UCP Tripe Shop and Restaurant

When people say that something is a load of tripe, they are not being complimentary, yet tripe, the foodstuff, had many admirers, some travelling miles to eat a plate of it. So what is tripe ? Basically tripe consists of the stomach lining of a ruminant, for example a cow or an ox. The meat is separated from the stomach and then prepared for eating by washing and bleaching the tripe for up to two days (originally it is green or grey in colour) and then boiling it for about an hour so that it turns white and fit for the table. Tripe can be found in various grades depending on which part of the animal’s stomach it comes from, the first stomach’s lining known as the rumen produces the blanket tripe, the reticulum gives honeycomb tripe and the omasum gives thin leaf tripe. 

Whichever load of tripe we are talking about, it became very popular in the North West of England and tripe shops were an important part of the Rochdale scene through the 19th and up to mid 20th century. Towns around Rochdale had their tripe palaces too and at one time in the 1800s there were over 250 shops selling offal in the Greater Manchester area alone. The Tripe and Sandwich Shop, in Stalybridge was believed to have been the last tripe shop in the region but many others existed such as Vose and Son’s in Wigan who had a wood-panelled ‘Tripe De Luxe’ restaurant in 1917 that boasted seating for 300 and its own Ladies’ Orchestra ! Offal’s popularity, especially amongst the working class might have been due to its low cost as it was much cheaper than better cuts of meat although quite nutritious. The many tripe shops in the area didn’t just deal in tripe but sold other offal parts that the butchers’ shops would turn down such as elder (cooked cow’s udder that I always thought looked like shoe insole), ox tongue and cow heels.

The most prominent tripe company and shop and the one which outlasted many of the others (or should that be udders ?) was the UCP or United Cattle Products Ltd. The first UCP opened in 1920, spawning many more – often with a restaurant attached – throughout the North West where tripe and offal was most popular. The company was originally formed as a co-operative venture by 15 Lancashire tripe dressers who set up a factory in Levenshulme and a head office in Manchester. They gave themselves a recognizable red badge logo which claimed that tripe and cowheels were served daily with ‘Purity’ and ‘Quality.’ The popularity of the UCP shops quickly spread and soon in Lancashire there were 260 UCP shops where you could dine on tripe to your heart’s content. There was a large one on Market Street in the centre of Manchester but a local one in Rochdale at number 10 Drake Street where The Chip Inn used to be. As with so many of the UCP outlets, the one in town had a restaurant upstairs offering table service with waitresses wearing black uniforms, white aprons and frilly hats. The Manchester UCP also had soft music, comfortable seats in brown and orange and a fountain and miniature waterfall under walls painted with country scenes or covered in animal hides. Wedding lunches could be booked at the Rochdale UCP and many would go there for a special treat.  Not only did they serve up tripe but also cow heel, brawn, potted meat, heart, liver, kidneys, rissoles, faggots and sausages. What a menu !

Tripe and onions was perhaps the most popular UCP meal, the tripe often boiled in milk with plenty of pepper and vinegar – possibly to make it taste of something ! But this was only one of 99 meals featured in the UCP’s ‘99’ Book of Tripe Recipes which included Tripe salads, Cowheel Curry, Tripe and Herring, Pickled Tripe, Tripe and Chestnut Roll and other delicacies.  In 2015 Norman Whiteside, the ex-Manchester United player opened a tripe restaurant in Manchester called Mondongo named after a Puerto Rican tripe stew, claiming that it was a delicacy in Mexico, Spain and Wigan !

The chances of such a tripe-venture being a success these days are far-fetched and gone are the days when the UCP would hang sheets of tripe in the shop window over plates of cow heels and blood pudding. Tastes have changed dramatically – some would say refined – and 1972 saw the demise of the UCP when the last of its shops closed although even now, through the auspices of the Tripe Marketing Board, you can still find outlets where tripe is sold and recommended humorously through what they call their Tripe Advisor !

Rochdale town centre has its curry houses and its Italian restaurants but for some the memory (if not the taste) of tripe from the UCP will live long with those who popped into the shop at the bottom of Drake Street for a plate of honeycomb with plenty of vinegar on it !

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