1825 - Cowhouse

One of the many changes brought about after the coming of railways in the mid-19th century was the disappearance of the urban cowhouses. These were small city dairy farms, often with a shop where milk and other foodstuffs were sold. They could be found in some numbers in the streets and squares of London and other large cities, where they served the neighbourhood's needs. Handcarts and horse-drawn floats would deliver milk right to the door. By the end of the Victorian era, however, cow­houses had largely been swept aside. Regular overnight trains brought in fresh milk from big dairy farms out in the country, where milk could be produced much more cheaply and efficiently. Would cowhouses have been particularly hygienic?

It is estimated that in Regency London there were 8,500 dairy cows, a figure that increased greatly as the human population grew. These animals spent most of their lives tethered in stalls, only being allowed out into the yard for an hour or two each day, if at all. Reports speak of 'wretched beasts housed in dark shade and hovels, standing ankle deep in filth'. The quality of their milk, too, could be equally dubious and it was commonly adulterated by dilution (the city's water supplies were notoriously impure). A serious outbreak of cattle plague in the 1850s had brought about long-overdue reforms in dairy farming but the small urban cow keepers, with premises tucked away down narrow streets and hemmed in by neighbouring buildings, rarely had the space or capital to make the necessary improvements. Instead, it was country farmers who made the most of new developments such as mechanical water-coolers for milk and the introduction of hygienic steel churns for transport. As early as 1854 the Eastern Counties Railway alone was bringing six million quarts a year into London. The urban cowhouses were brought into line more slowly, but an inspector of the 1860s praised the 'patterns of neatness and convenience' at Mr Drewell's establishment in Marylebone, while the aptly named Mr Veale's cow-shed in St John's Wood was 'clean, dry, warm and airy'. By then there were around 40,000 stall-fed cattle in London but numbers were steadily falling. The prosperous middle-class suburb of Putney, for instance, was only six miles from the great railway milk depot at Vauxhall, and by 1905 it had just one resident herd of cows, owned by Mr Morrison of the Springfield Farm Dairies. By the 1930s there were barely a thousand dairy cows in Inner London, including a herd of 85 cattle kept on a patch of land in Bermondsey. Remarkably enough, it was not until Coronation Year, 1953, that the last cow was milked in the last cowhouse in the City of London.


1809 – Dovecote

1841 - Corn Exchange