Stratford's Big T retires after working as a butcher since the age of 13
TONY Hunt, who started his first job at the age of 13 delivering meat on a bicycle, has retired, aged 66, after a life-long career as a butcher.
He has prepared meat for celebrities, met fellow butchers from around the world and even managed to put a knife into his groin by mistake. He’s fondly known as Big T, because he used to weigh 17 stone, and since the 1970s he has become one of Stratford’s most experienced and popular butchers.
Stratford born-and-bred, Tony has had a few accidents along the way, like the time he fell off his bike coming down Welcombe Road after a day of deliveries, and the time when he somehow managed to stab himself in the groin with a boning knife while cutting up beef. But apart from those, it’s been a lifetime of happy memories.
For the last 17 years, Tony has worked at Barry the Butcher in Chapel Street. When he started there as a teenager there were 11 other butcher shops in Stratford.
Being a butcher was something Tony wanted to do from an early age. His brothers, Chris, Stuart, Phil and Vince all worked in Hensons Butchers in Bridge Street at some point in their lives.
On leaving Stratford High School for Boys, as it was then, Tony also joined Hensons and, after an apprenticeship, became a qualified butcher.
“At the aged of 16 I was working full-time at Hensons and it was popular with thousands of Stratford residents who queued on the sawdust floors on a Saturday to get their Sunday roast and meat for the week,” he told the Herald. “The shop was huge and had a bakery for the pies and it belonged to the Henson family in Stratford who also owned land and livestock.
“Hensons became Baxters and finally Dewhurst. I worked 17 years there, then 17 years at Tesco, where I got my City and Guilds and 17 years at Barry the Butcher.
“Often customers will ask me for my recommendation on a piece of meat and how to cook it, so you have to be a bit of a chef too.”
He and his wife Bronya live in Stratford and have been married for 18 years, but they go back longer than that – they used to go scrumping, climbing trees and getting conkers with their families on the Clopton House Estate and Welcombe Hills when she was children.
Bronya used to work at another well-known family-run business in Bridge Street, Pargetters which was a tearoom-café.
Holidays have been interesting for Tony and Bronya.
“When abroad he always likes to see the local butcher to see how they display and work,” Bronya said. “Like the time when we were celebrating our first wedding anniversary in Kenya. The chef found out he was a butcher and she wanted to come back to England to train with him. And on a daytrip in Albania we saw a cow hanging from a tree being dissected. We’ve also met butchers in Turkey and Egypt.”
Tony has also met celebrities who have popped in to buy meat, including Roger Daltrey, Dame Judi Dench, Dion Dublin, Nigel Havers and Sarah Douglas.
Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year. Bronya describes it as being like a “butcher’s widow” as her husband is up at 3am, off to work and back home whenever the job is done.
And so to retirement and the goal is “fishing and finishing the garden,” Tony says, but he still intends to do some work at the butchers as and when he’s needed.
Bronya added: “I know he is my husband but you wouldn’t find a harder working man,
dedicated to his job and nothing is too much trouble. So, it’s an end of an era but I am sure he will always be happy to help out if needed.”