Not many of us grow up knowing exactly what we're going to do with our lives but, being part of a butchering dynasty that dates back to the late 19th century, William Walton always knew he'd end up behind the butcher's block. "I was probably destined," he laughs. "The careers officer at school never really bothered. I joined the partnership with my four brothers and that was that."
And so began a career that has taken the Walton family from their roots in Market Bosworth, Warwickshire, to the picturesque Surrey village of Outwood and the Outwood Butcher's shop William has owned for around nine years. The youngest of seven children, William is the only one of his generation still butchering but he's soon to hand over the business to his daughter Amy as he prepares to retire this year.
Passing on the traditional skills is increasingly important as more and more independent butchers disappear from our high streets. But even in its rural location Outwood Butchers is going strong, thanks to loyal customers who come from near and far to buy from the counter. So what's the secret? "You know exactly what you're getting from us," says William. "If you're not too sure how to cook something, we can put you right. Any complaints – of which we don't get many – we sort out straight away, we don't argue the toss. And we're all quite knowledgeable about what we sell."
And what they sell certainly is worth knowing about: beef comes from a herd of fine Sussex cattle at the nearby Titsey Estate; lamb is sourced from a number of local farms. Every one of the hundreds of pies, pastries, burgers and sausages they sell are handmade in the shop. What makes their homemade produce so popular? "Ah," William confides, "that's because we don't buy cheaper meat to put in the pies and pastries."
This principle of putting quality first and foremost is probably why Outwood Butchers is bucking the high street trend and going from strength to strength. "We see new faces most weeks, and people often say they've come to us because they're fed up with supermarkets," William says. "We just offer a decent service. We deliver if people want, especially if they're in need: like older people, or those who are not well. Personal service is not something you get from a high street chain. We get to meet people that way too. I'd rather we go and deliver than that the customer phones someone else!"
The personal touch is important not just with Outwood Butchers' customers but with its suppliers too, and William firmly believes that knowing the farmers personally makes a real difference. "I trust my supplier at the farm in Oxted; he invited me up there for a look," he explains. "We've dealt with him for years and he knows what we like. That's what people want these days; they like to know the provenance."
Being the only shop in the village, Outwood Butchers doesn't just sell meat: milk, bread, vegetables and local honey can all be found on the shelves, and William likes to keep a few bottles of good Argentinean red wine in stock too, especially to go with a nice piece of Titsey Estate steak. And while the shop keeps them busy enough, William's daughter Amy also handles a lot of requests for wedding and event catering, especially hog roasts.
With his retirement on the horizon, William certainly seems to be leaving his legacy in very capable hands – and with any luck, the next generation will be butchering at Outwood for many years to come.