Comments on this blog post are closed. No further comments will be published. Go to Dave Joy’s blog here for anything you want to say or find out about cowhouses.
You know that house on the corner of your terraced street with the funny shaped, slightly larger yard than most of the others in the street? Well maybe it used to be a cowhouse, one of over 900 little, local dairies that used to supply Liverpool’s milk? Here are some.
Just a few hundred yards away:
Looks like a new house built in the middle there since the cows left. And looking round the back?
All around the city, if you know what you’re looking for, is evidence that the gap between town and countryside was once not so wide as it’s become.
A few doors away?
I first heard about Liverpool’s former cowhouses in January 2011 when I heard historian and social researcher Duncan Scott talking about them, at an event put on by ‘Mr Seel’s Garden’, an academic project looking at the history of local food production in Liverpool. Hearing Duncan talk about them and how many there had been, really opened my eyes. Since when many of my urban walks around Liverpool have included speculatively looking for former cowhouses.
One day in 2012 Duncan and I arranged to meet at Onion on Aigburth Road, after which I knew as much about cowhouses as I’d ever need to know.
Cowhouses in Liverpool reached their greatest numbers round about the time of the Great War. Dairy farmers had begun moving to the city around the 1860s when rail links to their rural locations were opened. Coming to be closer to potential markets in Liverpool neighbourhoods, the cows would live in yards, be fed on fresh grass from local parks and even football grounds and many families would also run delivery rounds.
Duncan’s book focuses on particular immigrants to the city from around the Dent and Sedbergh area of North Yorkshire and Cumbria. Above is Joe Capstick on West Derby Road in Tuebrook.
There would be cows living here until 1975. At the event where I first saw Duncan he showed some silent film of the last cows leaving, being transported back to family farms up north. The immigrants never having lost touch with their root farms and families.
So during my own life there was this last generation of urban cowkeepers. Living and working in the streets around us. And I never noticed.
They were a close knit bunch, all sharing the unusual and hard lifestyle of getting up very early to get the cows milked, do the milk round, gather up the feedstuffs and milk the cows again later in the day, before beginning the round of bottling for the next day all over again. Social events, even weddings, would be fitted within this structure, many marrying other dairy types who understood the life.
And though their national body was called the ‘National Dairymen’s Association’ – many of the ‘men’ in the industry were, as you can see, women.
Which brings us to the best preserved cowhouse in Liverpool. Somewhere longtime readers of this blog might have seen before.
In his book, Duncan gets a look inside the house. Still looking like a dairy, and still lived in by the dairy family.
Allerton Farm Dairy standing where Chandlers Hardware store is these days.
The cows are long gone from Harper’s Dairy, but they were still supplying milk up to the year 2000, when a Tesco opening on that school site above finally saw their business off.
Supermarkets, the growth of industrial scale milk production and us not buying our milk from them, saw off the cowhouses and even most of the milk rounds that used to be such a prominent part of the early morning soundtrack of our lives. Another bit of local lost to the corporate convenience world. But their places are still there if you look carefully on your next urban walk. The places where, at one time, 4,000 cows shared the city with us. In their cowhouses.
Comments on this blog post are now closed. No further comments will be published. Go to Dave Joy’s blog here for anything you want to say or find out about cowhouses. ‘Urban Cowboys’ is available direct from Duncan Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org