Shopping for meat in a supermarket is a dull chore, but during my childhood, accompanying my mother to Stubbs Butchery was an adventure. After running the gauntlet of the disembodied cow’s head, horns aloft, on the shop frontage, a bell tinkled as the door opened, then one had the fun of scuffing around in the sawdust on the floor. If a joint was needed for the weekend roast, a carcass was taken to the large round chopping block by the door, and from the assemblage of tools hanging around his waist, the butcher would select a shiny cleaver and chop the desired piece off. “Why do butchers always wear blue-and-white-striped aprons?” I asked my mother. “Imagine the mess of blood if they wore a white apron like the grocer,” she replied. The final treat was, as the brown-paper parcel was tied with string, watching the string being wrapped around fingers and snapped. How I admired that skill.
Although his Warkworth business was established in 1922, Liverpudlian Herbert (Bert) Stubbs’ connection with Warkworth began in 1912. He left his home town near Liverpool, where three generations of Stubbs had been butchers, and arrived in Warkworth via Australia to work for Civil Brothers. Later, he was employed by Hellabys on the North Shore. When World War I broke out, he returned to England and joined the Royal Field Artillery. It was in Egypt that he lost his hearing as a result of noisy gunfire. De-mobbed, he married Annie Ellison and the pair returned to Warkworth, sailing up the Mahurangi on the Hauiti. The first Stubbs Butchery was a wooden shop and meat was delivered on horseback. The wooden shop burnt down and the new art deco butchery was built in its place. Although it has been enlarged since then, this shop still stands out as an icon of architecture in the town.
In 1920, Margery, the first of eight children, was born. She was followed by Young Bert, Joe, Dorothy, Alison, Jim, Ken and Eleanor. Life was busy for the hard-working parents.
For Mrs. Stubbs, her first 16 years of raising little children was without the benefit of electricity, and she also made the brawn that was sold in the shop. Mr Stubbs bought local stock and, despite his hearing loss, he didn’t miss a trick at the auctions. He slaughtered the animals in his abattoir, ran the shop and delivered meat. A primitive van was purchased to help with these tasks. In summer, an occasional break was taken from this busy life, a plank put across the back of the van for the children to sit on, and the whole family driven to Snells Beach for a swim and a picnic.
During World War II, Young Bert went off to fight in Italy and later returned minus a leg. He carried on with his previous work in the shop, his prosthetic leg making him a bit lop-sided, but otherwise, it didn’t seem to be an impediment. Bert’s sons, Don and Bruce, became third generation Warkworth butchers. Don sold the shop in 1999, thus ending 77 years of Stubbs Butchery in Warkworth.
Maureen Young, Warkworth & District Museum