Cooper & Son – Baker & Grocer

Article by Richard Kirton

22 February 2012

In 1947 the cost of a large loaf of bread was 4¼d and a small loaf was 2¾d. How would I know that? Well I had the privilege of talking to Bernard Cooper whose Grandfather, Robert Cooper and Father Henry Robert Cooper ran one of the three Bakery shops in Great Wakering at the time. Both Robert and Henry Robert were known as Bob. Whilst still at school, Bernard used to help out in the bakery.

The original bakery was located at 2/4 Shoebury Road, also known as Shoebury Corner and was built around 1900. The Photograph on the left of the ‘Baker & Grocer’ shop was probably taken between 1910 and 1920 when the business was owned by Mr. George Frederick Milbourn. Bernard’s grandfather worked for him and purchased the bakery in the mid-1920s with Bernard’s father, employing two other people. There were two other bakers trading in the village at that time: Burgess (rear of Exhibition Car Park and Cripps (next to the old Forge).

On the first floor of the bakery and above the double gates was a flour loft. The flour was supplied by Rankin Mill in Stambridge. The Flour Lorries would pull outside the double door gates and via a ladder stacked the flour sacks in the loft. When required the flour would be transferred along an overhead walkway into a store over the bakery dough mixer. The flour would be tipped down a chute into the mixer. In the early days there were two horses in the stables at the back of the yard and these were used for deliveries. Bernard can remember when they moved into the house in 1949, the kitchen had a circular slab in the middle of the floor and below that was a well.

Bernard’s grandfather used a horse for deliveries to Little Wakering and Barling until 1950 but a hand cart and a Trade Bicycle were also used for deliveries to places like Seaview Drive and Victoria Drive which were unmade roads back then. From 1939 onwards the bread was delivered to customers in Great Wakering and Shoeburyness using a Commer motor van.

Bakery Hours - Dough making started at 7.30p.m. to 8.30p.m. There was a large mechanical mixer powered by a belt drive and pulley system using a ‘Peta’ water cooled paraffin/petrol engine located in a separate brick room.

The dough consisted of flour, water, salt and yeast and all of the bread baked used exactly the same dough irrespective of shape and name. The mixed dough would be placed in the Proving Trough, 12ft x 2ft wide x 2ft deep. On the top was placed a bench top.

The dough would take approximately seven hours to Prove (Aerate and rise). The bakers would start at 4 am each weekday and 1 am on a Saturday. They would cut the dough out of the trough and weigh the pieces to either 1lb or 2lb in weight.

This dictated the size of the loaf bearing in mind that the dough would lose weight once baked. The dough was hand molded into the shape of a loaf and then transferred to a greased tin. The dough was left again to prove and fill the tins.

The photograph on the right shows Bernard’s Grandfather, Robert Cooper tending to one of the horses. Behind him can be seen the overhead walkway used for moving the flour into the store.

Ovens - Using his horse and open cart, Bernard’s Grandfather would collect coke every fortnight from the gas works in Shoeburyness. There were two sets of coke fuelled ovens, each set comprising two ovens and they were 8ft x 6ft each and placed one on top of the other. The tins and bread were placed on large trays 3ft 6in x 18in and the trays were slid into the floor oven with a tool called a peel. The bread was cooked after 30 minutes and the bread removed from the tins and placed on a stacking trolley and taken to the cooling room. A second batch was then prepared. Cakes and pastries would have been made during the day such as coconut slices and cream horns etc.

The furnaces were kept running permanently, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week and 365 days a year. At Christmas time each year, locals would cook their chickens in the ovens.

Approximately 6cwt of flour was used each day which produced about 300 loaves a day. The bakery did not employ any additional staff so the bakers had to also deliver the bread. A typical working weekday was 12 hours and 16/17 hours on a Friday and Saturday. At age 12, Bernard would deliver the bread down the unmade roads on a trade bike. The bakery would also sell small bags of flour.

Before the war, the flour was white and refined but due to the rationing during WWII the flour was not so white rather a mix between brown and white. The highlight and probably the most profitable time of the year was Good Friday when most people in the village treated their families to a traditional treat of Hot Cross Buns. A cross made out of wood was used to make the cross imprint in the bun.

The photograph above was taken in September 1954 and shows Bernard’s father, Henry Robert Cooper, aged 48 years. To the right of him can be seen an upright support to the overhead walkway used for moving the flour into the store.

‘Hovis’ brown bread was also baked but used the proprietary Hovis flour. There was a good business relationship between the three trading bakers despite them being in competition and there were several instances where one baker would help out another in times of breakdown or staff shortages.

In approximately 1960, Bernard’s father decided to sell the premises. By then the business was not proving to be as profitable and changing customer demands would have meant significant investment in new equipment including bread cutting machinery. The arrival of Supermarkets was also starting to have an impact on the viability of existing small bakery shops and all three bakers ceased trading around the same time. The demise of our local shops was well under way but various businesses still traded from the premises subsequently, including a Café, a Secondhand Shop, the Village Dentist and ‘Rag Mama Rag’ before being converted into five flats under the name of ‘Bakers Court’.

Barling & Wakering Heritage

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