Chapter 13.07: John Harris reciprocates!

Introduction to Bacon & the Art of Living

The story of bacon is set in the late 1800s and early 1900s when most of the important developments in bacon took place. The plotline takes place in the 2000s with each character referring to a real person and actual events. The theme is a kind of “steampunk” where modern mannerisms, speech, clothes and practices are superimposed on a historical setting.  Modern people interact with old historical figures with all the historical and cultural bias that goes with this.

John Harris Reciprocates!

May 1892

Dear Oscar,

“I recall Calne being a quiet place, pastoral, country town, with little to do, other than roam the fields and pastures, fish in the streams, and play in the streets,” Michael Caswell, the consultant to John Harris, told me over supper one evening. With a broad smile, he told me about Ellen Viveash who said about life in Calne, that there is a “want of education and refinement.” Mike added that she is not wrong. “Saturday nights, usually involved local lads brawling outside the pubs, and many a tooth was knocked out. They wore their smiles like a badge of honour, to show how ‘tough’ they were. They were an unpleasant lot!”  What Mike is saying is that Calne is an industrial town just like Johannesburg or Castelemain in Australia or Chicago in the US.

He told me that “before Calne was turned into a ‘pig’ town by the Harris family, it was an important market town for wool. The local Downs (rolling hills) were perfect for raising sheep, and all the farmers raised thousands of them, going back to neolithic times. Sheep bones were found in many of the local ‘barrows’, Celtic mounds that scatter the hills across Wiltshire. Stonehenge, and in particular, Avebury, go back 5000 years.

His own family, the Caswells, (it means someone who lives by a watercress bed or Cress – well) have farmed the area for over 1000 years. Fortunes were made on sheep. Wiltshire was famous for cloth making. Spinsters (local single women- hence the name) were engaged in the manufacture with spinning wheels. In the 1300s Witney (in Oxford) was a major manufacturer of blankets and his family grew rich supplying wool from Yatesbury, near Calne.

Over the years, the Caswell wealth moved from Yatesbury, Cherhill, Calne, towards Trowbridge, where cloth manufacture was prominent. The Casswells with two SS’s now (posh) owned many properties in this town. In fact, the church bells have RICHARD CASSWELL CHURCHWARDEN  cast on them. They all emigrated to Canada and became major pork and cheese exporters. (1)

John Harris did as he promised and made all the factory plans and details of equipment available to me. Mike helped me to start putting a list together of essential equipment for our Cape Town bacon plant.  Even though he gave me lots of information about abattoirs, I will give it to you when you visit or when I make it back to Cape Town for my break, whichever happens first. I want to get the information on the equipment for our bacon plant to you to look at it and see what we can make in Cape Town and what we must buy over here or in Europe. I also send you a few plans to start looking at our factory lay-out.

Meat Cutter

Meat Cutter

Here are three meat cutting machines used to mince the meat for sausages, lunch loaves, salami, and certain hams.  The hand-driven system will be sufficient for us to start with, but at some point, we will have to change to the ones driven by electricity.  These are the types used in the Harris factory but even they have many hand-driven meat cutting machines which they use whenever the big machines go down.

Large Meat Cutter

Meat Cutter 3

Bacon Branding

Bacon is branded in the same way as hams.

bacon branding

bacon branding 2

Bacon and Ham Rolling


The rolling machine rolls and wraps the bacon evenly.  The machine below is able to roll and wrap 2500 pieces in one day.  To work the machine requires one man and two youths. The one youth makes the first tie and hands it to the man.  The man wraps it and hands it to the second youth.  The youth makes the second tie.

 Factory Plans 50 Pigs per Week

Factory plans 50

Factory Plans 75 Pigs per Week


Factory Plans 1000 Pigs per Week

Bacon factory 1000

Chilling Room

Chilling Room

I have written to you much about the design of the chilling room.  I will not repeat it in this letter, save to attach a photo of it here.

Interior of the Bacon Factory

Mike made recent photos available to me of the C & T Harris operation.

Bacon Factory Photo

Curing Cellar

Bacon Curing Cellar

Bacon Truck


Boning Knife

Boning Knife


salt meter

This device measures how salty the solution is.  The reason, given to me by butchers, on why they use salt is very interesting.  For starters, they say that it makes the meat “last”, but why this is true, nobody was able to tell me.  They also tell me that when meat is cooked, one loses up to 70% of the natural salt in the meat and it is, therefore, necessary to replace the lost salt. In order to understand why bacon is made the way we do, it will be very important for me to understand why we use salt.  If I understand the “why”, we will be able to manipulate it in order to improve on the way it is being used today.



Cooking Rack

Cooking Rack


Cleavers are large size choppers.






This is an apparatus that is designed to spray fat over meat which does away with any objectionable, old fashioned method of putting the fat into the mouth and spouting it.  Spouting by the mouth is not only objectionable but in the highest degree objectionable and disgusting, not only to the operator but also to the consumer, who, in many cases was compelled through the practice to swallow disease germs.  The mechanical device is easily operated.  The outer cylinder is filled with warm water, and the melted fat poured into the centre of the apparatus through a strainer.  The operator then blows through the pipe and the fine spray of fat falls evenly on the meat.

The reason for spraying the meat with fat is to keep flies and other insects off the meat. It also seals the meat against microbial contamination similar to what is done with the exposed meat in Parma Ham.

Pepper Grinder

pepper grinder

Meat Pounder

Meat Pounder

Meat Mixer

Meat Mixer

Meat Cutter

Meat Cutter 1

Cleaning Brushes

Cleaning Brushes

Revolving Bone Washer


A Ham and Bacon Pump


Hand Hoof /Trotter Puller


In a way, this letter is a remarkable progression in our quest. This is what we need to set up our bacon factory in Kraaifontein.  This is the highest point we have reached over the last two years and still, we are only beginning. There are more matters to understand before we can design a curing system that is not on par with C & T Harris or Jeppe’s bacon plant in Denmark but better. Nothing less than creating the best bacon on earth will do.

Please ask James to send me the date for their wedding so that I can start planning my vacation. Remember that I am bringing back many more plans and drawings! I intend to spend most of my time with the children in Cape Town. Will it be possible for you and Trudie to visit us? I am planning to ask Minette to marry me and it would be great if you could attend the function.

Please keep this very quiet as we can not let this get to her. Don’t tell anyone my plans, but please give them a credible excuse for your visit to Cape Town.

Warm greetings!

Your friend,


Further Reading

Bacon Curing – a historical review


(c) eben van tonder

Stay in touch


(1) Edwin Casswell had several farms in Trowbridge, which he sold. His business was responsible for Maple Leaf Foods, a major pork producer in Canada. He exported much cheese to England and was involved with Black Diamond brand cheeses.


All equipment drawings and photos are from William Douglas & Sons Limited, 1901, Douglas’s Encyclopaedia, University of Leeds. Library.  All or at least most of these equipment pieces would in all likelihood have been found in the Harris factory.  Description of the auto-cure for bacon comes from the same source.

The three last photos from Wilder, F. W..  Second edition revised and amplified by Davis, D. I..    1921.  The Modern Packing House.  Nickerson & Collins Co, Chicago.