The Paddington shop that wasn’t there!

The Paddington shop that wasn’t there!

Bishop’s Bridge Paddington, sited high above the railway tracks, was formerly the iconic bow girder construction that stood right across the Paddington station throat. Upon its roadway level there were a number of buildings that could be accessed and these included cafes, railway offices and the Paddington suburban/Metropolitan platforms ticket hall. The construction was built in 1908/09 to replace what was the first ever bridge – or rather viaduct – at this very location. An older bridge which happened to form the entrance to the first ever Paddington station built by Brunel and opened in 1838!

Since 2006 there’s been a new bridge on the same location except its much wider – more like a dual carriageway and a little bit inconvenient as recent reports suggest when ways of improving the pedestrian user experience are being sought. There’s no shops on the bridge these days and the only visible building is the taxi rank entrance which looks very much out of place.

One building to be found in the old order of things, allegedly, was the Cat and Dogs’ meat shop, which was immortalised by Wolfgang Suschitzky in a famous photograph of his. Many sources say the shop was to be found on Bishop’s bridge and that appears to be a gospel truth.

But what if the claims were absolutely wrong and the Cat and Dogs meat shop had never stood on a bridge that stood above Paddington station?

Possible location of the Cat & Dogs Meat Shop on Bishops Bridge Road – where other office buildings and a cafe once stood. Except it was never here! Author’s photograph circa 2003.

Indeed, everyone is wrong for the Cat and Dog’s Meat shop never stood on this railway bridge, not in a million years. It was never on Bishop’s Bridge Road and not even anywhere near Paddington station!

It was a mile away at what is Westbourne Green. Despite official sources claiming it as Bishops Bridge Road and even the Tate Gallery’s pages on Suschitzky’s work citing the location as Bishops Bridge Road – the immortalised shop was at Clarendon Crescent, W9, quite distant from any railway line that ventured out of Paddington!

The building seems to have appeared around the late 1870s when prodigious use of the land around here meant every single bit of space was used up for housing. Except this bit was too narrow for habitation but it still got used – as a tiny shop of sorts. It possibly could have been one of the smallest in London for all one knows!

Wolfgang Suschitzky’s famous photograph. Official sources say 1934 but I put it as 1935 because of the films advertised on the posters.

The address was 2a Clarendon Crescent, next door to its larger sibling at 2b Clarendon Crescent – as shown in the picture above. It will come as a surprise to learn part of both these properties still remain to this day. The premises was located almost at the intersection of Harrow Road and Clarendon Crescent. The narrow profile of the building was not caused by a railway running behind it on Bishops Bridge Road but the Grand Union Canal itself. The proliferation of tinned and other convenience pet foods has all but eliminated the need for specialist shops such as this one.

Photographs (of which there is a selection on this page) show the Cat and Dog Meat shop sited opposite some public conveniences and there’s also a trolley bus route. along the Harrow Road. The conveniences were sited almost at the actual road junction itself whilst the trolleybus route was the 662 to Sudbury (now replaced by bus 18.) All these (including the trolleybus route) were progressively swept way during the sixties.

OS 1947-1964 map showing where the Cat and Dogs’ Meat shop was (marked red.) NLScotland.

One might wonder why these structures were so narrow. There appears to be no indication of how this occurred. The only reason could be that the road layout had already been established, and because of the slope down from the bridge (it was known as Lock Bridge at the time because it was almost adjacent to the Lock Hospital – which were pulled down many years ago), the junction had to be as level as possible, leaving a tiny sliver of land between the road and the canal. Clearly some saw it as a potential development opportunity! The buildings were clearly established here by the late 19th Century as evidenced by this map at the National Library of Scotland.

Map showing location of the Cat and Dogs Meat shop (marked by a small red rectangle.)

I would think these very narrow buildings at least had some overhang above the canal towpath. If one looks at the wall on the left side of the Cat and Dog Meat shop, its clear this is the boundary wall. The Cat and Dog Meat shop however can clearly be seen to extend perhaps three feet to the rear of that boundary wall, thus there must have been a steel structure of sorts that extended these properties’ footprint somewhat over the canal towpath. Similarly if one looks at the other pictures (that for example looking towards Harrow Road and the Lock Hospital) one can also see the next shop towards Harrow Road too extends beyond that boundary wall.

It is said many cat and dogs meat sellers were quite poor and many traded from a wheelbarrow or perhaps had a peg board on a wall from which hung various offerings of meat for one’s household pets. A small number had shops but these were often spartan. Without a doubt our example had rented what was quite possibly the tinniest shop in the whole of London!

What was it they were selling? That was horse meat – a plentiful supply no doubt because of the huge number of horses who fell by the wayside undertaking the hard work required to serve the requirements of humanity. It was quite a sordid business since 26,000 horse a year were required to feed London’s cat population. And that is before one gets to feed the dogs!

The Cat and Dog Meat shop in Clarendon Crescent – bricked up by the time this photograph was taken, probably late fifties. The wires for trolleybus route 662 can be seen. The canal is right behind the premises. Source: Pinterest.

If you want the dogs included, well that meant 46,000 or so horses in total for the chop. Something like an extra 20,000 equines for an estimated dog population of around 150,000. What happened in general is when a horse died it was dispatched to a knackers’ yard and it was the knacker who sold off chunks of carved stuff to the cat and dog meat seller. If one thinks about it, the methodology is quite similar to how humans procure their meat, the only difference being horses died from some factor of work or old age whereas for humans, the cows, sheep, chicken and the likes, were reared in managed conditions and then killed in order to become the prize offering on a human’s dinner plate.

What a cats’ meat seller sold was meat to cats. To be specific, it was horse meat that the seller acquired from horse slaughterers, known as knackers. In the 1860s, it was estimated there were 300,000 cats in London alone. To feed this multitude of cats, it was ‘stated that 26,000 horses, maimed, or past work, [were] slaughtered and cut up each year to feed … household pets,’ and because it was a highly profitable business, it also involved some 1,000 cats’ meat sellers. (Source: Geri Walton.)

Looking towards Harrow Road. Cat and Dog Meat on the right. These buildings must have hardly been worth their use since they’re extremely narrow! Again the wires for trolleybus route 662 can be seen. Source: Pinterest

Oft times poor people would buy cat and dog’s meat for consumption simply because it was so much cheaper than the proper sort of meat humans generally like to have. It could well have been a possible sideline this particular shop in Clarendon Crescent had because the whole area about it was full of poor people living in overcrowded, run down houses.

Some unscrupulous sellers did in fact flog off meat intended for cats or dogs as a cheap sausage filling thus th meat intended for canines or felines ended up in human stomachs! Not only that it has been known too that sausages were in fact made from either dog or cat meat!

How cat and dogs’ meat finds it way into sausages…. Source: Google Books

The British sausage has always been a mystery to us, and a mystery we have felt no inclination to go into. The British sausage has, in our eyes – for we have usually kept it out of our mouth – been a compound, in which our imagination has pictured the possibility of those who have led literally a ‘cat and dog life’, being blended together at last in silent union. Source: Google Books

The above two photographs were said to have been taken by Bernard Selwyn although they could too have been taken by John Gay. Despite running searches on the Internet I have no idea of verification of the pictures for either photographer.

Clarendon Crescent in 1960. The Cat and Dogs meat shop can just be seen on the left. The houses on the right have by this time been demolished. The pub on the right was the Devonshire Castle. This photograph is possibly by John Gay. Source: Pinterest

The same location in 1960 this time definitely by John Gay. Its a good record of how the road veered away from the Grand Union Canal in order to enable larger properties to be established, rather than the ultra narrow profile offered by the first few premises including the Cat and Dogs Meat shop. The view too shows the public conveniences that once existed here as well as the road leading towards St Mary Magdalene’s church. That still exists by the way. Source: Historic England

The photographs showing the old buildings and the corner of Harrow Road/Clarendon Crescent are of interest because even to this day the left hand pavement and kerb, despite having had some stones replaced, has kept its old alignment, so one knows where the alignment of the road once stood and where the meat shop was once situated. There is a tree on the site today, its been there a good few decades, it no doubt marks roughly the site where the entrance to the meat shop once stood.

These days one would never know there had been a road junction and a Cat and Dogs Meat shop! This is how things can be see in the present day seen on Google Streets. There’s absolutely noting to suggest the Cat and Dogs meat shop ever existed!

By the time the redevelopment hereabouts had been implemented and the Westway (A40M) built, many of these locations alongside the Grand Union Canal or the Great Western Railway some distance to the south had been consigned to the past, including the Cat and Dogs’ meat shop. Today the actual site is a small grassy patch overlooking the Grand Union Canal.

The grassy patch that was once the Cat and Dogs’ Meat shop!

View looking long the canal towpath towards Westbourne Green bridge. The rear of the Cat and Dogs Meat shop would have been about where the wall bends to follow the towpath. Its not the same wall these days however!

The Cat and Dogs Meat shop would have been immediately on the right (and probably overhanging the towpath a couple of feet or so.) Wilcote house can be seen, its one of the sixties built tower blocks built to replace the Victorian houses that were once numerous in this part of London.

Despite a huge remodel of Westbourne Green including new open spaces seating and play areas, which was finished in 2022/23 there is nothing to commemorate the former area layout nor indicate where the famous cat and dog meat shop once stood.

Fascinating in depth blog on the cat and dog meat trade.

Roll-call of sites which claim the Cat & Dogs Meat Shop is at Bishops Bridge Paddington (!)

Miramar Travel.

Museum of London.

Tate Gallery.

In this Reddit post its said the Cat & Dogs meat shop is at Whitechapel!