Dr Derek J Ripley on the volatile tripe market
PUBLISHED: 12:09 12 September 2014 | UPDATED: 17:53 19 January 2016
Our historian Dr Derek J Ripley recalls the panic caused by the great tripe bubble
It is hard for us now to recall a time before ‘dot.com’ entrepreneurs devised processes that allow ordinary citizens to beam photos of puddings to friends all around the world, most of whom we have never even met.
Sadly, for every dot.com millionaire there are dozens of less fortunate people who think that they, too, have an equally profitable service to offer. It is all too easy nowadays to be seduced into thinking that, for example, a 24 hour local history service would be a guaranteed route to fortune and fame, but, as always, caveat emptor. Your lifetime’s savings may end up in the hands of an unscrupulous young web-designer leaving you with little to show for it, other than a downsized family car and an irritated wife.
Little has changed about human nature and there have always been mercenary people ready to part the public from their hard-earned cash for the offer of untold riches.
My researches have taken me back to 1705, when a rumour was started in Lancashire about the new methods of agriculture introduced by Jethro Tull. It became widely believed that a new strain of grass was being developed that cows could digest almost instantaneously. The inevitable consequence would be that cows would need only one, tiny stomach, replacing their three, cavernous sacs that, when dressed, became the staple food of working folk – nutritious tripe.
Panic spread immediately among the towns and villages of Lancashire at the thought of permanently reduced tripe supplies.
While it is impossible at this distance to state with any certainty how or by whom this rumour started, abattoir records from the time show that huge quantities of tripe were bought immediately prior the spread of the rumour by a group of weavers, grave-diggers and estate agents living within the Osbaldeston, Ramsgreave and Ribchester triangle. Calling themselves ‘The Honourable Company of Tripe Men’, they issued shares in their newly purchased hoard of tripe. They published a twice-daily broadsheet, complete with convincing pie charts to demonstrate to the gullible public that the price of tripe would rise dramatically and continually. With the threat of an imminent scarcity, tripe prices soared and there was brisk trading of ‘Tripe futures’ on the stock exchange.
Within weeks a single share in half a pound of honeycomb tripe rose to four guineas – ten times the annual income of a dog whipper. Wealthy merchants from across the county and even as far as Bradford rushed to purchase the shares.
At the height of the boom, extended families clubbed together to purchase a tripe share, fearing that if they did not, their children would never get a foot on the ‘tripe ladder’. At the other end of the social scale, fashionable hostesses paid a fortune to be able to place a framed tripe share certificate on their drawing room wall in an ostentatious display of their disposable income.
Initially the Tripe Men grew incredibly prosperous as the tripe bubble reached feverish proportions, but no-one escaped the inevitable crash which followed when a calf died and, despite its diet of ‘new grass’, it was found to have the traditional, three stomachs. The ensuing period of frantic selling forced tripe and share prices down to rock bottom, resulting in the Ribchester Chronicle headline that ‘Tripe shares now worth less than a small potato’ – the Lancashire origin of this phrase.
After an emergency meeting, the County Council stepped in and offered to purchase tripe shares for a tenth of their face value, but it was a futile gesture and many famous families were ruined overnight. The price of tripe returned to its pre-bubble days, where it has remained stubbornly ever since, and there followed a long period of depression throughout the county.
If there is a moral to this all too familiar tale, it is probably this: never buy an inflated share in tripe products from a weaver, grave-digger or estate agent.
Forgotten Lancashire and Parts of Cheshire and the Wirral is by Dr Derek J Ripley. To purchase a copy go to www.forgottenlancashire.co.uk