The Village Bakery
by Evelyn Close
The following account of the history of Collyweston Bakery, as owned and run by the Close family from 1894 to 1944, is reproduced by kind permission of Evelyn Close, long-time resident of the village. The bakery was situated in the rear of the house in High Street, now inhabited by David Close (grandson of Arthur) and his wife Elizabeth.
It was during the year of 1894 that Arthur and Elizabeth Close were married and started the bakery which continued to serve the village for over 50 years. Delivering freshly baked bread to the villages of Collyweston, Easton, Duddington and (I believe) Tixover as well. After baking, the fare was delivered by hand car, know at the time, as a ‘shin’. This resembled a long wheel barrow with a high back and sides, large enough to accommodate three baker’s baskets. At a later date this was replaced by a horse and high trap, for ease of delivery to some of the outlying villages. This soon became a familiar site on the four delivery days each week. During the warmer nights, the horse was put into a field bear the house. This presented quite a problem the next day when trying to catch the horse and put it into harness. My husband (Harold Close, son of Arthur) was also a familiar sight on his bicycle with a trotting horse, tethered to a long rope, in the rear. In the winter the horse was stabled on the premises. On frosty mornings it was necessary to hammer frost nails through the horse’s shoes and into its hooves. These prevented it from slipping on the very icy roads.
Bread was baked on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. On Thursday, fruit cakes, Madeira cakes and seed cakes were made. Friday was also the day for the making of ‘dough cakes’. These consisted of 2lbs of dough, packed with currants, sultanas, sugar, candied peel and spices. These sold for 9d if I remember correctly? A 2lb loaf sold for 4d and a 4lb loaf was 7d, when I came to live here in 1925. There were also fruit tarts for sale, in season. Victoria sponges, wedding and birthday cakes and, of course, at Christmas the traditional Yule cake.
The gorgeous aroma of baking bread used to haunt the village street and the bread being handmade and baked in the coal oven was high praised by all.
The oven was large and took up one side of the bake house. A large ‘proving’ oven lay beneath the main oven, with two dough troughs on either side. There were also bins to hold ‘Sharpes’ maize and wheat for poultry and animal feed. A wooden ladder was situated in the centre of the bakehouse. This led up to the flour chamber, through a trap door in the ceiling. The flour was delivered by a steam wagon, from which men carried the sacks on their backs up the ladder and into the store room. I’m not sure how much each sack weighted, either 8 or 10 stone, indeed very heavy. After this, of course, each sack had to be man handled, back down the ladder for making the bread. The dough was mixed in the evening, at about 6pm. A block of salt was added, before the warm yeast mixture went in. After which the whole lot was mixed, turned and thoroughly pounded, before closing down the bakery for the night. The day’s work began again at 5am the next morning. The dough was kneaded into the troughs and later cup up, weighed and kneaded into rolls or put into bread tins before placing in the proving oven, whilst a well-earned breakfast was taken.
The oven was ‘flushed’, this involved washing out the inside with a water soaked woollen cloth on the end of a long stick. The oven was now ready, and the loaves placed inside for baking. They came out golden, crusty and smelling delicious.
The horse was harnessed and the trays, packed with loaves, were placed on the trap. The whole thing was covered with a tarpaulin and underway by 10am returning art 1pm for a quick meal before setting off again for the afternoon round.
On Tuesdays, the fire bed was cleared of the ashes and fresh supplies of coal were put in. On Saturday afternoon everything was freshly scrubbed and made ready for the weekly baking. On Sunday morning there was a steady stream of people bringing their Sunday roasts and Yorkshire puddings to be cooked. A wonderful aroma filtered down the street as the dinners were carried away. During the week people would bring their cakes, milk puddings and fruit and meat pies to be cooked. Not many houses were equipped with cookers in those days. I believe the costs was 1d for a milk pudding ¾d for a pie, 2d for a cake and 2d for Sunday roast.
On Good Friday, Hot Cross buns would be on sale by breakfast time and there was a steady demand for these deliciously spiced items with sticky shiny tops. The baker and his family would have to stay up all through the night before Good Friday. Still, this was the pattern of things in those days.
The flour, used in the baking, was milled at South Luffenham by ‘Molesworth and Springthorpe’. Once a month Mr Springthorpe would call for the order. Port wine and biscuits were laid out and consumed whilst the business was transacted, and accounts paid – oh so leisurely.
Twice a year there was an event known as ‘tea drinking for the school children’. The bakehouse catered for these events. One of them was the annual school treat, the other was May Day. In the latter case, the children paraded the village with a garland, singing songs about the merry month of May. Needless to say, it was usually a cold day, so most children were wrapped up warm in scarves and top coats. On these two ‘tea drinkings’, the baker made very large loaves for ease in cutting up the mammoth slices of bread and jam – also huge fruit, weed and Madeira cakes were made. These, with gallons of tea were soon disposed of with much relish.
At ‘Harvest Festival’ the baker put a display of sacks of flour and large ‘quartern’ loaves in the Church.
During the war years, it was compulsory to add potato meal to the flour mixture. This produced a very dark loaf which we ate with thanksgiving. Despite its appearance, it ws still sustaining and wholesome.
In 1944, sadly the baker died, and the bakehouse closed – life goes on – memories linger, but a chapter of this village is closed forever.