The boss of a major butcher business in South Tyneside this week took an emotional trip down memory lane to trace his German roots.
Michael Dickson, managing director of Dicksons, the popular South Shields-based chain of pork butchers, was one of about 50 descendants of German pork butchers from the UK to attend a landmark event organised by historian Karl-Heinz Wustner.
The four-day event, in Wurttmberg, Germany, was close to Hohenlohe, where Mr Dickson’s grandfather, Georg Friedrich Kuch, left in the 1880s to come to the UK.
Georg, like many others at the time, came to the North East to make his living along with his wife, Rosa. They opened their first pork butcher shop after they married in 1907.
But the outbreak of the First World War proved devastating for the family, with Georg sent to an internment camp on the Isle of Man, while Rosa was deported back to Germany, along with her three children and Mr Dickson’s mother, Helen.
In 1919, three years after the death of his wife, Georg was deported to Germany, where he was reunited with his children, remarried and then returned to the North East in 1925, opening shops around the region, including several in East Holborn, Laygate Lane, King Street, Ocean Road and Westoe Road, in South Shields.
Mr Dickson’s mother, Helen, went on to marry a butcher – also named Michael – in 1949, and together they launched the Dicksons’ chain.
Today, Mr Dickson continues the family line of pork butchers and the company now boasts 23 shops across the North East.
Mr Dickson said: “Both my mother and father were pork butchers, like my grandfather, and now having followed in their footsteps, it’s very fair to say that pork butchery runs through my blood.
“The opportunity to return to my family’s ancestral home in Germany and to meet other descendants of pork butchers who, like my grandfather, came to this country to make a life for themselves but were then caught up in the outbreak of an horrific war, is a very unique opportunity.
“My sister, Dorothy Ramser, has carried out extensive research into our family history and it has been extremely fascinating to not only discover our own personal history but to trace the Dickson’s story back to my grandfather, learning his craft as a pork butcher in Germany – a tradition which we are proud to continue in our shops today.
“This week’s visit is very poignant and also a wonderful opportunity to celebrate how we have been able to continue my grandfather’s legacy.”