Higginsons, Grange-over-Sands' award winning butcher
They met in Australia but Stuart and Pauline Higginson couldn't wait to get home and now run one of the country's best butchers right here in Lancashire. Emma Mayoh reports
Stuart Higginson travelled a long way for a Lancashire pork pie. He’d spent ten years living in Australia but the thought of never sinking his teeth into one of the jelly-filled delicacies was too much to bear.
‘I’d only gone on a 12 month working holiday and I ended up staying for ten years,’ explained the jolly 60-year-old butcher, who doesn’t seem to have lost his Lancashire accent during his time down under. ‘I was a 22-year-old living in Grange and I wanted more. It was somewhere I’d always wanted to go, so I went.
‘I met my wife there, we started a family but, in the end, I just got too homesick. I missed my family back in England, I missed the seasons and I really missed having a decent pork pie.’
Stuart, who had worked in two of the butchers in Grange-over-Sands since he was 14, took his pursuit to heart. Looking at the traditional shop, you’d think it had been a part of the community for decades. But it wasn’t until 1983 that he and Weymouth-born wife Pauline set up Higginson’s of Grange in the town centre. It had originally been the hairdresser’s shop Stuart went to as a child. They opened for business just two weeks after Pauline had given birth to their third child, Lisa. Friend Jim Proctor, and former colleague, agreed to work with the couple. Stuart’s family, too, including mum, Jessie, dad, Norman, and brother’s Nigel and Don all pitched in to get the shop off the ground.
Stuart admitted: ‘We’ve only just been able to retire my mum. She’s been a massive help since we started up. She’s a trained baker and she used to make black pudding for us too and dad did the books.
‘It was a busy time but when you’re young, you don’t notice it as much. We just got on with it. The office I’m sat in was our bedroom and I remember thinking everything was pokey compared to Australia. But I was so glad to be home.’
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Stuart learned his trade as a boy working for Asplin’s Butchers, no longer open, as well as picking up other skills with sheep shearing teams and butchers in Australia. He looks after the butchery and food sourcing side of the business and Pauline, a trained cook, comes up with the recipes and makes their tasty pies, many of which are award-winning. They also have staff who help with new recipes for sausages and other produce.
Much of the meat is locally sourced including Holker Salt Marsh Lamb, Cumberland Sausage and hams from his Grange neighbour, Marion Clarke, who has a smallholding. Stuart also has around 40 rare breed Saddleworth and Tamworth cross pigs on his smallholding which he rears for stock - something he describes as a hobby. Goose and turkey come from Fylde farmer, Richard Smith. Beef, including Caledonian, comes from a little further afield as does his Ayrshire bacon.
‘We’ve got all this great food right on our doorstep and we wanted to make the best use of that. But some things I go further afield for because it’s so good.’
Stuart is the perfect ambassador for regional food and his home town. Just the week before we met he filmed a lesson on how to make the perfect Cumberland sausage for the Japanese tourist industry. The many awards the butchers have won have come thick and fast too, including the award for Britain’s Best Butcher from the prestigious Q Guild which he describes as one of his proudest moments.
‘We were invited down to London for the ceremony and we didn’t have a clue that we were going to win,’ remember Stuart. ‘When they said we were Britain’s Best Butcher the whole room stood up and cheered, we couldn’t believe it. We were so overwhelmed. It was a very proud moment.
‘We’ve been here for 27 years and hopefully we’ll be here for a lot more. I love what we do here and I love the people. Yes, we’ve had a lot of awards but it’s not just about that. We just both love being in Grange doing something we love.’