Mr Bulls butchers on Roman Road has been trading in Globe Town for over 30 years and is one of the few remaining traditional butchers in the area.
Robert Waeland, who now owns the shop, has been working there for 32 years. “I grew up on the estate just over the road, and saw that everyone in the butchers was nice, and had nice friends, and I needed money, so I started work as a Saturday boy. Luckily enough, I was pretty good at it!” he explained.
Butchery has had to adapt in recent years, and even more so in rapidly changing East London.
Over the last five years, says Waeland, Roman Road area has changed dramatically.
“Lots of people are moving into this area with money. It’s a good thing really; they put money back into the area, all the pubs are thriving where they used to be empty. The area is better now, but it has become so expensive.
“We have a real mix of customers, especially at the weekend” Waeland goes on “When I was a kid, there would never be men in the butchers on a Saturday, just mothers and children, but now, its a mix of men and women. It’s fashionable to be into cooking, and to cook in different ways, and I think a lot of the chefs have made it more accessible.”
The outside of Mr Bulls has a traditional red-and-white awning and a window display with requisite sausages and chops. Inside, it is clear that he has moved beyond the traditional. “We have to do a lot of the modern stuff. I’ve sold stuff that I never thought I would, that I’d never even heard of. We’ve even sold water buffalo and zebra, it just depends what people want..
It wasn’t what I was brought up on but it’s not as bizarre as you’d think – it just comes up like steaks. A lot of people who go to the gym, or run marathons, that’s the kind of stuff they want because it’s very high in protein and low in fat.”
Waeland gets the majority of his meat from Smithfield Market, near Barbican, in the city. Smithfield is the biggest wholesale meat market in the UK, and one of the largest in Europe.
Here, Waeland can find pretty much everything he needs. He orders enough meat to sell out at the weekend, and doesn’t struggle to do this. Customers can order whatever they want, and it is this way that Waeland can get the best meat to take home.
“A couple of weeks ago, we had a big order for some fresh ducks, and I had one left, and because we only get it to order, I took it home, which was a nice treat.”
So does Waeland dine on steak every day? “No,” he laughs. “I think steak is a bit boring actually. My favourite is minted lamb burgers – they’re my kids favourite. But I’m around meat all day, so if we go out and have a meal, I would have fish, or something actually different.”
Butchery is a hard job. Waeland wakes up between half-past-four and half-past-five each morning, and the shop is open six days a week. His shop is an essential part of the community though, and he would never leave.Waeland has a large group of local customers, who have all grown up together as part of the community and “make every Saturday a laugh.”
For Waeland, retail is no longer enough, and he has to do “outside work” almost daily. He explained, “We deliver everywhere, from schools, to restaurants, to churches, to care homes. We have to do everything we can.”
Waeland grew up on the Cranbrook Estate but has since moved out to Epping. He has no plans of moving. “Roman Road is my home, it’s where I come from, I know everyone in the area, and if I had a chance to open a second shop, I wouldn’t do it.”