When Dick arrived at North Devon Meat in Bideford cattle market in 1962 he was paid £40 pounds a week which was a good salary in those days.
Dick Cawthorne, MBE
Dick was neither a butcher, livestock buyer or a slaughterman, which proves the point you don’t have to be a woman to be a gynaecologist,
What he had was confidence bordering on arrogance and a will to learn, along with a wonderful way of handling people and gaining their confidence.If he saw any of his staff in the pub after work he would speak to them and buy them a drink although he was a ruthless tough taskmaster in the abattoir.
Farmers were all made members of his co-op and I recall farmers sending in sheep and telling Dick not to send a cheque, but invest the money in North Devon for them.
I started wholesaling in my own right in the same year 1962 and my top slaughtermen were earning £35 per week, just a fiver less than Dick.
We fought like cat and dog for the next 9 years with a patholocal hatred of each other and we met twice on the rugby field, myself being a hooker for North Tawton and Dick second row for South Molton, in the first match I nearly bit his ear off and in the second he broke my nose.
We were sourcing livestock from the same farmers, selling our skins to Exeter Hide and Skin company, selling our meat to the same London multiple butchers. Dick tried to poach my best slaughtermen and my lorry drives used to find out who Dick was selling his meat too and I would undercut him.
At the age of 18 he joined the Army for National Service, signing on for five years and serving with the Black Watch, the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and, finally, the Devonshire Regiment, seeing service in Malaya.
After the Army he did a three month stint, looking after pigs for Whiteways Cider, before starting his own pig farm on Saunton Road, Braunton, which he ran for about four years.
He then joined Harris' Bacon Company in Ipswich as a trainee manager.
When they took over a meat processing firm called Sapsworth in Weymouth Dick transferred to the Weymouth branch as manager.
Dick pioneered the direct selling of meat from his abattoir at Bideford and in 1966 when we wanted £250,000 to build a new abattoir at Torrington he had no problem raing the money from local farmers. The abattoir opened on 27 November 1967.
Being a man before his time he bought a farm for the company to breed Texel sheep, so that he could provide farmers with better rams to improve their sheep quality.
I like many other had never heard of Texel sheep back in 1967.
Perhaps his finest coup was with Thomas Borthwicks, where Dick obtained the franchse for their NZ lambs for the south west of England, in return Borthwicks sold all his export meat and did not compete for livestock from North Devon suppliers.
Dick was a confirmed bacheoler and for may years lived in a small flat over his brothers garage, he was the sort of man men wanted to be like and women wanted to be with.
The great love of his life was the daughter of a well known west country meat wholesaler, who was killed in a tragic hunting accident, she was the most beuatiful girl who also worked in her father meat business doing the accounts.
Dick never married yet has a Henry Kissenger reputation with the ladies.
He stayed with the Norh Devon Meat when it was sold to HillsdownHoldings in 1986.
Then, in 1988, he became chief executive for the meat division of Hillsdown, called the Fresh Meat Company, which covered abattoirs right across the country.
When the group decided to sell off parts of the business Dick, with others, put a bid together to buy an abattoir and a cutting plant.
They invested heavily in improvements, and had customers both here and across Europe.
Although the business closed following the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001, demand from long term customers overseas saw him continue to export through Invicta Lamb of Bideford where he worked until his death.
During his long career in the meat industry he was chairman of the Meat Export Council for nine years and president of the European Meat Association.
In the 1974 he was awarded the MBE for his work with the South West Industrial Development Board.
He was a founding director of North Devon Electronics in Braunton which started in 1974 with just two employees and now has a staff of 80 and a multi-million-pound turnover.
With business partner Geoff Ward he also owned Two Rivers Securities and the nursing homes Kenwith Castle and Fremington Manor.
A few years ago the partnership dissolved and Dick concentrated on the nursing homes which he ran until 12 months ago.
We can’t talk about lamb in England without mentioning Dick Cawthorn of North Devon Meat.
He employed a slaughter-man called Jack Harris.
Jack had served his time in the Caledonian Market and was an excellent beef and sheep slaughterman.
The North Devon way of killing sheep, was dress them on the cradle.
When you lift the lamb up on to the hook, you just pull the skin down the back.
Jack Harris designed and Dick Cawthorn patented, the moving cradle in 1967, this was manufactured by Bristol Abattoir Equipment.
Very soon 60% of plants in England had the system installed, so simple yet so very good for effecting a well dressed lamb.
The Torrington plant could kill 360 lambs an hour, unheard of outside Australia and New Zealand.
We parted company in 1971 when I went to Ireland, Dick took over all of my staff and farmers. I modelled myself on Dicks direct selling of carcass meat to supermarkets and multiples and can admit today, that everyone thought I had invented the idea that I stole from the great Dick Cawthorne.
As we were not competing for livestock after 9 years of a very bittter war, peace broke our between us. Despite our being bitter rivals, Dick Cawthorn in my opinion was one of the five most important traders ever to be involved in the English meat trade.
When great men die all they take with them is what they leave behind, in the case of Dick its one of the most important chapters in the English meat industry.
Dick Cawthorne of Instow, whose life was defined by his strong work ethic, passed away on July 22 at North Devon District Hospital, following a stroke.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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