills alive

How a Lake District butcher is keeping skills alive

Stanley Cranston first started selling quality meat in the rural village of Kirkoswald. Today, the company he started is one of the best in the business. Emma Mayoh reports

It was an unlikely change of career for Chris Russell. The 34-year-old had spent many years working in the hotel trade. But for the past 12 months he has been learning the traditional skills needed to become a qualified butcher at Cumbrian-based Cranstons Quality Butchers. He has been taught many things, from how to break down an animal into the different cuts to the best way to present the meat on the counter.

Chris is one of only a handful of apprentices at the renowned butchers. The skills he is learning can take years to master an average apprenticeship can take anything between three and five years.

It is this particular way of passing on valuable skills that has helped make Cranstons the business it is today. It was first set up by Stanley Cranston in 1914 who sold top quality meat sourced in the Eden Valley from his horse and cart as well as a shop in Kirkoswald, near Penrith. Eventually he got a van to make his deliveries.

As the business expanded reportshe decided to take on his first apprentice, his nephew James, father to the current directors Philip and Roger. James helped to prepare as well as deliver the meat.

Philip remembers helping in the family business as a young child, including going out in the delivery van with his brother and their mum, Bunty. They are times he remembers fondly.

He said: We lived next door to the shop in Kirkoswald, they were pretty much one and the same so the whole family was always involved. I remember all of the cattle being out in the fields behind the shop and I used to love going out there.

It was an idyllic childhood and Roger and I had a lot of fun. Of course, health and safety was different back then and I remember using big knives to help my dad cut up the meat. Wed go out in the van with mum too. It was a happy time.

Philip, who now lives in nearby Great Salkeld, left his family comforts behind in his late teens to see a bit more of the world. But in his early twenties he returned to the family business.

Although he would never admit it, it has been his drive that has seen the company expand from the Kirkoswald shop to several outlets in Cumbria and one in the North East and the substantial food hall they have in Penrith. Like his forebears, he enlisted the help of an apprentice, Martin Jones, to open the current shop in Penrith town centre.

Cranstons have won dozens of awards for their produce over the years and use long-standing suppliers like pig farmers Bill and Martin Hunter from Orchard House at Newby Bridge and cattle farmers Dickinsons at High Knipe. At the food hall they also celebrate the best of Cumbrian produce by selling other food from around the region.

Cranstons are members of the Q Guild of Butchers, a small group who represent the elite of the industry. In fact, Philip is the chair of the organisation. The business was also instrumental in securing thethe protected status for Cumberland sausage. They still prepare the Cumbrian treat using Stanleys original recipe.

Philip, 53, said: The campaign seemed to go on and on. It was a hard fight but it was well worth doing. We were all very pleased when it was awarded protected status and its been a huge boost to Cumbria as a whole.

I think a campaign like this and a product like the Cumberland sausage reflects the position of Cumbrian produce in the market. It has been bastardised in a lot of places and this will stop now.

Cranstons is proud to be able to celebrate Cumbrian food, like the Cumberland sausage and we feel very passionate about continuing these proud traditions into the future.

The print version of this article appeared in the September 2011 issue of Lancashire Life

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