Talk given by Mr John Brazil to the Amersham Society on 17th October 1973. See also the article about the Brazil family.
See also an account of working in the factory in 1981 which is at the end of this page.
We are not Amersham people, actually: my father came from Thame. He was born in 1866 and he went to London as a little boy of 11 to work for a butcher’s shop in Berwick Street. My mother came from Chesham and she was born in 1867. How my father met mother I don’t know but they got married in Chesham about 1892/3 and then went to Berwick Street. Well, my mother didn’t like it up there, and I don’t think the Guv’nor did, so my grandfather put the horse in the trap, drove to London and fetched Mother home and the Guv’nor followed.
If my father had had any education he would have been Prime Minister of England – he was a very intelligent man. He came home and thought he would start a business. So he rents a shop in Amersham, 52 High Street (now no. 95) next to the Elephant & Castle and the shop this side (used to be Bizzell’s, I was born there). He rents that and starts selling this colonial meat …..with a horse and cart. He used to take it round the villages and the Press were against this Colonial meat, it came from Canada & America mostly, but he put away with it because he could sell legs of mutton at a shilling each. The railway fare cost more than the meat.
He then opened a shop in Chesham, which is still there, and then a shop in Chalfont St Peter but I think that one went wrong for some reason. Then they started having a family. Three or four of my brothers and sisters were born out of Amersham, but a lot of us were born in. He had six boys and four girls, so therefore the Guv’nor couldn’t spend much time getting round and selling meat because he’d got so many kids to feed. This went on until the first war, and in the first war my mother and father had a very rough time because all imported meat stopped so they had nothing to sell, and no money came in. I left school in 1917. I was only 13, and I started work with the Guv’nor to try and get the business going – even though I was a bit young.
Sorry, I’m going too quickly! George, my eldest brother, emigrated to Canada in 1912. My elder sister joined the Nursing Brigade when the war started. My other brother joined the army and George, he joined the Canadian Army. He came back to England in 1919, I think, having got his discharge in England. He’d no work to do, and Ron was there, he’d nothing to do either, and I was just messing about trying to sell a bit of meat and I used to sell a few chickens.
Well, my mother was a very intelligent woman. As a matter of fact, I think my mother is the root of Brazils – I think she created Brazils. She suggested we should start selling sausages and pies wholesale. Where’s the money coming from to get the vans to take them round with? Well, I’d earned £15, my brother had earned £15 – I think we had £60 altogether so we then bought a van (a Ford T1) on the easy payment, hire purchase, from Mr. de Fraine on the hill, cleaned out the stable of 52, (then the backyard) and put some machinery in there. We put an old motor in there, I remember, an old second-hand engine to work the sausage machine, and we got it going. We started making sausages in the backyard.
My father used to go to Smithfield and he’d buy the meat, and bring it down by passenger train. He’d put it in the guard’s van and he’d come with it – it was cheaper if you rode with it – you didn’t pay anything then. He’d put it in hampers and travel with it. We’d take it home and manufacture it, the best way we could, into sausages, and deliver it round in this van and sell it. It was hard work, that. Then we got another van, and unfortunately we got so busy making these sausages for the van that we had to employ a man. His name was Sam Brooks – he’s dead now. We employed him for a month, but we couldn’t afford to pay him so we had to get rid of him and do the work ourselves. We thought nothing of working 24 hours or 30 hours at a stretch. We never refused an order.
We got that going – there were three of us, George, Ron and myself, and I had another brother Ted but he died at 27, poor chap. The Guv’nor used to go to London and buy the meat and we manufactured it up and we got so big (we were very proud then) that we had to expand. Our stable and yard weren’t big enough, and the Public Health people wouldn’t let us do it. So we bought the field Wilkins Meadow off the great estate for £300. That was a lot of money and I remember we borrowed about £100 off the Bank to help pay for it.
Then we put up this first factory. It was about as big as the Market Hall. We helped build it. We had one builder in, I used to do the navvying and everybody used to help, all getting on with it. We built it up and we got going again. At that time we had four vans and then we started making pies. We hadn’t got an oven to bake the pies, so we used to make the pies down there and take them up the street to old Tom Baker, the baker, a great friend of the family, and he would cook them for us. We’d bring them back and do them up and sell them. I think it was about 1928, we had eight vans on the road. Of course that needed a lot of organising and a lot of staff and I’m afraid our drivers were expected to work as hard as we did – they did, too.
Down at the bottom of Station Road, there was a petrol station there then, “Esso”, on the corner. Then they moved and we bought them out eventually – the tanks are still under the ground now, filled up with sand. As time went on, they widened Station Road. The field at the bottom where the factory is now ran off the road very steeply down, about 25 feet. So we had all the dirt from Station Road brought in there and levelled off, for nothing. Hundreds and hundreds of loads by horse and cart and that’s what made that piece of land level down the bottom.
We got the factory going – we extended on there. Then Mr Bartlett at Witney, a great friend of the family, had a very small sausage and pie place at Witney but he couldn’t do, so we bought him out and extended there, which is still going. Then we went and opened Winchester and we were doing quite nicely when the second war started.
Everybody was in a muddle the first 6 months, then the powers-to-be came along and they concentrated us – closed us down – on bacon curing! Well, of course, that was very, very worrying because we’d got 200 staff. I remember now going to Reading seeing these people, sitting there listening to them and they said they couldn’t do anything for us – they felt sorry for us, etc. etc. They settled that, then they said “And now we want to deal with your 300 staff”. We hadn’t got 300 staff: bacon curing we’d only got 20 so we though they were going to take all our staff away! But they didn’t take them all – we won on that. Before then that annoyed me a bit and I went to join the army, but they wouldn’t have me.
So they concentrated us, and we wanted something to do. We got together and there’s only one thing to do – to supply the army and navy. In fact during the war we were the biggest supplier to the army and navy. We used to export stuff all over the world, really, frozen sausages and pies, to the army and navy. That went on and in 1942 we had a terrific blow when mother died, suddenly. That hit us very badly because we were all very fond of mother. The year after that the Guv’nor died. That also hit us a bit but we’d got on our feet and we were going pretty well then and making a bit of money.
In 1950 one of my brothers died, Ron, so that left two of us and then in 1958 we started negotiating floating the company on the Stock Exchange. We got quite a long way with it, it only wanted a few signatures and it would have been done. But then unfortunately, my brother George died. So I was left in charge, so I postponed it then for a year, which I did, and then two years. Then I floated the company, 600,000 shares, and I and the family kept the rest – we kept the majority. When the company was floated, I lost interest in it because it wasn’t the same. The Trade Union people got in and took over – this is theirs, this is theirs – it wasn’t a family affair like it was that we had been used to. One of these Trade Unionists got on a table in the canteen and he said what they want and what they didn’t want. There were half-a-dozen of our old staff at the back, they got this fellow out of the canteen and they threw him down the stairs and I thought he was done for! However, they did win in the end.
We were just getting over George’s affairs, which were quite big, and Norris Bazzard was helping me deal with it – he was quite a help, when, poor chap, he goes and dies. So I was there left alone, then, and I got no-one to go to only these people in London you pay for, and that sort of thing, you have to sort them out and wonder are they going to rob me or not! But they didn’t and we sorted them out very well.
Then I thought 3 or 4 years ago, well, I’ve got nobody to follow on. The company would have slipped into other people’s hands so I got my old friend Robt Clare from Bowyers. In the meantime, between George’s death and settling up, I’d had about 20 or 30 lunches offered me, Lyons, Wolves, Unigate, the seed people…….. but I stuck out, and eventually I sold to Boodon Clare of Bowyers, and I stayed on the company with him, as Chairman for two years, and then they absorbed Scotts which I was against. Anyway, Scotts were absorbed by Bowyers and then after that it was Unigate absorbed the whole lot. Now I think it’s quite a tremendous meat concern. This place is still going down here; there are not many of my old staff still left there but we’ve still got a lot of them in Amersham. We’ve still got – George Brown, he died 2 years ago and I went to his funeral, there was Arthur………he lives in one of those old houses, …..Innes and his brother, they started with us in the High Street in 1922 an they worked right through until they retired at 65 an now I think they are living in one of my brother’s houses – since he died as you know, they pay seven shillings a week rent.
Answers to questions
- First balance sheet 1926. Profit £1966
- In 1930 selling steak pies at 2d each
- In 1932 depression, London was full of Argentine beef brought over in fruit boats and they didn’t know what to do with it so we could buy it cheap. You could taste the fruit in the meat – so then they would give you that, beautiful meat too. If Wall’s sausages were 6d a pound we’d charge 5½d or 5d.
- We bought an old ex-army oven on wheels and kept it going on coke. I collected it in North London somewhere, in the van (when we outgrew Baker’s capacity to bake pies)
- My father, when he started in Amersham, there was only one man in the Council Offices and that was Hilsden, a great friend of my mother’s – he lived in Bazzard’s office. Then they got old MacGregor, then Jack Lloyd came along – he was Public Health. My father used to pour any blood or dirty water in the gutter anywhere. Lloyd came along and said “Look here, Mr. Brazil, you mustn’t do that”. Dad said in his Bucks accent “ You bloody boy come interfering with me – you get outside”.
- Asked “Were the original recipes your mother’s?” Mr. Brazil said “She used to help a lot. She used to help so much that when we were living at 52 High Street, some of my brothers and sisters had got married, but she would get up every morning at 9 o’clock (we always used to go to work before breakfast). Then we would go in to breakfast and mother would come down and sit in the armchair in the corner and all my brothers and sisters, they’d call in every morning for about ¾ hour and she would govern things. If we’d had a little quarrel she’d say “I want you” and we’d go into the other room and she’d put it right. Then the Guv’nor, he didn’t have to say anything.
Brazil’s Pie factory – (written by Noel P Boyle May 2015)
In 1970 I took 12 months leave without pay from the Millicent Post Office in South Australia to visit my penfriend in Amersham England. After several months hitch hiking around England, Scotland and Ireland, I believed it was time to find work. In those days it was easy to find work and no permit was required. So Sheila who was my penfriend and is now my wife, managed to obtain work for me. Strange as it might seem she asked her boyfriend who was on “staff” at a pie factory and within a few days I had a job. I could have worked in set sections in the factory but I chose the one where I was my own boss and worked throughout various places in the factory. The factory made meat pies, pork pies, bacon, scotch eggs and other meat products. I worked from 7am until 3 pm; overtime was available, as much and as often as you wanted it. I took all I could get, so I sometimes worked until 11pm and Saturday was always overtime. I especially liked unloading the delivery trucks, because they returned with food that would expire in a few days and had to be thrown out. It was great as two of my favourite English foods were pork pies and scotch eggs and I was allowed to eat whatever I liked and of course it was free.
Pigs were killed at the factory, for the pork products and occasionally the pigs would escape into the yards and quite a commotion would occur until they were caught. A tax concession was available for Brazil’s pork pie factory, if they employed people that had problems in their life. It was not unusual to see the slaughter house empty of workers when one of these employees had forgotten to take their tablets and started to run amuck. I too, would not hang around if someone was running around with a large knife – their tools of trade in the slaughter house.
Anyway now that I have set the scene I will talk about one particular incident that I was involved in.I was on overtime about 6.15pm in the pie making section when the four other members of the group decided to go for a tea break. This left me in charge and they advised me they would be back before the pies came out of the oven. I had worked in this section before but never by myself so I knew roughly what the procedure was. They said the pies would start appearing about 6.45pm but they assured me they would be back in time. So here I was Mr Importance, in charge of a section of the factory. The pies would eventually come out on a moving wire mesh belt after being cooked in an oven. So while waiting I set the up the metal frames stands in a sort of an arch. When the trays of cooked pies were due to arrive you would take them off the belt and slide into the frames which would hold about 10 or so trays and on each tray would fit about 6 pies. So each frame would hold about 60 pies. I’m not too sure how many metal frame stands there were but I think there were about 10, so when the lads came back we could easily store 600 large meat pies in the racks. So I felt quite pleased with myself everything was ready as I glanced at the clock and a quick look down the metal mesh which was moving with its slight jumping movement. Everything that could be done was done. I had another, nervous look at the clock, which was now showing 6.45pm. And I looked at the belt and a few yards down in the cooling section I could just see them. Come on lads hurry up. Don’t panic Noel; you can handle a few pies.
What could go wrong they will be back soon? They promised and a promise is a promise. Then the pies appeared several trays across the belt, just a few at a time. The pies and trays were still hot so I really don’t know what this cooling bit was about. Gloves on – I was a man on a mission. Piece of cake or should I say pie.
With ease I filled the first frame and then the second frame. Where the bloody hell were, my so called mates? The trays started to arrive like marching soldiers four or five at a time, dancing to the strange noise the belt made as it delivered the large meat pies. By this time I was on the last frame and it was soon full but the trays were coming faster and they seemed to be saying pick me pick me. Don’t panic, stay calm!! You’ve got to be kidding, now was the time to panic – where to now? – No time to get more frames. Stack the trays in front of the frames, Oh how I wished I had put them further back. So in an arc in front of the frames on the floor I placed them, first one semicircle then two and then three. I was hemmed in. When I get my hands on those guys!! How long do you need for a tea break? You know the stuff that hits the proverbial fan, well it happened. First one, then two like the marching soldiers that were given an order to march until you drop. And drop they did. Pick me pick me they seemed to shout as they hit the floor. In an effort to get to a tray I stepped in a meat pie that lay on the ground and then I noticed I was standing in another. Some I could save as I fought desperately to hold back the tide. More pies on the floor and more pies being stood in. Then the likely lads appeared and they had forgotten to tell me there was a hidden button that would stop the belt. All of a sudden the pile of large meat pies committing suicide had abated and the sound of the belt moving had stopped. After advising them, in an Aussie accent, and using a few adjectives unknown to them I said “you clean it up”. As I proceeded to my usual job a quick glance behind me saw a trail of footprints which had left little bits of meat pie everywhere, and for the rest of my stay at the factory I never ever put myself in charge of the meat pies section.