Who Do You Think You Are?
Richard Laycock 1771–1834
Why London’s milk-drinkers used to bow down to the king of ‘Cow Town’
No individual epitomises the ‘capitalist cowkeeper’ more completely than Richard
Laycock of Islington.
Born into a family of established goose-farmers, he took over what would become Laycock’s Dairy on Liverpool Road from his stepfather, North London landowner Daniel Sebbon.
The areas of pasture on the city’s northern perimeter had a long and esteemed heritage of rich pasture and highquality dairy produce. As Jill Hetherington notes in ‘Dairy Farming in Islington in the Early Nineteenth Century: the Career of Richard Laycock’, published in Transactions of the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society in 1987: “From Tudor times, Islington had been known as ‘Cow Town’, a Parish of Dairy Farms and ‘ the place where groweth creame’.”
By 1810, the year of his stepfather’s death, Laycock had built up an empire of between 500 and 600 cows. The scale and industrious approach of Laycock’s operation set him apart, taking clear cues from the factory system.
He was a successful property developer too, building grand addresses around Canonbury, while Laycock Street still bears his name. A contemporary description of his opulent fivestorey house, with marble bath and stainedglass windows, suggests he lived like royalty.