William Cutter was born in the Cheapside area of London in July 1843 and Josiah Savage is believed to have been born in Bermondsey between 1845 and 1849.
They were businessmen and crime figures in the Smithfield area of the City of London during the second half of the 19th century.
William Cutter, who was also known as Bill Cutter, Big Bill, and sometimes simply as ‘The Cutter’, was a man of prodigious size and strength, who, as a young man, worked as a porter at Smithfield Market, supposedly hauling beef carcasses single handed.
Cutter seems to have been a quiet man who kept himself to himself, although he does seem to have come into contact with the local police force on a few occasions. He was arrested twice for brawling in the street and appeared before the assizes in January 1858 for beating a man almost half to death. He was acquitted, as the victim, Thomas Crane, appears to have been a local criminal of some repute, who kept the local population in a constant state of fear. The local people would not swear witness to what had happened, and many stepped forward to offer assurances of good character for young William.
This seems to have been the start of his career as a local crime figure, acting as an unofficial protector for the Smithfield area.
Josiah Savage, also known as Jo Savage, Josiah Trenchard, and Handsome Jo, was born in Bermondsey between 1845 and 1849. He was known to give different dates to different people, and different names appear on different documents.
Josiah moved around a lot as a young man, although he does appear on several ship crew manifests between 1861 and 1866. He was a merchant seaman who worked the Tea Clippers between London and the Far East, often sailing the Shanghai route on ships laden with Tea, Spices, and even Opium.
Savage was married in 1863 at the parish of St Giles-without-Cripplegate to Miss Kate Portman, a fishmonger’s daughter. Kate died just 11 months later in unusual circumstances.
Kate’s body was found in a trunk in the Thames just past London bridge. Josiah was away at the time and only learnt of her death when he returned two months later. Police suspected Edward Morgan, the business partner of Kate’s father, although they lacked evidence to arrest him. Within three days of Josiah’s return Edward Morgan, his son, Harold Morgan, and his wife Edwina Morgan were all killed in a house fire. Josiah returned to sea the same day.
When he returned in 1866, he got a job working in Smithfield meat market, and it is there that he met William Cutter.
Setting Up Shop
Within two months of meeting, Bill and Jo had set up their butchers shop just off Cock Lane. The shop soon became a centre of the community, with Jo acting as the public face of the business whilst Bill took care of the racketeering and protection side.
The shop sign bore the famous legend “Loyalty cannot be measured in pounds, shillings and pence” and was often open before dawn, closing well after dusk. The shop became the hub of the community and Cutter and Savage became local celebrities.
Their logo, a young woman combined with a squid, is thought to be a reference to Kate, the fishmonger’s daughter, Savage’s late wife.
The business blossomed and the men opened another shop in Cheapside. Rumours abounded about the unluckiness of the men’s competitors, and the strange noises that came from the shop late at night.