In our previous inductee’s we have told the stories of the most incredible meat men who have gone on to build meat empires. Having said this, these men would be nowhere without the right production men on the coal face.
Jack Harris invented the moving sheep dressing cradle in 1967 and within 10 years every abattoir in the
had installed one, this was in order to get better dressed lambs and faster kill line production.
While indeed dressing lambs has moved on leaps and bounds since those days, the quality of dressing from Jacks machine has never been equalled.
I recall my first day with Hugh Tunney in Clones in 1971 and Hugh had a Bristol Abattoir Equipment cattle dressing line. In the small lamb room there was Jacks lamb dressing cradle in all its glory, Hugh was singing its praises, quite unaware of my relationship with Jack.
Jack was an Aylesbury boy and served his apprenticeship as a master butcher over 5 years, which was quite the norm in those day. As the butcher also had a wholesale meat business and abattoir Jack became a very good slaughterman under the guidance of the Scottish slaughterhouse foreman.
Jack was an exceptional beef slaughterman and found the 7 inch green river siding knives to small for the big cuts he wanted to make siding in cattle. So Jack got an 8 inch Victorinox steak knife and ground it into the shape of a siding knife.
Watching Jack Harris grounding cattle for the first time left me speechless, big cuts and a first class hide and I spent the next 50 years trying to be as good as Jack.
I was a 13 year old child prodigy killing lambs for Lord Vestey at his Longdown plant in
and Jack was in the beef gang doing the cattle. Making matters worse Jack was as fast as me on sheep and while I dressed mine on the hook, Jack punched his out on the cradle.
By watching Jack Harris I switched to his method of dressing lambs, finding that it was faster and less tiring, you are working with the sheep punching downhill as opposed to line dressing working against the sheep and punching up hill.
Jack moved on to Sapworths of Weymouth in Dorset where Dick Cawthorne (A member of our Hall of Fame) was the manager and it was Jack who saw the job advertised of a manager at North Devon Meats and gave it to Dick to apply.
Dick got the job with
and sent immediately for Jack to come and join him running two abattoirs at Bideford and Halwill.
had a name second to none on the dressing quality of their lambs and this added valuable pennies per pound to the finished product. All the lambs were punched out on the cradle and needed very little water (meats worse enemy) to clean the finished carcass.
In 1966 it was decided to build a new state of the art abattoir at
for a quarter of a million pounds, a fortune in those days. The
beef line was fine and so was the pig line but rail dressing lambs was a non starter.
The dressing was rough (and still is today but today’s meat executives know no different) and the slaughtermen who had always dressed on the cradle did not want to change.
Jack took the men on a bus to Prince Rock abattoir in Plymouth, which was the first lamb line dressing in the south of England and ten slaughtermen could do 100 lamb an hour but the finished article was not good enough for any butchers shop window.
The little building on the right is Halwill slaughterhouse.They would kill 300 lambs a day and 100 pigs and load the hot into the waiting railway containers (there was only room to hang 100 lambs in the slaughterhouse)for Smithfield London.
On the way home talking to the men, Jack conceived the idea of a moving cradle, where the men continued to dress lambs the way they had always done on the cradle, but on a moving conveyor rather than one man one cradle.
Consulting the engineers at Bristol Abattoir Equipment, the moving cradle became a reality and was patented immediately. This was the biggest thing to the meat industry after the Bristol Johnson hide puller in 1965, that was installed for Peter Blackburn in Chard Somerset.
Doug Clay and Curly Bell ordered the moving cradle from
for their new abattoir in Tadworth Surrey, before the abattoir at
was even open, such was the reputation of Jack Harris.
27 November 1967
North Devon Meat opened their new abattoir in
and the full gang of 30 slaughtermen would pump out 360 immaculately dressed lambs and hour in the mornings.
No one outside NZ was running a lamb line at that speed in those days. When the lambs were all finished the gang would split into two, one half would go on cattle and the other half on pigs.
We welcome Jack to our “Hall of Fame”, I have met some amazing slaughtermen over the years from Alf Meade, Bob Gearing, Bob Burkett and Bill Sampson to name but a few, having said that “there was only one Jack Harris”.
I lost track of Jack for 40 years and like all good meat men, he found me through the worlds largest meat portal this site.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
Back to News Headlines