Thursday, 20 May 2010

Hygienic Bakeries Ltd, Richmond

Here is strangely located sign. It is painted at the back of a building, facing a small residential street, which certainly never witnessed much traffic (even more so now that it has been turned into a dead-end road). Had it been on the side or the front of the building it would have been seen by hundreds of people, but there, only locals would have noticed it. In my case, it's been a common sight for years simply because it is on our way to Kew Gardens.


An online search did not provide much information about Hygienic Bakeries Ltd, a firm with branches in Richmond, Twickenham, Chiswick, and Gunnersbury. In the Richmond area, they had several bakeries including one on Hill Street, the original shop of the celebrated Richmond tarts the 'Maids of Honour', which they took over in 1921 and closed in 1957. Another was located on North Road, near Kew Gardens station. As for the one where today's sign can be seen, it stood roughly half-way between the two, on Lower Mortlake Road.

Self-proclaimed 'hygienic bakeries' seem to have flourished across the kingdom (and in other English speaking countries) from the last quarter of the nineteenth century onward. Many traces of and testimonies about 'hygienic bakeries' can be found from Glynde in East Sussex to Oakham in Rutland and Stone in Staffordshire, or closer to London from West Norwood to Wimbledon and Knighstbridge, to mention but a few. But what makes a bakery 'hygienic'? To be honest, I don't really know but I suspect the adjective relates to the use of new machinery and in particular of a cleaner baking oven as the example of the bakery in Glynde would suggest.
Access to the bakery is obtained from the engine-room. First, however, we find ourselves in the old bakehouse, built about the same time as the mill. Here is the old furnace oven which is now almost disused, having to give place to the new hygienic oven installed in a spacious new bakehouse by Geen and Sons of Lewisham. Of this Messrs Cooper and Aylwin speak in high praise, combining as it does economy of fuel, time and labour, with absolute cleanliness. It is built of the best hard burnt bricks from Capt Brand's estate, and the furnace door is constructed at the back in a separate department, so that all fuel is kept out of the bakehouse proper, the flues running round the top, bottom, and sides, and not into the oven itself. This is a decided improvement on the old system, as there is no danger of the fumes entering the baking chamber, and it gives a pleasing air of cleanliness and order to the place. The front of the oven is finished in red bricks, with pyrometer for gauging the heat, oven and flue damper, hot water tank (built in the side), and large 'prover' for small goods. Everything works very smoothly indeed, and Messrs Cooper and Aylwin have the satisfaction of knowing that in the first six months that the oven has been built, their trade in bread and small goods increased quite three sacks per week.
From The Sussex Express, Saturday 18 April, 1896.
Did such ovens improve the final quality of the product? They certainly reduced the risk of impurities getting into the bread both before and during the baking process, and eliminated the strong smokey taste some loaves could have. Given that at least until the first decades of the twentieth century bread was in quite a few cases of more than dubious quality, the introduction of such ovens must have been a clear progress and those bakers who invested in one would have wanted to capitalize on it by proclaiming their 'hygienic' status loud and clear.

Location: Pagoda Avenue / Pictures taken on: 01/02/2010

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