The Second Fattest Cow

Today’s post is by Bryony from the Visitor Team at Manchester Museum. We are not experts, but we are people with a passionate interest in the museum and its objects. We each bring our own insight into Manchester Museum and its collections.

For more about numismatics and archaeology, please visit the Curator’s blog, Ancient Worlds.

The Second Fattest Cow

Copper coin from the reign of Azes II, an Indo-Scythian king, from India in around 35 BC – AD 5. This is about 2000 years old! Also, our large Money gallery introduction case prominently features – you guessed it – a cow.

Cows and money have long been intertwined – words in the English language such as fee and impecunious come from word roots to do with cows and livestock, as well as the 1930’s slang term for a pound, which was simply ‘cows’ (from the rhyming slang ‘cow’s licker’ for ‘nicker’, another slang term for a pound), so visitors aren’t usually surprised to see cows on the coins in the Money gallery at Manchester Museum.

Silver staters of Gortyn and Phaestos in Crete from around the 4th and 5th centuries BC, left, and a modern Greek 2-euro coin, right. Money gallery, Manchester Museum.

So when people see this next one, they usually assume it’s just a really huge coin. After all, it’s in the money gallery, so it’s not an unreasonable guess, but all of the objects in this case in the corner are actually medals and commemorations from around Manchester. This particular one is a personal favourite, as it is the silver medal – second place – from the Manchester & Salford Fat Cattle Show. Or, as I like to put it, the medal won by the second fattest cow!


Late 19th century Manchester and Salford Fat Cattle Show medal, second place. Money Gallery, Manchester Museum.

Of course, the prize for the fattest cow was there for a reason – the farmer that managed to breed the cows with the most meat on them could fetch the highest prices for them at the market. There had been a popular cattle market in Salford since 1774, and the Salford Cattle Market on Cross Lane was opened on the 12th of July 1837. It held its first official Fat Cattle Show in December 1872.

Cross Lane Cattle Market, Salford, showing some of the cows, left, and sheep, right, assembled in pens at the market. Date unknown. (Available from:

Unfortunately, interest fizzled out a few decades later, and the Fat Cattle Show stopped in 1892 for eighteen years. Salford was developing into a real city, with the Manchester Ship Canal (the largest navigation canal in the world at that time) opening in 1894. And after the Local Government Act 1888, which decreed that all municipal boroughs with a population of 50,000 or more were to gain more independent powers, the area became one of the first places in the country to gain County Borough status. Salford was thriving, with Salford Docks seeing an almighty trade and the population continuing to grow. You can see many of the sorts of things that were beginning to be traded through Salford Docks during that time in Manchester Museum, particularly some of the objects in the Living Cultures gallery, for example;


Nkisi Mangaaka, a power figure of the Kongo people from Africa. Objects such as this were often traded through Salford Docks as souvenirs or curiosities. Living Cultures, Manchester Museum. (Available from:

This really shows what a hub Salford had become for trade across the world, and it was becoming increasingly unsuited to ordinary ‘country things’ like Fat Cattle Shows! Even so, in an obituary of Alfred Fordham (the long-time cattle and meat inspector at the market) it was reported:

‘…Salford probably has the largest cattle market in England, with the exception of Smithfield.’ – Salford Reporter, 31st March, 1906.


Cross Lane Cattle Market, 1905, with the Cattle Market Hotel in background, Salford. The cows would often escape from their handlers and go charging down Cross Lane. (Available from:

The Fat Cattle Show started up again in 1910.

50 years after its opening, a disaster struck – foot and mouth disease broke out, after having thought to have been eliminated totally several decades before. Between 1922 and 1924 around 356, 000 cattle were slaughtered, with the the majority of the outbreaks occurring in the North West. The cattle market did not run during these periods, closing in February 1922 the first time, and then again during January-March of 1924 for the second, worse outbreak.

In the meantime, Salford had begun an economic decline, and by 1931, on 31st March, the cattle market closed for the final time. By then Salford was a real city centre, both officially and practically – albeit one with some of the worst slums in the country – and having hundreds of cows driven through every month was no longer welcome.


Cattle Market Hotel, Cross Lane, during its final demolition in the early 1970s. (Available from:

So next time you’re in the Money Gallery here at the museum, take a closer look – you might be surprised at the glimpse it gives you into our complex local past. And if you’re a fan of cows, well, the Money Gallery has plenty to offer you…


Weight, used in Roman times to check the balance of money being exchanged, roughly 2000 years old. Money Gallery, Manchester Museum.

Bryony Rigby

Want to find out more?
Weaste Cemetery Heritage Trail
National Center for Biotechnology Information
Abigail Woods – ‘A devastating want of knowledge’: Doctors, vets and the 1924 foot and mouth disease controversy
The Farming Forum
Commons and Lords Hansard, the Official Report of debates in Parliament
Pubs of Manchester Past & Present
Digital Salford – Salford’s Photograph Collection

For more about numismatics and archaeology, please visit the Curator’s blog, Ancient Worlds.

Read more by the Visitor Team from the Money gallery:
A Fistful of Dollars
A Closer Look at the Katanga Cross
From Manchester Museum … With Love

Read more from Bryony:
The War of the Snails, Round Three: Down But Not Out
Halloween Special! Death and the Hawk Moth
Kiwi and Egg Syndrome


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