The Abattoir, North Shields

Suddenly the bull gave a great bellow and jumped out of the wagon, straight into the crowd of people.

Near the top of our street, there was a slaughterhouse (abattoir) and in the warm weather the smell was awful.  Every Tuesday bulls and sheep were brought there to be killed.  I now feel ashamed to say this, but at the time it was very exciting.  All the kids from around the area (and grown-ups too) would form a crowd outside the slaughterhouse waiting for the wagon to come.  When it did a great cheer would resound.

Two men in leather aprons, carrying long sticks, would lower the tailgate and try to coax a frightened bull out of the wagon and straight into the open door of the slaughterhouse.  Of course, the bulls didn’t always oblige.  They would jump up and down bellowing loudly and the crowd loved it, hoping yet fearing that it might break loose.  One day that’s what happened.

I was standing near the front of the crowd, feeling excited and nervous.  I was only about nine years old.  This bull refused to leave the wagon.  The men were beating it with their sticks and it was roaring loudly.  It was jumping so much the wagon was shaking.  Then suddenly it gave a great bellow and it jumped out of the wagon and straight into the crowd of people.  It was terrible, everyone was screaming and running away.  I turned and ran as fast as I could.  I got into the alleyway that led to our house and then I heard the bull following me.

When I got into the yard my mother was there, she was busy putting clothes through the mangle.  She saw the bull and, quick as a flash, she grabbed me and pulled me behind the mangle.  The bull charged past us and actually hit the mangle.  That mangle was a blessing to us, it was big and heavy, made of cast iron with huge wooden rollers.  I don’t know what would have happened if it hadn’t been there.

Anyway, by now the slaughter-men were in the yard with their sticks and a coil of rope.  They had to stand with their backs against the wall as the bull ran round and round in a circle trying to find a way out.  My mother was almost in a state of collapse, holding me tight.  Finally, the bull made a last desperate attempt at freedom.   It tried to run up the open stairs in the centre of the yard, but it didn’t get very far, for its two front legs went through the open stairs.  It was trapped.  Quick as a flash, a rope was thrown round its neck and the poor beast was dragged up the street to its death in the slaughterhouse.  I never stood in the street again on Tuesdays, but I still watched the weekly event from the upstairs window of my Nana’s house, it was much safer.

I remember one Tuesday when a herd of sheep was refusing to enter the slaughterhouse, so they too jumped into the crowd.  But this time it was funny, the sheep were running all over and everyone was laughing.

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