James Cope The Tainted Butcher

There can be little doubt that some of the food supply available to the Victorian citizens of London was, to say the least, tainted!

In a previous blog I provided an account of the poisonous ice cream scare in Lambeth.

The Chepstow & County Mercury, in its edition of Saturday the 24th of October, 1874, provided its readers with another tasy morsel to chew over:-


At the Guildhall Police-court, London, James Cope, butcher, of the Durham road, Holloway, was summoned for sending four quarters of beef to the meat market for sale as human food, the same being diseased, unwholesome, and unfit for the food of man.

Mr. Baylis, jun., appeared in support of the summons, and said that, on the 24th of September, the defendant bought a cow from a dairyman, for £4, which had been ill for some time, and had been physicked.


He killed it, dressed it, and brought it to market to sell, when it was seized by one of the inspectors in the defendant’s presence.

The lungs were afterwards seized, and preserved in spirits of wine, in order to show the condition of it.


Mr. William Wylde said that he was one of the inspectors of meat appointed by the Corporation, and he saw a porter carrying a quarter of beef into the new meat market.

He followed it to the shop of Mr. Dudley, and there found the other three-quarters of the same beast.

The animal had evidently suffered severely from lung disease, for the flesh was wet, and the lungs had adhered to the side and had to be cut away.

He showed the defendant the meat, and he stated that he gave £4 for the cow, killed it, dressed it, and brought it to market to sell.

He went to the prisoner’s shop and brought away some of the lungs in spirits of wine.


Mr. James Newman, the other inspector of meat, corroborated the last witness’s evidence as to the condition of the meat, both of them stating that it was unfit for human food.


David Jones, dairyman, Stroud-lane-road, said that he sold the cow to the defendant because it was ill and lost its milk, and he was glad to get rid of it.

Had it been in good health it would have been worth £9.


Dr. Saunders, medical officer of health, said that he had heard the evidence of the two inspectors as to the state of the meat, and was of the opinion that it was quite unfit for human food.

Part of the lungs was brought to him by Mr. Wylde, and he made a microscopical examination of it, and instead of its being in a spongy state, it was solidified, showing that the animal had had lung disease of long standing, and to eat the flesh would be decidedly detrimental to human life.


The defendant denied that he had any knowledge of the cow being diseased, and urged that he did everything openly, and attempted no concealment.

Sir Thomas White sentenced him to one month’s imprisonment without the option of a fine.