A cut above the rest: Brenchley’s butcher chalks up half a century

Pam Mills

Tributes have poured in from Terry’s Butchers customers, and the champagne was flowing freely too.

The Parish Council made a special presentation and gave him flowers. Locals brought in plenty of cake as well. “It’s a tradition to bring me cakes,” says Terry. “I do enjoy them.”

The 72-year-old moved to the village when he was 16. The business is a family affair; his son Neil has worked there for 35 years himself, having started straight from school, and his wife Sandra still comes in to help out on Saturday mornings.

Some of his customers have been coming in for decades. “Most of them are friends for life,” says Terry. “There are two or three customers who have been coming here since I started, like Mrs Harris, who’s in her 90s. She came over for the celebration and had a glass of champagne with us.

“There’s a lot of second generation customers too, kids who have grown up since we opened.”

But while some things have stayed the same over the last half a century, there have been many changes too. “It’s a lovely village to work in, but we’ve lost a lot of shops and if that happens then the character dies,” says Terry.

“The biggest change has been the loss of shops. Two grocers have gone, the forge closed, and the [Bull] pub has gone too.

“It used to be a flourishing drinkers’ pub but now it’s a tea room and wine bar. It’s only us and the Post Office in the village now.”

The retail trade has also altered with the arrival of shopping ‘under one roof’. Terry recalls: “We used to sell vegetables but as soon as the supermarkets opened, that was decimated.”

But he believes that local shops still have a valuable part to play in the daily life of small rural communities – and in everyone’s diets.

“We sell a different sort of meat,” he says. “I think people who come to butchers are more into real meat. We hang ours, so it has a darker colour. In the supermarkets it has to look good.

“And we cut it as people want it, we can give them exactly the right cuts. You’ve got to give your customers specialist treatment.

“The younger generation don’t communicate, they just shop with their eyes. We can give them advice about what to eat, and we can give them a better deal.”

He rejects the oft-cited charge that small independent retailers charge too much compared to their larger rivals.

“I got really cross when I was listening to a man on the radio ranting about how he can’t afford to go to his village shop. I felt like ringing in and saying: ‘Do you know how much my lamb chops are?’”

Terry has encountered other challenges too: “We had problems with foot-and-mouth and mad cow disease. But the customers rallied round to make sure we stayed in business.”

They are glad he is still plying his trade in their midst. “I think it’s an amazing milestone to achieve, especially as so many small rural businesses are disappearing,” says Louise Hatcher. “He’s been a mainstay of the community for so long.”

“I have known ‘Terence’ for almost 30 years,” adds Tracey Chambers. “I not only go there for my meat, which is usually asked for as a handful of this or a chunk of that, but always for the cheek and banter. I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.”

“I have lived in the village for 34 years and Terry goes above and beyond the duties of a butcher,” says Velsha Stokes. “Nothing is too much trouble.

“He has become a very good friend to us over the years. A cuppa is often offered when you go in and there is always a biscuit for the children.”

So has Terry contemplated retirement? “I do, every morning at half past seven,” he smiles. “But I couldn’t just sit about at home. It’s your way of life.

“It would break my heart to shut the door. Hopefully Neil will keep it going. I couldn’t get a bloody job anywhere else, I know that.”

What does he like to do when he’s not wielding the knives? Terry used to be a ‘great cricketer’, playing for Surrey Colts for three years as a left-arm pace bowler, then Linden Park and Horsmonden as well as the village. Now he likes an occasional round of golf.

So here’s to the next 50 years? “Fifty weeks, more like,” he quips. “And another cake, please.”

PICTURE: ALL THE TRIMMINGS: Terry Tester enjoys another cake donation

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