HIGHBRIDGE BACON CO. LTD.
A bacon curing business was established in 1890, the factory covering an extensive area in Highbridge, South. The factory was situated off the Huntspill Road; its entrance was just beyond the garage over the River Brue Bridge, the premises being behind the garage with a driveway off the A38. The factory site adjoined an area once occupied by the towns’ waterworks, which was established in 1886, this was replaced in 1906, when mains water supply came to the town.
Standing in over three acres of ground and fitted with the latest machinery for the curing of bacon, the Company gave employment to the town. On average 140 employees worked for the company, including a number of van salesmen for distribution and retail outlets.
Piggeries (pens) attached to the main factory received the pigs upon delivery and these were retained in pens overnight prior to slaughter. This took place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; local pigs were also killed here. Pigs arrived in cattle wagons, by road, from Devon and Cornwall. Some deliveries were received from Ireland, transported by sea and rail, and then unloaded at the Western Region Goods Yard (this used to adjoin the Recreation field), for delivery to the factory. Ownership of the factory eventually passed to C & T. Harris (Calne) Ltd. Their green coloured vans could be seen making their deliveries around Somerset, Devon and Dorset.
A salesman (Mr. John Soloman) employed at the factory, recalls: –
“Work commenced at 7.30 a.m. when the vans were fuelled and loaded with the orders for the day, depending upon the length of the journey. There were five vans out each day.
My journeys covered Somerset; Mid Dorset (an area covering Gillingham, Shaftesbury and Blandford with many villages in between. Also North Devon: – Barnstaple, Ilfracombe, Bideford and Westward Ho.
Vehicles were serviced every other Saturday morning and every two years were returned to the Calne workshops for a complete overhaul and repaint. They were very well maintained and were kept for ten years. I started working for them in 1951 and remained there for ten years”.
OUTLINE OF PROCESS
After the animals had been slaughtered the carcasses were processed and then weighed by the factory staff and check-weighed on behalf of the farmer by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Representative.
Following which they were then examined and graded by the M.A.F.F. official grader.
Pork cuts of all types, Bacon, Ham, Trimmed meat – Pork Pies-Sausages (some bacon smoked in original wood chipping smoke house). Offal, – Kidney, – Liver, – Bath Chaps, – Chittalings, – Faggot casing, – Sausage casing.
Bi-Products:- Bones for glue and fertiliser, hair for brush bristles, blood for fertiliser.
The Factory had its own shop in the town, selling the factory produce. This was situated next to the “George Hotel”. “The Highbridge News” now occupies the premises.
Closure of the factory eventually came in December 1963. However, for a period after closure, van deliveries were still made from the site to outlets, including the town shop. Bulk deliveries were made to the depot from other factories within the group. In 1969 the closure of the town shop ended the association of the factory with the town.
An employee (Margaret Brown) who worked at the factory in 1940 for a short time recalls their working conditions.
“I started work there early in 1940 but left in July 1941 to join the Women’s Royal Air Force. We started work at 6.00 am; had ½ an hour for breakfast, I think it was at 8.30am. a tea break mid-morning, also lunch and tea break. We worked overtime; usually finishing between 6.00p.m.to 8.00p.m.we made and packed sausages for the Forces. Orders came in and had to be done quickly. We worked on long wide marble-topped tables, with a conveyor belt down the middle; we weighed the sausages, (1lb packs) put them on the belt and they were packed at the end. Sometimes we put our name and address in the boxes, didn’t get many answers.
It was very cold and wet, we wore Wellington boots, to warm our feet we put them in buckets of hot water. I had a happy time there, a good gang of girls. We did not like the days then the pigs came in on their last journey; I would not do it now. We could order extra meat and spare ribs, sometimes in the shop. Mr Needs, the baker, used to supply us with buns, etc.”
WEST of ENGLAND CREAMERY
The creamery was part of the Harris Bacon Company that was situated in the Huntspill Road. It was an important creamery for local farmers, their milk, in churns, was brought in by horse and trap or van each morning. It was checked for quantity and quality, a large quantity was bottled; the remainder was used for cheese. Tankers from other parts of the country delivered milk for cheese making.
Six large vats were used for the making of Cheddar and Caerphilly cheeses. It required six hours to make a vat of cheese from start to finish. At peak times twelve vats were made each day, whey was put through a separator to make cream and then made into whey butter, the remaining whey was then sold back to the farmers for pig feeding.
The Cheddar cheese was stored and turned every day, a grader would test and inspect for maturity.
About twenty staff worked at the creamery, the cheese makers had to start about 6 am. Finished cheeses were delivered all over the country.
(Information supplied by Ray Reddish)