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Joe Lawrence, Traditional Butcher & Writer

March 22, 2015
by the gentle author

Joe Lawrence

There is a legend that Dick Turpin started out as a Butcher’s apprentice in Whitechapel before graduating to the role of Highwayman. Yet only now that I have read Joe Lawrence’s fictionalised memoir The East End Butcher’s Boy can I fully appreciate how one activity could be the natural outcome of such an employment.

In 1972, at fourteen years old, Joe fell into a Saturday job at a Butcher’s shop in East Ham and found himself unwittingly swept up into a criminal underworld only to emerge on the other side at nineteen – fully qualified in butchery and a street-savvy survivor. Joe quickly became complicit as his boss used the premises for trading in all kinds of stolen goods with accumulating success and escalating risk.

Returning to these seminal experiences in the light of maturity, Joe has crafted a compelling account which reads like a thriller and allows us to identify with the innocence of the narrator while also fearing for the consequences as he gets in too deep. The work is an impressive debut, possessing an unmistakeable authenticity and, in its human sympathy and complex moral scheme, recalling the work of Bill Naughton, a favourite writer of mine.

Part of the fascination of the book is how Joe describes an entire illicit subculture with its elaborate codes and relative sense of justice yet, at the end, you realise it has been an unexpected love story – a rite of passage, delivering the protagonist into adulthood and a complex relationship with the society he inhabits.

Contributing Photographer Alex Pink accompanied Joe on his daily trip to Smithfield Market before dawn recently and, later in the morning, I met with them both at The George on the Isle of Dogs where we enjoyed pints and plates of delicious bangers and mash, supplied by Joe. “I’ve always loved getting up early,” he admitted to me fondly, “I’m up at three-thirty, out of the house by four and at Smithfield Market by four-thirty.”

After his volatile start in butchery, Joe forsook the beloved trade for twenty years, working for the Post Office and then running his own courier business from Bermondsey. “In 2010, I realised I’d had enough,” Joe confessed, “I thought, ‘What was it I enjoyed more than anything else in the world?'”

Joe also wrote ‘The East End Butcher’s Boy’ in six months in 2010 and, encouraged by a positive response from a literary agent, set out to get it published. “I have written another book and I am halfway through a third,” he revealed to me enthusiastically. Thus, Joe has reconciled himself to his past through writing and returned to what he always wanted to do.

“I know there is still a market for a traditional English butcher,” he informed me authoritatively, “so people send me their orders and I go down to Smithfield and get it for them, all packaged exactly as they want.” Now Joe is his own man, doing what he loves best, making his daily runs that end up at The George and working on his writing too.

Joe runs a meat raffle on the last Friday of every month at The George

Photographs copyright © Alex Pink

You can obtain a signed copy of THE EAST END BUTCHER BOY from Joe Lawrence for £5 by dropping him an email at Joe is also happy to make personal deliveries of meat and poultry at keen prices to any readers in the East End direct from Smithfield Market.

You may like to read my other stories of butchery

Peter Sargent, Butcher

Mick Hardie, Butcher

Joan Brown,  Secretary at Smithfield Market

Christmas Meat Auction at Smithfield Market

Sarah Ainslie at Smithfield Market

10 Responses leave one →
  1. March 22, 2015

    Great to read the reference to Bill Naughton. Years ago, we studied his book ‘Saintly Billy’ on an Access Course I ran at Brownlow Fold Community Eduction Centre in Bolton, the town where Bill was born. I have a vague family connection with Bill. When I was a very young child my aunt married his nephew and Bill bought them a terraced house as a wedding present. Sadly the marriage didn’t last but I have always remembered this generous act.

    A few years ago I took, on separate occasions, a class of GCSE students and my mum to see Spring and Port Wine at Bolton Octagon, our vibrant and well acclaimed local theatre. It was a great production.

    Your blog never ceases to engage me. Good luck with the Norton Folgate Campaign.

  2. Ros permalink
    March 22, 2015

    Great story and pictures – thanks!

  3. Richard Penny permalink
    March 22, 2015

    Brilliant to see this fantastic author getting some well deserved publicity right at the heart of his roots’ base. He read a portion of his latest political satire at Abctales’ reading night at the Wheatsheaf in Rathbone Place in January and had me almost pissing myself laughing. A real find, and hats off to TGA for spotting his talent, and to Alex Pink for some beautiful photography.

  4. Moya Rooke permalink
    March 22, 2015

    Apart from his book, I have read a number of Joe’s stories and they never fail to entertain. He is a regular contributor to ABC Tales and we are all very proud of his achievements. He deserves all the success that should be coming his way. I think nearly every short story that I’ve read of his, has legs, in that most of them could be made into a novel. Well done Joe

  5. March 22, 2015

    A Big thank you to all the kind comments and a massive thank you to The Gentle Author and the fantastic photographer Alex Pink.

  6. Classof65 permalink
    March 22, 2015

    Here in the U.S. I can’t even buy beef or calf’s liver unless I’ll take it a sixteenth of an inch thin. I used to be able to buy it sliced a half-inch thick, thick enough to fry with bacon or onions for a hearty meal. At a sixteenth of an inch, I can’t even turn it over without tearing it to bits. All of the meat here is processed in a factory somewhere and then sent out to the grocery stores for sale. Not a real butcher anywhere near. However I wouldn’t have the cheek to ask Joe Lawrence to deliver some liver to me in Tennessee! Best of luck to him with his writing….

  7. jack permalink
    March 23, 2015

    East End Butcher Boy is a great book. Believe me, I read a lot of books. Not only is it a great book, anyone that has watched any of the so called classics such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels would suddenly realise how short-changed they were. This is a true story involving real people not Hollywood cut-outs and would make a wonderful screenplay. There’s drama on every page. If you love books and can get this for a fiver take that deal. You’re getting steak for the price of a square-sliced sausage.

  8. Eastendbutcher permalink
    April 9, 2015

    Once again a big thank you for all the kind comments. If you would like to read some of my short stories and also the first few Chapters of my latest Novel ( Out later this year) “Who Is Jack Winter”. Then have a look at my site

    All the best to everyone.

  9. ian permalink
    October 22, 2015

    Hey Big Man. When is the Jack Winter book coming out? The first few chapters sample is terrific.

  10. Michelle Goodes permalink
    September 6, 2020

    Short story collection, was an interesting read. Second book I’ve read by Joe Lawrence and ready to buy another. Easy to read and interesting in places. I hadn’t read a book in 18 years so have enjoyed sitting down and reading.

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