Gabriel Machin – A Potted History

Henley-on-Thames is a town steeped in history. And Gabriel Machin’s is part of the very fabric of this picturesque town. Incredibly, the site currently occupied by the shop and butchery has been a butcher’s since1861. The history of the timbered building itself stretches back even further with parts of it believed to date back to the early 16th Century. Today, under the care of Barry Wagner and his team. Gabriel Machin continues the tradition as Butcher, Fishmonger, Smoker, Curer and Gamedealer.

The site itself has also been a pub with malthouses nextdoor providing ingredients for the beer brewed onsite! According to the 1841 Census it later became a greengrocers. The very first butcher to work here was a Richard Blackall, listed in the 1861 Census as head of a household of nine. He was followed by Alfred Lester, listed as a butcher in the 1871 Census.

Gabriel Machin bought the business in 1881. Born in Reading in 1836, Gabriel and his wife Ellen, who was born in Hermitage lived onsite with their many children.

The name was destined to continue thanks to Gabriel Junior, born in Henley in 1865. He was named in the 1891 Census as Butcher’s Assistant. He ran the business until his death in 1933 when his son Edward Norman Machin took over. Edward’s daughter Anne Wightman, who today lives in Cheshire, has memories of her grandfather serving in the shop while her granny sat at the desk taking the money.

But the introduction of rationing during the war proved too much for Edward to bear. He hated rationing – a family photo of the shop taken before the war at the suggestion of an uncle is an amazing record of the store in all its glory. Edward sold the business in 1942 but only on the understanding that the name should remain the same. He then took up a post with the Ministry of Food as an Area Meat Agent.

How delighted he would be to see today’s shop, packed full of the most amazing meats, fish, shellfish and other delicacies.

‘Machins is a great shop with proper old-fashioned ideas about selling the best meat.  Henley is lucky to have such an asset in the town centre.’

Mike Robinson