After 95 years Grampian-Harris finally stopped production at its bacon factory on 9th June, closing officially on the 14th. Already within only a few days the machinery has been moved out, and the buildings which were the background to the daily working lives of so many local people seem gaunt and strange in their emptiness. For this was indeed a very local enterprise - although since the 1970s the ownership moved ever further off, those working for the factory were largely from Elmswell and the surrounding villages, and often several members of the same family were employed there.|
Geoff Cardy, personnel manager, has the highest praise for the staff. "They've been brilliant: through all the changes which have been necessary for us to survive in the highly competitive food industry, they have showed tremendous flexibility, and an abiding loyalty to the firm - often for 25 years or more. They have been good mixers, accepting and helping the east-European and Portuguese migrants who have joined the workforce in recent years. They are hard-working, knowledgeable and reliable people, and I commend them warmly to other prospective employers." The closure has been a time of deep sadness, but there has been no vindictiveness and many saw the company right through to the last day.
Among those who served longest we may recall George Cobbold, who was given a 50-year service award; and Stefan Klaczok, who must have served the company for well over 50 years: he came from the Ukraine before the war and worked as a butcher - but in his retirement he carried on as groundsman until his sudden death recently at age 83.
Quality was always top of the list at the St Edmundsbury Bacon Factory, which had a reputation as a "cutting-edge" facility (the pun may or may not have been intended) and won many awards for its products. King George V was a valued customer (see photo), and the company received a Royal Warrant to supply Buckingham Palace and Sandringham. Few of Tesco's many suppliers could boast a "blue" rating on their grading system. Elmswell Pork Pies were the best you could buy, (claims Val Ling - proudly and quite rightly); mouth-wateringly excellent sausages were provided on contract to many East Anglian schools. There was beautiful pure white lard (in the days when one was still allowed such proper food) and you could make wonderful pastry with it (in the days when folk still made their own pastry).
Val was born in one of the cottages actually within the company compound, built in the early years and removed in the late 1970s; her grandfather Walter Waller was Chief Engineer at that time, and for a while both her parents worked at the factory. She recalls that the cottages had no bathrooms, so bathtime on Fridays was conducted in the slaughterhouse! And in those days of lower hygiene standards she used to accompany Percy Bloomfield catching rats behind the factory on a Saturday afternoon. Val herself has put in 45 years service since she started as a teenager, booking in the live pigs as they arrived by the lorry-load; subsequently she worked in several other departments, including accounts, cashier, and personnel.
So it's "farewell" to the St Edmundsbury Bacon Factory. Elmswell may be sad for its passing, but justly proud of what it achieved in its century.
Norman Kenyon, Elmswell Millennium History Group
Geoff Cardy kindly passed old photos and documents to the History Group