Rodney Rowe: The Sausage Shop and Butchery Owner

 

IMG_4919.jpeg“Not just sausages.”

It is almost impossible not to smile when you hear the word, “Sausages”. Children give themselves over to giggling when they hear the word, the domestic ‘chef de cuisine’ usually knows their family will eat this simple fare with merry abandon, and together with the ubiquitous Fish Fingers, restaurants invariably place them on menu for their young munchers. We often call small children, ‘you silly sausage’ as a way of expressing our love for them and their carefree silliness. Think of a sausage and you may visualise one of the many commercial images depicting a contented sausage pierced by a fork, ecstatic at the prospect of the downward slide into a rumbling and welcoming stomach. They appear to be encouraging their own consumption and it is as if they are saying,

“Through the teeth, over the gums, look out stomach, here it comes”,

By and large, sausages are a cheerful and familiar addition to meal times and in Trimley, the provider of family happiness is Rod Rowe, owner of The Sausage Shop. If statistics are any indicator, then a sizeable proportion of the Trimleys can thank him for bringing edible and delicious pleasure into their lives.

Although he has lived in Trimley St. Martin since 1986, Rod was brought up on the Crofts estate in Ipswich. He finished his time at High School on a Friday and naively thought he would take a slight break before looking for work. But his mother had other ideas, as indeed, mothers often do. He was granted a very short breathing space of one weekend and then, on the following Monday, he set off to work at the Butchery department in the Co-op on the Boss Hall Estate. He was to be trained in all the skills necessary for provisioning the meat counters.

Rod didn’t have an official Apprenticeship and neither was he required to study or attend college. Today, he would probably have to undertake various City and Guilds Courses in Food Industry Skills, ‘Health and Safety’ or a Certificate in Professional Butchery but back in 1975, Rod was taught by the old butcher boys who knew everything there was to know; his training was effectively undertaken on the job. His work encompassed all aspects of butchery. He started off by working in the refrigeration units and cutting meat into the cuts with which we are all familiar. Rod explained meat comes in halves and the quarters, namely the hind and fore portions and took time to explain to me the portions of meat origination from the rear quarter of the animal. Brisket, Rib and Braising with Topside and Silverside at the back.  But it wasn’t just the apportionments of meat Rod had to master. Back in the early days of his career, his training encompassed a period in the slaughter house, which provided him with a comprehensive view of the butchery trade. Times have changed for these days Rod buys in all the boneless cuts he requires, thereby simplifying his working life and cutting down on the amount of work he has to fit into his very busy days. However, never doubt Rod’s knowledge and understanding. He is a man who brings all his talents and knowledge to his work

After completing his training, Rod moved on to work in a range of different outlets. Initially, he remained with the Co-op, working as the butchery manager in the branch on Woodbridge Road East, near Ipswich Hospital. Then he moved on to the Capel St. Mary Co-op and after that came a rush of other stores before finally, he opened his own butcher’s shop, just two doors down from the Woodbridge Road Co-op.  The Co-op Manager rather sourly informed Rod the new business would close within the year but in the event, the business thrived. He did leave the business but it was not brought about by any failure on his part. In 1984, he took the decision to move to a better paid job working for Took’s Bakery, where both Rod’s parents were also employed. Some of you may recall the factory when it was situated on the Old Norwich Road leading out of Ipswich, which is now about to become a housing development.

The work at Took’s Bakery was completely different to anything he had done before, although clearly, food hygiene standards were now woven into his working practice. He spent two years in the Hygiene Department before becoming a Plant Manager. Rod was responsible for a small team of people; some made dough and others were kneaders. He enjoyed the work and by now was married with two young daughters; his life was moving along smoothly. But then in 1994, he experienced a life changing accident which left him unable to work for seven or eight years. Part of some redundant plant machinery on the ground in his department was uncovered and as a result there was a large hole in the floor. Rod reported the hole and the risk it posed, on a weekly basis but nothing was done.

However, one day in September, he accidentally fell down the hole and crushed two of the disks in his back. The intensity of the pain and the inability to move or function properly resulted in a long period off work. The extent of his disability meant he had to be supported by Incapacity Benefit[1] from the D.S.S[2].  His medication was quite intense and included pethidine and liquid morphine; the effects of the latter drug is to leave the patient feeling sleepy, disoriented and disconnected from the world. The move to regulated drugs is never an easy one and in addition to the pain and disability, Rod started a long battle with the company to achieve industrial compensation. Many people are deterred from undertaking this course of action and for Rod it was certainly not without incident and definitely not an easy process. He had little option but to pursue compensation because in addition to keeping the household together, he also had two young daughters. Think of the indignities he had to endure reminded him of one occasion when he went to Middlesex hospital by ambulance to see a consultant. When he arrived, he discovered he was expected to climb three flights of stairs, which could only be done extremely slowly and with the help of the ambulance driver.  Various non-caring actions took place in the interview and the final report proved to be full of inaccuracies and misrepresentations although on this particular occasion Rod’s solicitor was able to throw the report out. Further uncomfortable practices occurred and eventually Rod discovered he was being surreptitiously tailed by investigators keen to disprove the extent and personal limitations of his accident. All of this can only be described as degrading and emotionally wearing but with the support of the Solicitor and his Union, the B.F.A.W.U.[3]  Rod was finally awarded compensation, some of which was used to pay back the D.S.S.  Union backing was a key component of the successful claim and is proof of the value of belonging to these much maligned workers’ organisations.

Rod experienced eight long and difficult years before moving on to what may perhaps be described as the best period of his working life. Sometime in the early two thousands, Rod was aware he had to return to work and as curious luck would have it, a lady across the road fell into a conversation with him, mourning the loss of good, tasty sausages. Rod knew he could remedy the situation fairly quickly and taking the matter into his own hands, manufactured some homemade examples in his own kitchen. His neighbour loved them and wanted more. And more. And more. Home production started to thrive and led to the ignition of ambition. Exciting questions started to form in Rod’s mind. Perhaps the informal sausage production had legs. Maybe the little sizzlers might appeal to a wider audience. Rod started to look beyond St. Martin’s horizons and once a week, began to attend the markets in Felixstowe and Walton-on-the-Naze.  His sausages come up trumps; people couldn’t get enough of them. The business started to energetically pop and bang with life as demand increased. When a small shop came on the market, no more than fifteen minutes’ walk from his home, everything started to come together.  This was the moment when I think we might say Rod jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire but he certainly didn’t get burnt. Together with his business partner, the late Eva Marsden, he opened his doors to the public on a Thursday morning in 2002 and he was inundated: all the sausages sold out in one day and it was obvious his new customers had fallen in love with his product. Originally, Rod was the only member of staff but now, such is the success of the business, he has six part-time employees on his books. Rod, Dave, Debbie, Abbie, Danielle and Alex, Rod’s daughter are the friendly faces behind the counter. Today, the range of sausages has grown and there are now forty five different varieties available, including plain Pork, Old English and Special Cumberland. The sausages have been joined by a wide range of meaty products, including St George’s Chickens from Haughley. These birds are not available from supermarkets but have been in demand from Rod’s shop from the beginning.

IMG_1837.jpegThe Sausage Shop leaflet shows the huge range of meat products available.

Like the staff, the product range has grown but without compromising its quality. As the customer base began to increase, so did Rod’s meat and grocery items, many of them locally sourced. Walk into the shop now and you will see Garlicky Chutneys, drinks, fresh vegetables and ice cream amongst other delicious temptations. Good fresh eggs are the friendliest of companions to sausages and the ones in The Sausage Shop may be modestly described as huge. These come from North Eggs in Ardleigh whilst the majority of the meat comes from Branfield Meats at Halesworth. Pork is sourced at Blythburgh and the fine, lean minced beef comes from Hazel’s in Norfolk. Rod knows his local onions when it comes to meat supplies; everything is fresh and moves swiftly from the counter into the customer’s shopping bag. Rod knows his customers and is always able to provide bespoke products for individuals. Many people who visit the shop come from a wide range of places simply to experience his products. Such is the strength of Rod’s reputation people are content to travel to Trimley for their sausages.

They come from Essex, Bury St. Edmunds and Lowestoft as well as the local Trimley area and as we talked, Rod reeled off local businesses who all use his sausages. Starting with the Bed and Breakfast at Bredfield’s Moat Farm[4] and moving on to the Trimley area he counts amongst his customers such outlets as: Beach Bites, The Turtle and The Bear Sandwich Shop[5], Fish Dish[6], The View Point Cafe at Landguard[7] where Rod’s Old English Sausages are served and finally, The Mariners Free House in Trimley St. Mary. This last pub serves sausages especially made just for them and part of their appeal is they are slightly larger than the standard ones sold in the Shop.

“People often come straight from the Viewing Point or Mariners to the Sausage Shop and ask for the same sausages they have just eaten.” Rod told me, with justifiable pride, adding “Oh yes… As well as using our meat in their carvery, we also provide meat for the Meat Raffle every Sunday in Walton’s “Half Moon”.

I couldn’t help but think someone might like to start a Sausage Crawl along the High Road for they wouldn’t have far to go between venues. This cheerful thought came back to me when I chanced to see the latest Mariners’ promotional poster advertising a Cider and Sausage event at the pub this weekend:

IMG_1836.jpegPoster advertising The Mariners’ Cider and Sausage Mini Fest from 17th May 2019 to 19th May 2019.

At the bottom of the poster four ‘guest’ sausages shyly introduced themselves. I asked the Landlord who was supplying the sausages. Was it The Sausage Shop? “Of course.” he briskly replied, thereby endorsing and promoting their provenance as well as inferring, where else could they possibly come from? Sage and Apple, Red Onion and Chorizo, Beef and Black Pepper and the Mariners’ Own which I suspect to be the large sausage Rod makes solely for this particular pub will all be on offer. There is also a vegetarian variety available, although this doesn’t come from Rod’s shop.  A High Road Crawl will not be necessary for those who start early at the Mariners because the hungry imbiber can sample all the sausages they can pay for and eat, gently watered by choice ciders. Why move if you don’t have to?

All in all, the Sausage Shop produces a heck of a lot of sausages. I asked Rod just how many he produces in a week. He scribbled some quick calculations on a scrap of paper. In weight, he makes up about three hundred and fifty kilos a week, a figure representing standing orders only. He told me that over the Christmas period, he sold three thousand chipolatas, as well as in excess of three thousand Pigs in Blankets; these were in addition to the usual festive meaty offerings. Rod works long hours but he isn’t alone. All of the staff are pulled in to help him. His working day will start at about four in the morning and finish at about seven in the evening.  Last Christmas his sausage tally came in at over nine thousand eight hundred sausages. Recalling that the 2011 Census for the Trimleys gave a combined population of 5,605 people and then disallowing any sausage consumption by infants, vegans and vegetarians, I calculated Rod supplied at least two sausages per person in the Trimley villages.  Without a shadow of a doubt, this is manufacturing of semi-epic proportions for a comparatively small shop.

Rod has built up his family business from making a few sausages in his own kitchen to the flourishing shop he now owns. He never wants to let people down; he always goes out of his way to help, for example, delivering eggs to customers if they can’t get to the shop. This approach might be thought of as slightly old fashioned, but Rod’s attitude keeps the customers loyal and enthusiastic. People will sometimes sound their car horn when they see him, by way of a friendly greeting and he is sometimes called, ‘Mr Sausage’ in preference to his own name.

“I love the shop and all my customers are lovely people. I always treat people as my own Mum and Dad would have expected to be treated. It’s all about respect at the end of the day. You can get bad service in supermarkets but not here. I always tell my staff to be polite and helpful.”

And in truth, his maxims are echoed by his staff. I went to the shop for some leaflets and Dave, one of the assistants, unknowingly endorsed Rod’s philosophy when he told me,

“If you want anything special, contact us on a Monday or Tuesday and then we will make up your specific flavour of sausage on a Wednesday.”

Some people are born with skills which are out of the reach of others and whilst many people love school for the learning and friendship, those with unchannelled practical abilities can be frustrated. When Rod Rowe left school in July 1975, it was with more than a little relief. He was, and is, a grounded man who knows how to work hard but the academic world has never fired him with enthusiasm.  It’s impossible to disguise such a feeling from teaching staff and the parting words from the Head Teacher were,

“When you leave here, you’ll be a bum.”

Maybe this adverse comment acted as a spur because it seems Rod’s working life has been anything but idle. His hands on, customer focussed work ethic has informed his working life and the ill-construed fortune telling has proved to be completely inaccurate. Rod drily commented,

“I wish he could see me now.”

 

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If you have any comments or would like to be part of this Trimley St. Martin project, please contact me at:

trimleystmartinrecorder@gmail.com

LR  17/05/2019

 

[1] This later became known as Employment and Support Allowance (E.S.A.) now known as New Style E.S.A.

[2] Department of Social Security. Since 2001, this government department has been known as The Department for Works and Pension. (D.W.P.)

[3] Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (https://www.bfawu.org

[4] http://www.moat-barn.co.uk/bed_and_breakfast.htm

[5] http://theturtleandthebear.co.uk

[6] http://www.myfishdish.co.uk/menu

[7] http://www.discoverlandguard.org.uk/attractions/landguard-visitor-centre-view-point-cafe-and-ferry/

 

 

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