Robin Longbottom examines the tripe trade and how one shop owner had a bizarre encounter with the police

CATTLE have a large and complex stomach divided into sections through which grass and fodder must pass to be digested.

The lining of the stomach has for centuries, particularly in the industrial north, provided a cheap, nutritious and once popular food, called tripe.

Before sale to the public, it was processed by a 'tripe dresser', who cleaned it, removed the fat, boiled it and then bleached it to make it white. The most popular tripe was called honeycomb and was often eaten cold with lashings of vinegar and pepper. In the 18th century it was curried and a favourite in London’s inns and taverns, but during the 19th and 20th centuries it was more commonly braised in milk with sliced onions.

In 1874 tripe was the subject of a bizarre Keighley court case involving a tripe dresser called Robinson Walton, more commonly known as Bob. He lived in Beck Street, where he also had his tripe shop, and was a regular at a beerhouse in Westgate called the Bay Horse, kept by John 'Jacky' Parker.

Westgate was a notorious part of the town and Parker had been charged at least once for allowing drunkenness and keeping a disorderly and riotous house. However, the magistrates had been sympathetic, stating that “a man who could keep the beerhouse decently would be very clever indeed, considering the locality that it was in”, and he got away with a fine of 20 shillings and costs. Some time later Walton was present during a disturbance and arrested, however, the case against him was dismissed. The incident appears to have incensed him and whilst drinking at the Grapes Inn on September 18, 1874, the landlord, Charles Lord, overheard him say “that he had laid a trap for a thief and that it was the police that he wanted (to get)”.

In the early hours of the following morning PC Harwood, a constable with 15 years' service, was doing his rounds in Beck Street when he noticed that the door to Walton’s tripe shop was ajar. When he pushed the door open, he was puzzled to find that there was a length of string attached to it and that it went across the yard to the house.

As he was looking into the shop, Walton came dashing out of the house shouting “thief”, pushed him inside and shut the door. Harwood later recounted the subsequent conversation – I said, “what’s the matter, Bob?”. He said, “I have had it in for you for a long time. You remember Jacky Parker’s ‘do’ don’t you?”. I said, “yes I do”. He said, “aye, I’ll make you pay for that were going to steal my tripe”. The string across the yard had been attached to a bell in the house which had rung when Harwood pushed the door open, alerting Walton, who now had him locked in the shop. Despite Harwood telling Walton that he was simply going about his normal duty, he refused to let him out and sent for the police. Walton insisted that Harwood was charged with breaking into his shop and attempting to steal three pounds of tripe and Walton was counter charged with obstructing PC Harwood in the execution of his duty.

Some days later both cases came before the magistrates and the one against Harwood was swiftly dismissed with “no stain on his character”. However, the case against Walton was proved and he was found guilty and fined 50 shillings and costs. Despite Bob Walton’s early brush with the police, he went on to become a respectable member of the community and opened tripe shops in South Street, East Parade and the market.

The last tripe shop in Keighley closed in the 1980s.