The story of Thompson’s Bakery

Notes of Tony Cherry's interviews

Thompsons story 2016-10-25T14:25:09+00:00

 

The Thompson family were bakers.  Ann Thompson (1795 – 1880) and great grand mother of A.E. Thompson was a baker.  Albert Ernest Thompson (sometimes known as Albert Edward Thompson) was a partner in Thompson Bros of Hawkesbury Upton with his brother Herbert Daniel Thompson until 12th September 1912 when the partnership was dissolved.  On the dissolution of the partnership Albert received £188:19:6d for plant, stock etc and £2 for excess of assets over liabilities.

Albert then set up business in the High St, Thornbury (on the corner of Chapel St).  In 1914 he had 2 new steam ovens installed.  These were heated by coke.  Albert’s letter heading described his business as follows:

PASTRYCOOK, CONFECTIONER, and CATERER PLAIN and FANCY BAKER

Chick feed, biscuit meal and dog biscuits always in stock, also high class chocolates.

In 1924 son Denis spent time in Manchester learning the trade from Ernest Schulbe, G.C.A.,  Confectioners School of Art, 62 Wilslow Rd., Withington, Manchester.

At the time of writing (30/3/2010) a book is on sale on ebay “Cake Decoration” by Ernest Schulbe written circa 1920. Oxfam also have a similar book for sale described as 86 pages with black and white illustrations.

Denis became a master baker and with brother Henry took over the business in the High Street.  Brother Jack married Elizabeth a teacher and opened up at Rudgeway Stores.

The business in the High Street offered luncheons and teas.  Outside catering was provided (e.g. wedding receptions at the Cossham Hall).   A second shop was opened in the lower High Street and the original premises became known as the “top shop”.

Christmas Day the farmers brought their turkeys in to the bakery to be cooked because they were too big for domestic ovens.  They would be charged 2/6d which would go to Liberal Party Funds.

Customers would sometimes bang on the door when the shop was closed – one as late as 11 o’clock at night – asking if they could buy a loaf.

The business closed in 1959.

Memories of Ken Rugman

Ken joined the bakery at the age of 15 in 1941 at a wage of £1:2s: 6d.  The business had 4 motor vans, a horse and cart and a bike with a basket ridden by Ron Sherman.   The horse and cart was used for local deliveries while the vans were used to go to Pilning, Aust, Tockington, Earthcott, Latteridge, etc.  Ken can’t remember any problems about getting petrol even though it was wartime.  They would deliver 3 days a week on one round and two days a week on another.  Ken got a driving licence (cost 5/-) at the age of 16 (no test required) and started driving the vans.  The vans would be loaded at 8 while the bread was still hot.  They would also carry mash for chicken feed and pig food.

Bread was never in short supply and would be sold in 2lb and 4lb loaves.  When the  price of the 2lb loaf increased from 4d to 4½d he got flack from the customers – he remembers Mrs Bolland demanding “What’s going on?”.  Rolls were sold at ½d each and you got 14 for 6d.  Buns were 1d each.  But cakes were in very short supply.  The van would be loaded with one tray of buns once week.  You had to keep the back door of the van closed so that customers could not see them.  If they were seen you had to say they were pre-ordered.  Then customers would say “why can’t I pre-order?”  Thursday lunch-time was half day and the last delivery was at a farm.   He had to sweep the van out and the chickens would surround the van and Ken had to fight them to keep them off.

A.E. Thompson was careful with the money.  He got Ken to recruit delivery boys to help out but was very cagy about how much he was going to pay.  He would make Denis Thompson deliver from a basket before he went to Grammar School in the morning.  When Ken went in A. E. would say “let me see your hands”.  He would inspect them back and front and then say “go and wash them before you go out”.

Memories of Betty Sage

Betty worked in the office in the evening.  When the delivery men returned between 5 & 6 she would look at how much bread they had brought back, how much cash they had and balance the books.  A lot of customers owed large sums.

Memories of Mr Sage

Mr Sage worked for Tucker Bros.  One of his jobs was to re-sharpen the bread peel at Thompsons.  The bread peel would get blunt during use and he had to put a fine edge on it so that it would slip under the bread when placing in or getting it out of the oven.  They would often have to carry out repairs to the cart used with the horse.  It was common to let the shafts crash to the ground from being up and so they would have to be replaced.

Memories of Ron Pearce  

Ron’s father (Harold Pearce) was a baker’s rounds man with Thompson’s and his uncle (Bill Pearce) was a rounds man.  Bill worked at the bakery and then did service in the First World War.  He then returned to the bakery where he worked for a total of 47 years.  Harold worked at the bakery for 43 years.  From the age of 11 Ron worked with his father on the rounds and he decided he wanted to be a baker.  When he left school Ron’s father said because the life was too hard – early mornings and long hours- he was not going to let him work in the bakery although that is what he wanted to do.  So, reluctantly, he started work as a delivery boy making deliveries on a bike for the International Stores.  War broke out five months later and Ron’s father relented and allowed him to join Thompson’s.

For the first three months he learnt how to mould bread and nothing else.  Everything he did was then remoulded by the bakers before it was proved and put in the ovens.  The original bakery was very small and the new “bakery annexe” was built round the existing ovens whilst they worked inside.  At some point the back wall was removed and covered with a tarpaulin.  This allowed the men to look out at the station when they were in the changing room.  From this vantage point Ron remembers seeing Howitzers being transported to war.  Everything, except the barrels, was made of wood including the wheels.  They were reputedly abandoned in France before Dunkirk without ever being fired.

Despite wanting to join the army Ron was exempt from National Service as, from birth, he was blind in one eye.  In 1945 he was directed to work in Blake’s bakery in Brislington, Bristol.  Because there was a shortage of bakers in Bristol it was classed as a reserved occupation he had to go.  The manager at Parkers Bakery in Kingsdown Parade wanted Ron to work for them and managed to get his reserved status transferred.  Parkers was a plant bakery producing rolls for the military camps around Bristol.  They had an automatic bread plant that used eight 280lb sacks of flour an hour producing 1,000 loaves an hour 24 hours a day.  Ron spent 9 months on the roll plant then a further 2 years on the bread plant, ending up as foreman.  Ron married Joan in 1946.  In 1951 Ron and Joan tried to find a house in Thornbury but were unsuccessful and had to wait until 1956 before they managed to get a council house in Eastlands Avenue.  At that time  Ron returned to Thompson’s as a confectioner.  The business was sold to Christofer Bells and eventually the bakery closed. Ron and his father went to work at Wilkinsons in Johns Street but they were not happy there and left.  Father went to Berkeley Power Station and Ron went to Hortham Hospital from where he retired 30 years later.

The staff

Albert Thompson

Denis Thompson – eldest son in charge of the bakery

Henry Thompson – ran the office and controlled the delivery rounds

Jack Thompson – ran the shop at Rudgeway

Betty Thompson – youngest daughter, ran the shop next to the Swan including the tea room

Mr Baker: Foreman

Les Walker: Baker

Mr Savery: Baker

George Charters: Baker (joined about 1950)

Bert Fryer: Baker

Dough Maker: can’t remember the name. A devout Baptist who lived on Easton Hill

Stan Clarke: Confectioner

Charlie Green: Confectioner

Harold Pearce: Rounds man

Bill Pearce: Rounds man

Ron Pearce: Bakers Boy 1939- 45, confectioner 56 until closure

Don Hook: Rounds man

Albie Poulton: Rounds man

Alfie Till: Odd  Job Man – responsible for bringing the coke to the ovens for the bakers to use, collecting the flour and deliveries from the station which he stored in the loft, cutting the chaff hay shredded for the horses), etc.

There were originally two horses and three vans but one horse was replaced with a van later.

A typical day

1:30a.m:  The dough maker tarts work.  He empties 280lbs of flour into the hopper in the loft above the bakery.  The flour goes straight into the mixer.  The flour has to be tested to asses its temperature then the temperature of the water to be added can be calculated.  It was very important to make the dough at the right temperature @ 76 degrees.

Next he adds yeast, water and improver and mixes for 15 minutes.  The dough is put into a large trough to ferment.  The whole process is repeated at one hour intervals depending on how much bread is to be made that day.  He is responsible for checking the ovens so they will be ready when needed.  Ovens were damped down overnight.

4a.m:  The tablehands (the bakers were called tablehands because they worked at the table) would start work.  The tablehands were Mr Baker, Mr Savery & Ron.  First job was to make the brown bread –   wholemeal and Hovis (made with 25% wheatgerm added and mixed with hot water).  Hovis required hotter water and wheat germ and only needed to stand for 5 minutes.  Wilkinson’s bakery made Vitbe rather than Hovis.  Two hours after it is made the dough is “cut back” (cut into large lumps and manipulated to remove gas).  It was then left for 1½ hours when it was weighed into 1lb and 2lb lumps and put into moulding machine.  It was then put on to the table and left for 10-15 minutes.  It would then be moulded by hand into batch, cottage or coburghs (coburghs are cut with a cross just before they are put into the oven) or returned to the moulder for tin and split tin loaves.  This continued until the dough was used up, usually around 11 a.m.   There was an art to loading the loaves in the oven.  The split tins would be put at the back of the oven to get the heat whereas the batch bread did not need so much heat.  They would use 3/4 285lb bags of flour a day.  This would make about 1100 loaves.

The steam ovens were made by Thomas Collins of St Wurburgs.  They had long steel tubes filled with water which would turn to steam.  The ovens were heated by coke -problems would arise when clinker formed.  There were 4 bread ovens and 2 confectionery ovens.

At the end of the day the bakers would clear all the flour dust from their throats at the Queens Head or the White Lion.  One baker, a Baptist, did not join them.

6a.m:  The confectioners would arrive.  They would first mould rolls followed by buns and doughnuts.  Later rock cakes, raspberry buns and lardy cake would be made.

Preparation for Christmas began around the first week of October when 7cwt of mincemeat was made.  Mixed fruit, suet, spices etc. were mixed by hand and put into wooden barrels where it was stored until mince pies were made for Christmas.  Christmas puddings would be made and one of the tablehands in four/five old army boilers located in the yard.  The tablehand would start at 3:30a.m and the process would continue until 3:30p.m. – even in the snow.  They would be stored wrapped in white cloth until Christmas.  They would all be sold by Christmas Eve.  Mince tarts were never sold until late November and would all be sold by Christmas.

At Easter hot cross buns and Easter cakes were only sold in the week before Easter.  Most would be sold on Thursday.  They would be made all day and delivered by horse and cart around Thornbury.  The cart would be loaded to the hilt, even on the seats.  And they would not finish until 10p.m.

The bakery was always open on Good Friday because bread had to be delivered to all the country districts along with hot cross buns.

Denis Thompson was a wonderful cake decorator.  He worked with Royal Icing.

Farmers would often pay for the bread with eggs.  Thompson’s would have thousands of eggs.  They were kept in the cellars stored in barrels and surrounded by isinglass.  Putting your hand in was like putting it in to ice.  If an egg was cracked it would go off and the smell was terrible.

The horses knew the rounds and knew where they had to go.  This was just as well because the rounds men would often imbibe as they went round.  Ron remembers Christmas Eve of 1938 going round with his father.  His father had a rabbit in his hand and was saying “come on you bugger say cock a doodle do”.  At 10:30p.m. he hadn’t finished the round.  He had to go back to about 20 houses on Christmas day.  He later gave up the drink apart from the occasional whisky.

The workhouse was supplied with the stale bread.  At 9 every morning the tramps would be given a bath, some porridge and bread and a slice of corned beef.  They would then go and work in the gardens.  After two nights they would have their porridge and walk off to the next workhouse.  The large corned beef tins would be stored by the back gate of the workhouse in Eastland Road.  At Christmas Thompson’s would cook them roast beef- the only time in the year that they got it.

The cart was used to take bread up to the station.  It would then be taken to Tytherington and sold.

It was a great place to work.

Memories of Ray Worsley – 1947  

Around 1947 baker Henry Thompson employed Ray Worsley to help with deliveries.  He helped two evenings a week, going to outlying districts in a motor van with deliveries being made until nine at night.  Local deliveries used a greener form of transport.  Ray would fetch the horse “Darkie” from the field that is now part of the golf course and bring it back to the bakery by Cossham Hall.  He would then hitch Darkie to the cart and deliver bread round the town.

 

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