Life as a Liverpool urban cowboy

Joe Capstick, Marlborough Road, Liverpool. Photo courtesy of Joan Fenney, Margaret Rowlands and Duncan Scott.
Image caption In 1900 there were 900 registered cow houses across Liverpool

They were once at the heart of every high street.

Tucked away behind brick walls in tight terraced streets, a little bit of the countryside in the city.

The Liverpool cow houses were home to over 4,000 cows, providing local people with fresh milk and cheese.

The practice peaked in the early 1900s when there were 900 establishments across the city.

The story of the city cow houses - run by young farmers who moved from their family farms in Yorkshire to Liverpool - is told in a new book, Urban Cowboys, by Cheshire author Duncan Scott.

"The cow houses would be on the end of a normal street of houses," he said.

"The cows would be milked on the spot in the back yard and the milk was bottled on site and the families would deliver to doorsteps on local rounds covering four or five miles."

Family business

The farmers retained strong links with their family farms in Yorkshire, but many settled in the city.

Joan Fenney, 79, who has lived in the dairy on Rose Lane since she was three-years-old, said it was a close-knit family business.

Image caption Harper's Dairy in Mossley Hill was home to 30 cows, two horses and one bull

"We took over the milk business in 1935 and my mother and father worked it," she said.

"We had 30 cows, two horses and one bull and I started working the milk round when I was 16, delivering and collecting.

"My aunt was at Allerton Farm Dairy, my grandfather had the place at Chestnut Grove in Wavertree, and my mother's family had the place opposite the Brookhouse on Smithdown Road."

The dairy was very much part of home life and the shop was a room in the house so the family was always on hand to serve customers.

The white tiled room still remains, complete with black and white counter, but the shelves are now lined with empty egg boxes and plants.

Two remain

Outside, the shippon, where the cows were kept, still stands with the original feeding troughs, the stall for the horse and even the old milk crates still stacked in the corner.

"The cows went in the early 1950s but we carried on selling through the shop," Mrs Fenney continued.

"The business was changing."

Image caption Joan Fenney put the dairy shop's closure down to the rise in local supermarkets

As big corporate dairies began to take over, the smaller ones began to close. Local dairies tried to survive by buying in milk to continue to deliver on their rounds.

By 1949 the number of cow houses in Liverpool had fallen to 129 and in July 1975 the last cow house in the city closed.

Only two cow house buildings still remain in Liverpool: Marlborough Road in West Derby, which was the last to close, and Harper's Dairy in Rose Lane.

Harper's managed to keep the dairy shop running by buying in milk to sell but finally closed in 2000, something which Mrs Fenney says was due to a rise in local supermarkets.

"It was so upsetting, it just fell through your fingers," she said.

"As soon as they built the supermarkets people said 'No, we won't leave you', but they did.

"You dreaded getting a note in the bottle saying 'No milk till further notice'. You knew very well that they wouldn't start again."

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