Throughout history, meat has been a staple product and, as such, its purchase, sale and supply has been regulated and regulated. Our municipalities have not been exempt from this and, in many of them we still find curious ceramic plaques that allude to the existence of a “butcher’s shop”, almost always in the first floor of the Council Houses or in buildings controlled by them.
What may seem curious today has a simple explanation. Butcheries were for centuries a municipal monopoly. These establishments were leased for an indefinite period of time and were subject to a certain degree of fiscal pressure. Along with wheat, meat was a preferential taxable item. In addition to its wide demand by the population, it was easier to collect than other basic foodstuffs, as its supply had been established as a municipal asset since the Middle Ages.
In the Maestrazgo region, documentation on this subject has been preserved since ancient times. One of the earliest known documents is from the town of Las Cuevas de Cañart, dated 1489, which refers to the transfer of this service to Juan Moles, a merchant from Valderrobres. In it, the butcher shop was leased for a period of three years and it was indicated that the lessee had to maintain the meat supply in good condition according to the demand of the neighbors (shortages were punishable with fines), had to supply the store with meat on the eve of fasting and had to allow the neighbors to slaughter their own cattle in the same municipal facilities. He was also to sell tallow and hides for wineskins, as well as cask products.
The document lists the types of meat to be sold, including big game, and their different prices. The pastures to which the lessor had the right to graze his own cattle during the term of the lease were also delimited.
According to the established rule, those interested in obtaining the management of the butcher’s shops had to bid for the contract. Once a fixed sum of money was established to obtain the usufruct of the butcheries, as well as the initial selling prices at which the future lessee had to sell the meats in greatest demand, the aspirants had the time that a candle was lit to make downward bids on the selling prices of the meats. In some cases, they opted to maintain the retail price, but offered the municipality a higher amount for the lease in exchange. The last offer before the candle burned out was the one accepted. Once the lessee was chosen, he or she would sign a contract with the steward before a notary, defining the exact conditions of the lease.
With variations, the butcher shops continued to be leased until well into the 20th century. One of the last documents that we know of is a brief text on the lease of the butcher Tronchón butcher’s shop The original location of the butcher’s shop is still preserved.
In addition to this one, visiting the villages of Maestrazgo you can find “rastro” of the butcheries of Pitarque (the plaque is preserved in its original location), Villarluengo (the entrance to the butcher’s shop and plaque are preserved) and Cantavieja (preserves the location and several hooks to hang the meat). All of them are located on the first floor of the City Hall.