Memories of an Orwell Baker

Arthur Howard

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Photo:Artur Howard and his oven

Artur Howard and his oven

I bought the house and bakery at 20 High Street in 1942, having previously worked in the trade in my native Lincolnshire and in the Cambridgeshire village of Bourn. 

a full batch of bread took twenty stone of flour

The oven at 20 High Street was coal fired until electricity became available in 1951 and it had to be lit at 4.00 am ready for the morning’s baking.  The dough had to be mixed,  kneaded and shaped the evening before by hand and the quantities involved were huge:a full batch of bread took twenty stone of flour,(about 140 kilos), 4lbs of salt, and sixteen gallons (eighty litres) of water.  Kneading that lot in a big trough was a very hard and hot job, especially for the first twenty minutes as, if you didn’t keep the dough moving it could become very lumpy and unuseable.  After kneading, the dough was covered with a lid and left overnight to prove, or rise, until by early morning it was pushing the lid open.  Then it was weighed up, shaped into loaves, given a second proving and baked

Families used to bring round their Christmas poultry


Bread was not the only commodity baked in my oven.  Families used to bring round their Christmas poultry to be put in after the last batch of bread before Christmas Day, as either their own ovens were not big enough or it was more economical to use the bakehouse.  They had to recognise which bird was theirs by the container they had used, and generally got the right one.

I bought an electric mixer as soon as possible, but baking still meant lots of flour scattered about the place.  Recently I was invited to see the new electric oven at BASRA Stores in the village, and had to comment that, in fifty years in the trade,  it was the first bakehouse I had ever seen with no flour in sight.  The dough is all imported from abroad — from Denmark I believe —  and just needs finishing off when it gets here.  Supermarket in-store bakeries use the same stuff, and I’m afraid it’s not bread as I knew it.

The 1940s to the 1970s

In the 1940s I supplied part of Orwell with bread, the rest being supplied by Parcell’s bakery across the road, and I also delivered to Harlton, Haslingfield and Barrington, using the little Austin 7 van I inherited from my predecessor, Walter Pearmain. This van literally fell apart after I first had it serviced, and was succeeded by a Ford and then by a Morris Minor. When the Parcell bakery closed I changed my rounds to cover Orwell, Arrington, Wimpole and Croydon which I supplied until my retirement in the 1970s.

This page was added by Martin Grigor on 05/11/2012.

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