Why is a vegetarian looking at Bowyers meat sausages?

on Saturday, 13 April 2013. Posted in Archives

I am always pleased when several aspects of our activities come together at once.  Those of you who follow us on Twitter will have seen our tweet on a great landmark for our service that was the 100,000th record or set of records produced by our wonderful colleagues in the document production team since we opened in October 2007 (that represents over 59 million walking steps by the team to produce your records and put them back again!).

Actually, it was more than 100,000 as this figure was just for general archives, we count the production of parish registers and wills separately and so we can add a further 30,000 or more documents produced!  And the grateful recipient of the “100,000th” record was...er...ourselves. Let me explain.


As part of our work with the SEEME Wiltshire Black History Project, along with community volunteers and young people in our schools, we have been helping to record and archive the oral testimonies from elders within BME communities, notably the African-Caribbean community. This has included some community members who had previously been employed at the Bowyers factory in Trowbridge and their memories of working there. Some of these memories are being transcribed by MA Heritage Students from Bath Spa University who are on work placement with us and also Sixth Form student volunteers from local schools.

Bowyers had been associated with Trowbridge since it’s foundation in 1808 by Abraham Bowyer in Fore Street until its factory closed in 2007, and were a major employer and its buildings a significant landmark in the town. It so happens that the Wiltshire and Swindon Archive Service, based at the History Centre, holds some of the business archives for Bowyers. Our earliest records associated with the family and company actually date to 1789, but most date from the 1890’s until the 1990’s. Therefore, one of our tasks has been to start researching the archive to add some further context to first hand memoires within the community and identify material that can be used in further reminiscence activities that will hopefully stir even more memories.

So it was our MA student, Jane, who had requested a large scrapbook compiled by Bowyers from our strong rooms and, unbeknown to her, had requested the 100,000th document. The one great thing about working in an Archive is that curiosity always gets the better of you and so I could not resist having a look through the scrapbook and other Bowyers archives that contains a vast array of information about the factory; its organisation, employees and their products.  There are also records for property transactions, financial accounts, staff wages and factory plans. Correspondence includes a file on the outbreak of salmonella in 1974 and, should you now fancy it, there is even a film called “The story of the sausage.”

A couple of items that caught my eye, which details changes within living memory of factory production and consumer tastes, were the introduction of a wrapping machine in 1966 that wrapped 50 pies a minute (the same year Britain got through £100 million worth of sausages a year); the launch of the Bowyers new ready meal range, entering the frozen food market and new products for less than a shilling in 1968. While who can forget the headline “Bangers going metric”. By 1968 a machine that could make 6,000 pies an hour was introduced. So for budding mathematicians (answers on the blog only please) how many wrapping machines to you need to wrap 7 hours of pies a day?

In the archive you will find minutes of board meetings containing information ranging from strategic decisions to hygiene and, yes, health and safety, through to processes for production and development; designs for product packaging and marketing; news cuttings and ephemera that capture everyday life within the factory and the wider organisation, including events, activities, prizes (including the Best Black Pudding Award 1975!) and long service awards. It demonstrates how the business, its products, methods of production, life in factory and even social attitudes changed over 100 years.

The most colourful part of the Bowyers archive is a modern volume containing examples of product packaging, such as cocktail sausage rolls and cheese and onion savoury eggs with chopped pork. Now, of course, this should conjure memories and wonderful smells of steaming sausage plait or beef and onion savouries or the humble sizzling sausage. But, you will have guessed by now, I am a vegetarian and have been for many years! However, with the dispassionate eye of a Historian, and despite not being tempted by the epicurean delights of the ham and mushroom flan or the gala slices, it is possible to understand how integral the archive, Bowyers factory and its products are to the communities’ heritage and indeed the history of Wiltshire. I am also looking forward to further work with the SEEME project to bring members of the Trowbridge-based West Wilts Community Club to view the archive and tell us their recollections of factory life at Bowyers.

Now the answer to maths question? Well you are all wrong as shortly after the new pie making machine was introduced a new wrapping machine followed which could wrap 6,000 50z pies an hour – so back to your calculators and lets have the answer in metric!

Now, I wonder whether we have got anything on Harris pork pies made in Calne...?

Terry Bracher
Archives & Local Studies Manager


Accredited Archive Service