Travelling North Northumberland butcher takes a back seat after 50 years

A butcher who has spent five decades servicing communities from his meat van will make his final run today

Simon Greener John Turnbull is handing on his meat cleaver to the next generation at R Turnbull and Sons mobile butchers shop
John Turnbull is handing on his meat cleaver to the next generation at R Turnbull and Sons mobile butchers shop

John Turnbull, 65, has driven his family firm’s mobile shop for nearly 50 years since he was 17, becoming a familiar face in villages in North Northumberland and something of a lifeline to those who can not travel far to shop.

But today John will hand over the keys to the travelling shop after completing his final shift on the roads, admitting last night it was the “end of an era.”

John is a key part of R Turnbull and Sons Butchers in Alnwick, which was established in 1880 by Roger Turnbull, who was followed by his sons John and Murdie - the retiree’s grandfather.

It remains the town’s longest-established butcher and one of its oldest businesses. John, who has lived in Alnwick his whole life, was just 16 when, in 1964, he joined the family business.

He passed his driving test aged 17 and has been a familiar face at the wheel of the travelling shop ever since, serving villages within a 20-mile radius of Alnwick five days a week.

Almost five decades later, John, who is part of three generations of Turnbulls currently at the firm, has decided to give up driving duties.

He explained: “I am 65, I just felt it was a good time now with my grandson in the business and basically it is the cold more than anything.

“I have had enough of the cold winters because it is pretty cold in the travelling shop in the winters, especially serving times.”

John will be making his final emotional journey today before handing over the keys to Turnbull’s butcher Paul Leighton, from Shilbottle, who will take over the reins.

However, he will not be hanging up his butcher’s apron just yet, but will continue to work in semi-retirement as a ‘back room boy’ on the production side at the award-winning Market Street shop.

John said: “I am really going to miss it. It’s the end of an era. Many of my customers have become firm friends over the years. I have known some of them since they were kids and they now have their own children and grandchildren. I will miss them all too.

“The travelling shop has also become a lifeline to the elderly and less able-bodied. It is much more than just a butcher’s shop on wheels - it continues to provide a vital community service to our local villages and I would like to thank everyone who has supported both myself and Turnbull’s over so many years. I will still be taking an active part in the shop, but more behind the scenes.

“Our sixth generation family butchers remains in good hands, with my son Mark at the helm, now joined by his own son, my grandson Daniel, with the full backing of the loyal and committed Turnbull’s team, many of whom have themselves been with us for many years. I hope everyone will continue to support us.”

Asked what major changes he had seen in the business and butchery in general over the years, John added: “We have had to expand the business, to adapt and diversify our product ranges to meet ever-changing tastes and pockets, and respond to increasing competition from the supermarkets.

“However, we have fought a winning battle and our customers have responded accordingly, safe in the knowledge that we remain a traditional family-run butchers, committed to sourcing the finest quality locally sourced meat, with customer service to match - in short a local butcher they can trust.”

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