Memories of the Village Bakery
Now a restaurant called The Bakehouse but once a bakery run by Ernest Cracknell
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 Confectioner.
Unfortunately 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 of eight 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.
Dick 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 Michael Harris.
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.
In 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 (nee Hatch), Elsie King (nee Wilson), Pansy Sharp and Winnie Street (nee 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 swear-box.
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 This piece was also published on the Wivenhoe Encyclopedia and in Wivenhoe News – Spring 2003 edition.
To know more about Tony Forsgate’s memories of Wivenhoe from the 1930s onwards click here.