Memories of the Village Bakery
(now called The Bakehouse Restaurant)
by Tony Forsgate
My grandparents originally owned the village bakery, a
building now called The Bakehouse Restaurant.
The West Street side of the premises, where the name
of the restaurant is now displayed, carried a painted, wooden display
board advertising “E.J.Cracknell and Son. East Essex Bakery. Baker and
I have not been able to discover how Grandfather Ernest J. Cracknell first
came into the baking trade. He originated from Sunderland and may well
have served his apprenticeship in that area. He and Grandmother Georgina
ran the Bakery from the late 1800s until approximately 1937.
Grandmother was a local girl: one of the Oakley family
children, 5 girls and 3 boys, only one of whom, Dolph, moved away from
Wivenhoe. Their eldest son, William (Bill) joined the business upon
leaving school and took over when Grandfather retired.
Bill Cracknell was to play a large part in
Wivenhoe life eventually being a founder member of the British Legion, a
founder member of the Wivenhoe Sailing Club and a local Councillor on the
Wivenhoe Urban District Council for the period 1940 to 1972 during which
time he was twice Chairman.
Barton’s book Wivenhoe, published in 1975, contains a photograph
of Grandfather together with his staff in 1903. Included in the photo is
Bill as a four year old, plus Reg Beckwith and Ernest “Balaam” King.
Reg later kept a small dairy shop in Belle Vue Road from where he
delivered milk from his milk cart, hand-propelled in those days.
“Balaam” was a well-known local character who became a local
fishmonger, making his daily rounds with his fish-barrow and tending to
his fish-curing in his smokehouse situated at the rear of the water-tower
in Tower Road.
The shop was at the front of the premises with the
entrance from the High Street. At the rear of the shop was the
sitting-room plus a small dining area. The entrance to the bake-house was
via the side door from which stairs led up to the loft where flour etc.
was stored. Flour was delivered by Marriages and Son of East Bay with the
sacks being carried up the stairs for storage until such time as the flour
was required when it was then returned to the bake-house via a cloth
chute. The oven was at the extreme rear of the premises, heated normally
by wood, with “peels” hanging from the ceiling which were used to
place the tins of bread, rolls, and cakes into the oven.
Bread delivery in the early days was by hand-cart. The
museum in Trinity Street, Colchester did have an example of this bearing
the sign “E. J. Cracknell and Son. East Essex Bakery”.
The bakery employed a number of boys who delivered
bread by tradebikes, with a large basket at the front. Amongst the boys
were John Cox, George “Ginger” Hedlam, Archie Whaley, Eric Dadds and
Charlie Taylor was associated with the bakery from
1936, when he commenced work as a fourteen-year-old, until the business
closed in 1957. He was invaluable in confirming the names of some who
worked in the bake-office (where the work was done) during this time.
Local names are recalled in Hervey Wix, Bert Sawyers and Frank Warren.
addition to providing bread for the local community, baking was also done
for Springetts shop at Rowhedge. The bread was taken by van or tradebikes
along the Rowhedge Ferry road to the ferry to be collected on the other
side by Tony Springett. Over the years catering was also provided for
local dinners held in the British Legion Hall etc. As the oven never
cooled down, many local people took the opportunity to have their
Christmas joint or capon (note no turkeys in those days) cooked for the
princely sum of one old penny.
Local ladies who worked in the shop included Alice
Vince (née Hatch), Elsie King (née Wilson), Pansy Sharp and Winnie
Street (née Cross). Winnie worked in the business for many years, not
only in the shop but driving the bread-van, delivering round the village.
Amongst my own memories are “helping” in the
bake-office as a very young boy attired in a baker’s apron and hat,
having to stand on a box in order to reach the working surface. Below this
level were drawers for the various fruits used in the cakes - one could
slide in a hand and take out
some cherries until such time as a
hidden wasp struck - a yelp of pain from the victim, to be told off by
Grandad or Uncle Bill, usually providing another contribution to the
In the shop, biscuits were sold from tins purchased
from the well-known names of the day - Carrs, Peake Freans etc. One type
of biscuit made in the bake-house but now no longer in production were
ships’ biscuits, roughly the size of a small tea-plate, rock-hard, made
for the local yachts, which would keep for months in storage. One customer
for these was Sir Alfred and Lady Munnings from Dedham, apparently their
Pekinese loved them!
Towards the end of Uncle Bill’s occupancy of the
business, he was joined by Bill James who was then on the catering staff
at Cordys restaurant at Clacton. On Uncle Bill’s retirement in 1950 Bill
James took over the business to be followed in 1952 by Charlie Taylor.
With the arrival of the supermarkets etc. which affected local businesses,
deliveries ceased and the business eventually closed in 1957. The premises
became a hairdressers, then a restaurant, next a wine-bar and now it has
returned as a restaurant.
The family of Ernest and Georgina Cracknell lived in
Wivenhoe all their lives. They had five children: Ernest died in infancy;
Eva married Billy Mallett and their son Jack owned the hardware shop in
East Street, now no more; Jessie married Tom Forsgate - their daughter
Doreen married and moved to Kendal, Cumbria, and their son, Tony (author
of this article), stayed locally to become a headteacher in Colchester;
Peter married Vera Maudsley; and their daughter Maryan also became a
teacher in Darlington. Ernest Cracknell died in March 1945, aged 77.
NB Article also
published in Wivenhoe News - Spring 2003 Edition
Back row: Cyril Beckwith,
Ernest Cracknell, Ernest 'Balaam' King
Front row: Reginald
Beckwith, William Cracknell, Edward Jackson
Picture taken in 1903