Steve Beauchampé mourns the closure of Birmingham’s finest, but little known, sausage emporium.
Some places are just so far under the radar. For years I had passed, on foot or on the bus, R & J Maund on the Stratford Road in Hall Green. Located at No. 1354, in the parade of small retail premises just past Waitrose, it seemed forever closed, a vacant former butchers shop in a block where empty units were commonplace. There was never any produce on display, no staff, no customers, no discernible sign of activity. And I never even noticed the small hand written note on the door giving opening times, nor the equally low key list of sausage varieties on the window.
But even if I had, I’d likely have assumed that they dated from a time when Wimbush sold bread and cakes from a neighbouring store, when Wrensons the grocer was still trading nearby, when Birches Garage was selling my parents an Austin Allegro. In any case, back here in the 21st century, there were always vehicles parked in front of the shops and so one was forced to traverse the footpath ten yards or so from the two hairdressers, estate agent, signmaker, cafe and – the one reason left to call in along here (or so I thought) – the post office, that lined this brief stretch of road.
And then a friend mentioned, just in passing, that not only was R & J Maund still trading, but that they sold the finest sausages in Birmingham. And in the home city of Lashfords sausages, that was some claim. They opened no more than four mornings per week, advertising their hours as being from 8am until 2pm at the latest, but in practice they often sold out well before then, at which point they closed. They sometimes had black pudding, free range eggs or bacon but, to all intents and purposes, sausages were them.
So I called in, early 2015 it was. I stepped across the traditional charcuterier’s black and white tiled flooring, pushed open the wooden door and found myself standing in a compact area containing little more than a counter, beneath which were variously displayed trays, small packs and large bags of sausages. There was a till, some scales, a few other bits and pieces and a radio permanently switched to BBC WM. A slightly short, stockily built, moustachioed man in his sixties, immaculately attired in a clean white butchers coat, and with the appearance of someone who had been selling sausages all of his adult life, stood behind the counter, almost certainly the only member of staff on the premises. On his right was a large door through which I imagined was refrigeration for sausage storage.
I bought half a dozen very reasonably priced plain pork sausages, took them home and they tasted truly magnificent, the finest in Birmingham indeed! And I’ve returned most weeks since, sometimes arriving too late and finding a note taped to the door stating that they had sold out. That said, you could tell as much from a few yards away, by noticing the absence of the three pieces of paper placed in the small upper windows and which read: WE ARE OPEN. Above these windows was an old fashioned italicised sign bearing the shop’s name and the words, one on either side of it, ‘Quality Sausages’.
But what surprises me is how few locals I spoke with even knew of R & J Maund. The shop has no website, there is no e-mail address and presumably the owners eschew social media, so no online presence to speak of. Yet there they are, on one of Birmingham’s main arterial roads, hiding in plain sight, between the car parks of Waitrose and Aldi, and selling better sausages than either of those two. But not any more, for two weeks ago, a typically small, discreet and understated note appeared on the door informing customers that R & J Maund would close for the last time on Saturday, December 31st 2016, and that as there were no other outlets selling their sausages, the brand would no longer be available.
I don’t know how long the shop has been there, but it looks and feels like it always has been. I do know that both R and J Maund have long since retired and I heard that ownership of the business had changed a few years back, with a suggestion that the new owners had received an offer to buy the premises where the sausages are made. Whatever reason, the closure certainly isn’t for lack of custom, but I hope that someone, somewhere, has written down the recipe so that Maund’s quality sausages might be discovered and enjoyed by future generations. I’ve stocked up though, purchasing two bags, not of six sausages each, but sixty, to freeze and keep me going until the summer.