Liverpool’s forgotten cowherds who were an ‘essential part’ of city life


Liverpool was once home to hundreds of cowherds and stables which formed an “essential part” of city life.

In the 1800s, generations of Pennine Dales farmers sought new life in areas that now encompass Liverpool as we know it today.

They became Liverpool Cowkeepers, keeping cows in their backyards and selling milk to a rapidly growing urban population, serving customers for over a century.

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Refrigeration and pasteurization quickly became commonplace, and other factors such as the shelf life of milk being extended and the milk The creation of the Marketing Board saw the role of cow ranchers as producers and retailers declined.

But while this way of life may seem like a distant part of our heritage, it is in the living memory of a number of people across Merseyside.

The Joy family, originally from the Yorkshire Dales, were one of many to set up stables in Liverpool. Living in Garston, they continued in the business for several generations, becoming one of the city’s last cow-raising families.

Local historian and author Dave Joy, 63, was part of what he describes as “the final chapter in cow breeding history” and has since researched his own family history and business. within Liverpool.

He told ECHO: “I discovered the whole story of a way of life that began with the farmers of the Pennine Dales who, following the industrial revolution, decided to move their cows to the city to provide fresh milk to the growing populations. They took root in the city and stayed there.

“Dairies have been passed down from generation to generation and in the early 1900s things started to change again in terms of technology and economics.



The cowherds delivered their own milk. Eric Joy with Rupert outside Wellington Dairy in 1963

The first Joy’s Dairy on Railway Street in Garston was founded in 1863 by Orlando Joy, who then passed the business on to his brother Daniel Joy, Dave’s second great-grandfather, in 1873.

The business was replaced by his only son Anthony Joy, who opened his first dairy on Island Road in Garston, then moved to 37 Wellington Street, which saw the business become Wellington Dairy.

Two of his sons, Anthony ‘Percy’ Joy – Dave’s grandfather – and George Joy continued the business, later joined by Dave’s father, Anthony ‘Eric’ Joy, after leaving school at 14 years.

The family stopped raising cows in 1955, but continued to deliver milk with dairy horses Danny, Rupert, and Peggy until they went out of business in 1969.

Dave said: “For me as a kid Wellington Dairy was this magical place – there was no such thing. Back then we were looking to send a man to the moon and the Joys always used a horse and cart. It was a whole different kind of place. “



Danny the milk horse.  A young Dave Joy rides the Cowkeepers' trusty steed.  1958
Danny the milk horse. A young Dave Joy astride the Cowkeepers’ trusty steed

In 1900, Dave said that around 500 properties in Liverpool were registered for permission to breed cows. He said nearly 6,500 cows were raised and those cows produced about 17,000 gallons per day for the city’s population.

Dave said: “They used to say there is a dairy at the end of every corner and that’s probably an exaggeration – but it was close to that.

“They were so common and yet, although they were common and part of everyday life at that time, it is an aspect of everyday life that is now forgotten.

“At one time the cow farming lifestyle took place in most major cities across the country, it wasn’t just a Liverpool phenomenon. IIt just seems Liverpool had more of them than any other city and tended to keep them longer than any other city. “

Dave believes the last cowherd was Joe Capstick of Tuebrook, who moved his cows out of town in 1975.



The whole family of breeders lent a hand during milking.  1950
The whole family of herders would lend a hand when milking, 1950

Dave said being a cowherd was a “seven days a week” job, which involved milking two to three times a day, feeding, cleaning and cleaning the cows, as well as delivering and selling milk on rounds. horse and cart or a milk float.

He said: “We are talking about the days before there were bottles of milk and refrigeration.

“But if you were willing to work, it was a profitable business because you were selling fresh milk straight from a cow to a ready population almost at your doorstep, so they could sell almost all the liquid milk they were. produce.

“They were retail producers – they produced the milk and sold it directly to the customer, there were no middlemen.

Did you know the history of cow breeding in Liverpool? Let us know in the comments section below.

“It was long hours and it was hard work, but as my dad taught me, it was a way of life. They loved what they did.

“They were very proud of what they did, proud of the health and quality of their cattle and the quality of their milk and, like my father, they loved working with horses.”

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But part of what remains of the stables in Liverpool is still hidden in plain sight.

Dave said: “At first the barns tended to be at the end of a patio because they had to have access to the backyard. It was a key part of their business.

“They usually had a big backyard because there was a little shed or a vessel to keep the cows, so there was a bit of property attached to these buildings that needed these outbuildings to keep the cows.

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“From the side of the road, looking at a house these days, it looks like an end terrace property. It’s only when you go around the back that you say there’s something different there, it’s extended to the back and that’s where the cows were.



Cows harvested hay and grass from local playgrounds to feed their cows.  Eric and George Joy at Joys Field, Horrocks Avenue, Garston.  1958
Cows harvested hay and grass from local playgrounds to feed their cows. Eric and George Joy at Joys Field, Horrocks Avenue, Garston in 1958

Dave has since written books and often gives historical lectures on the subject to raise awareness of this part of the city’s heritage.

He said: “It was one of those aspects of the hidden story – because it was part of everyday life, it was kind of taken for granted.

“But it wasn’t until you start removing diapers that you realize it was an essential part of life back then and it was so prevalent that you wonder why it was forgotten or overlooked.”

TeCHO has launched a nostalgic new 56-page print supplement. It’s packed with photos from the recent and not-so-recent past, shopping, fashion and music at Albert Dock, as well as an elephant parade in Woolton. You can order a copy here.

Dave’s books – My Family and Other Scousers and Liverpool Cowkeepers – explore his own family lineage and the history of the industry in what now encompasses Liverpool.

To find out more, click here.

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