Entries in Austin (1)


Book 2: Mary Betts, Thomas Lee, Thomas Chapman Coleman, Thomas Haines, John Childs, Andrew Bull, Thomas Austin, Joseph Scholes, Robert Woodruff: VILLAGE BAKERS:


A little after the First World War, The Millers’ Mutual Association published a colourful pamphlet on the history of bread. This opened with the words:

From time immemorial bread has been the most important food of man. Throughout history its distribution has been the chief concern of Kings and Governments. A shortage of bread has led to revolutions and the downfall of empires. A great deal of the legislation of the world has been devoted to ensuring an adequate supply of bread to the people.

There may be some local pleading here but bread has had a significant place in the social history of the western world. It has been an important Christian symbol and a constant focus for political unrest.

The eighteenth century ended with England at war with Napoleon’s France and a string of poor harvests. The price of a quartern loaf (weighing 4 pounds) in London rose to 1s 5d at a time when many were earning less than 10 shillings a week. The corn dealers and bakers’ shops were looted and the king’s carriage attacked. The Times in 1795 printed a list of rules that it said was the way to ‘Peace and Plenty’. - These included:

1                     Abolish all gravy soups and second courses.

2                     Buy no starch when wheat is dear.

3                     Destroy all useless dogs.

4                     Give no dog or other animal the smallest piece of bread or flour.

5                     Save all your skim-milk carefully and give it all to the poor or sell it at a cheap rate.

6                     Make broth, rice puddings etc., for the poor and teach them to make such things.

7                     Go to church

It is perhaps surprising to see rice as a cheap substitute for bread but this was a bonus of empire often helped by slave labour. Even in 1850 poor Lydia Attley, on the last day that she was seen alive, was going to buy some rice for her dinner. It is likely that she ate it as a rice pudding  which would have been considered good for an invalid or pregnant woman. Another staple crop was becoming popular with working families, much to the disgust of William Cobbett. In his very popular Cottage Economy, published in 1822, he railed against the potato with his usual prejudice:

. . . in the evidence given before the Agricultural Committee . . .many labourers, especially in the West of England, use potatoes instead of bread to a very great extent. And I find from the same evidence that it is the custom to allot the labourers “a potato ground” in part payment of their wages! This has the tendency to bring English labourers down to the state of the Irish whose mode of living, as to food, is but one remove from that of the pig, and of the ill-fed pig too.

Cobbett was also strongly against the ‘shop’ replacing the market stall, believing it an unnecessary, cost intrusion between producer and consumer. Further, in his book, he encouraged labourers to be as self-sufficient as possible which is why his star rose again in the 1970s. He ‘proves’ that bread, financially and in all other respects, was better than potatoes and that baking it at home was similarly better than buying the bakers’ loaves.

How wasteful then, and indeed how shameful for a labourer’s wife to go to the baker’s shop; and how negligent, how criminally careless of the welfare of his family, must the labourer be, who permits so scandalous a use of the proceeds of his labour!

Nevertheless, Ringstead had at least two bakers’ shops for most if not all of the nineteenth century. The making of bread was a time-consuming business, even if, as Cobbett suggested, the week’s supply was baked in one go. Further, many of the cottages would have only had an open fire with their cooking done in front of it or in a pot over it. The baking of bread would have been difficult or impossible for many in the poorer homes. Of course the bakers would also have catered for the trade of the emerging middle class for the whiter bread as well as cakes and pastries.

Ringstead and the parishes around seem to have maintained, at least in some form, local flour which would have been brought by horse and cart from the water and wind mills and it seems likely that the bakers continued to use this, throughout the century, even though there would have been increasing competition from the New World flour and the larger mills and bakeries in the towns and cities. Even as early as 1786 the Albion Mills, the first great steam-powered factory in London, had been established and ground 10 bushels of wheat an hour. The local millers faced ruin until it burnt down in mysterious circumstances.  

The Bett or Betts family had been bakers in Ringstead for much of the eighteenth century. They were part of a large family of farmers, the first son usually being christened, ‘White’. Samuel Bett, born in about 1703 was the first baker that we know of and his son John, born in about 1734 followed his father’s trade. I have not found an older brother called White, and we only know of a brother Samuel, born in 1737 and buried a year later. John married Mary Who????? and they had at least four children: Joseph, John, Samuel and Hannah. John died when he was only about forty-five years old in 1779 but Mary carried on with the family business until her death a quarter of a century later. She was buried in Ringstead churchyard on June 15th 1804 aged seventy-four.

The bakery and house were advertised for sale in the Northampton Mercury on 14th July 1804, with immediate possession. There is some confusion here for the ‘deceased widow’ is referred to as Hannah, not Mary, Betts and we must assume that this is a mix-up with her daughter Hannah. The list of the household furniture and effects shows that she had lived in some comfort, perhaps helped by the Betts’ yeoman background. The items auctioned by Richard Smith at the Swan, included:

Bedsteads and Furniture; Feather and Flock Beds; Blankets and Quilts; Bed and Table Linen; Dining, Tea and Dressing Tables; Chests of Drawers; Pier and Swing Glasses; neat Chairs; Clock; Pewter Dishes and Plates; Glass, China and Earthenware; Brass Pots and Kettles; Kitchen Requisites; Brewing Copper, sweet Casks, Tubs and a Variety of other Effects.

Also included in the sale was the house and bakery which are described as:

A Freehold MESSUAGE or TENEMENT, with an old-accustomed Bakehouse in Full Trade, suitable Barns, Stables, and other Out-offices belonging; also a neat GARDEN and ORCHARD, situate in RINGSTEAD aforesaid, and late in the Occupation of the said Hannah Betts.

N.B. The Fixtures, Baking Implements, and Wood, may be taken by the Purchaser at a fair Valuation;

The sale of the wood shows us that coal fired ovens had not yet reached Ringstead. The ovens would have been heated in the centuries-old way by burning bundles of sticks, or faggots, in the brick oven until it reached the correct temperature, then raking out all the ashes and putting in the dough onto the hot stones and closing the door. It was a long process and the baker would be one of the first risers in the village.

At the end of the advertisement for the sale it adds:

May be viewed in the mean Time; and further Particulars had of Mr FRANCIS TIDBURY, at Woodford Mills, Administrator of the Goods and Chattels of the said Hannah Betts.

We know that the children of Mary Betts signed over their "Right, Title and Interest of in and to the Burthen of Administration of the said chattels and credits of the said deceased". It is clear that Mary had built up large debts to Francis Tidbury, presumably for flour, and. perhaps. as she grew older and less able to run the bakery. As we have said, for most of the nineteenth century Ringstead supported two bakeries but it was not a way to make one’s fortune and some went bankrupt along the way.

We do not know exactly what the bakery would have looked like inside but it seems likely that it was little different from when it was built. In 1805, one year after Mary’s death, A Treatise on the Art of Bread-Making was published. It describes what a good bakehouses should look like:

A bakehouse is a manufactory where bread is made for the purpose of sale. In order to render it convenient, it should be attached to the dwelling house, and have an inner door opening into the kitchen, and likewise an outer door to open into a small yard. In this yard there ought to be a well or pump, as also a shed for the piling of faggots. The room should be large and commodious, and the floor laid with stone or tiles. On one side should be erected a dresser or counter , with suitable shelves above it; on the other side a kneading trough about seven feet long, three feet high, two feet and a half broad at top and sixteen inches at bottom with a sluice board to pen the dough up at one end, and a lid to shut down like that of a box. On a third side a copper will contain from three to four pails of water should be erected, which is far preferable to the filthy custom of heating the water in the oven; and on the fourth side the oven should be placed.

The production of bread was hard work, as anyone who has made bread at home by hand, can testify. Imagine it with the following quantities given by H.G. Muller in Baking and Bakeries:

About 5 imperial gallons (22.7 litres) of yeast were mixed with enough hot water to bring the whole to blood heat. 3½ pounds (1.59kg.) of salt were then dissolved in it and the whole was added to about 1 hundredweight (50.8 kg) of flour in a wooden trough. The mixture was then well worked up by hand until quite free from lumps. This was called the sponge. Its surface was then made level and a little flour sprinkled on it. The whole was then covered up and allowed to ferment for twelve hours. After that warm water containing again 3  pounds (1.59 kg) of salt as well as 3 hundredweight (152.4 kg) of flour was added and the whole worked up into a uniform dough. That was again covered and allowed to ferment for an hour and a half. It now swelled and when sufficiently spongy it was called ‘proof’ and was fit for dividing, weighing and shaping into loaves. These were then introduced into the oven by means of an oven peel.

Of course, the actual quantities used by Mary Betts and her successors would have varied but bread was a large part of most Ringstead families’ expenditure, and the number of loaves needed would have been great.

The next time that we meet the Ringstead bakers is in the 1841 Census. There are two separate bakeries now in business: Thomas Lee, who was next to Vicarage House (or Farm), and Thomas Coleman. There must have been bakers between the death of Mary Betts in 1804 and 1841 but so far we have not found them. Thomas Lee did appear in the List of Licensed Victuallers for Ringstead in 1822 but without a public house named for him. The trades of brewer and baker had long been associated as originally the froth from the beer was used to produce the yeast for the baking. At about twenty years of age, Thomas was probably too young to have bought Mary Betts’s bakery in 1804 but it may be by 1822 he was already the village baker.

The Ringstead parish registers do show the christening, on March 30th 1835, of Elizabeth, the daughter of William (not the later blacksmith, parish clerk and postmaster) and Rebecca Bradshaw. William is shown as a baker but by 1841 the family had moved to Leicester with William now a journeyman baker. By 1851 he is a hawker but by 1861 he had become a baker again. The children are shown as being born in Denford (even Elizabeth) or Leicester so it is likely that William was a journeyman working for one of the other bakers either in Ringstead or Denford.

Thomas Lee was born in East Farndon, south-west of Market Harborough in about 1786. His brother William remained in the area to become a farmer or grazier, with, in 1851 146 acres and employing two labourers. Thomas, however, moved south some twenty-five miles to Ringstead. Neither brother married and both had housekeepers. In 1841 Thomas was 55 and described as a baker. Living with him were Susannah Archer 50, female servant; Samuel Eastham [?], 15, a male servant and Elizabeth Teat, 53, whose role is indecipherable. By 1851 Thomas is a master baker employing one man who is John Hames Dainty, aged 38 a journeyman baker born in Geddington. The women, both born in Stanwick, have aged alarmingly because Susannah Archer is now seventy-five and Elizabeth Teat, a widow is a pauper and eighty years old.

Thomas calls himself a master baker and this could just be a ‘puff’, as I have seen an advertisement for a ‘master window cleaner’, but it may indicate that he considered himself superior to the other baker in the village and besides bread baked a range of cakes and biscuits. The George family kept a baker’s shop in Folkingham, in Lincolnshire, some 45 miles to the north. Between 1833 an 1838 they wrote ‘receipts’ in a small notebook. This was published by Teresa Crompton in 1997 under the title A Pound of Fine Flower (this alternative spelling was just going out of fashion). By looking at the recipes we can see the sort of fare that a village bakery at the time might offer for sale.

The main ingredients used are flour, sugar, butter and milk with a flavouring such as ginger, bitter almonds, lemon juice, caraway seeds and nutmeg. Other common ingredients included eggs, currants and ground rice. The main rising agent used was ‘’Viletta’ or Volatile salts’ which was a form of Ammonium Carbonate. As it was also used in smelling salts it can be imagined that the smell of ammonia would have hung around the bakery. Many of the names of the recipes have a familiar ring; almond cakes, gingerbread, Shrewsbury cakes, Abernethy biscuits, Madeira buns and so on. After the heavy kneading of the bread it may seem that it was a relief to make the biscuits and cakes until one sees a recipe for a, well-named, Pound Cake which, after the ingredients, includes the instruction to, ‘beat them all together for one hour’.

In these days before compressed yeast the preparation of yeast was a laborious process for each baker made his or her own from his ‘stock yeast’ The starter was made from hops, flour and malt beaten into a stiff batter, covered, and allowed to sit for twenty-four hours. This was used as the key ingredient to make the stock yeast which also had to sit for twenty-four hours. Some of this was used each day to start the next batch. Once a month the baker ought to have cleaned everything up and started again but many carried on for a year.

It was hard, time-consuming, work to turn the flour into bread, cakes and biscuits but the baker was always being accused of overcharging and short measures. This was partly because of the vital part played by bread in many people’s diet and the rising price of ‘corn’ caused by the Corn laws, passed in 1815 to protect the farmers from cheap imports from the New World and elsewhere. In many large cities there was rioting and corn factors and bakers were attacked and pillaged. On a local scale, in 1843, Thomas Lee was fined 12 shillings for deficient weights at Wellingborough Petty Sessions. Many small traders were similarly caught as the local Police Inspector began to implement the new laws which standardised and checked weights and measures throughout the country. Bread was a precious commodity and had to be sold by weight.

This suspicion of bakers can be seen from this article in the Stamford Mercury for 16th September 1842:

“How is it,” observes a correspondent, that the bread is so dear, notwithstanding the reduced price of wheat? The answer is plain. The public allow the baker to fix the price and never stay to question it. When the assize of bread was abolished, it was imagined that people would say to a baker ‘What is the price of a 4lb loaf?’ as they do to a butcher, ‘What is the price of a leg of mutton?’ – and would, if discontented with the price, walk out of the shop and make the purchase elsewhere; but habit is stronger than reason. The people had for so long a period been accustomed to think of bread as something settled at a price over which they had no means of control that the most frugal housewife among them never dreams of making a loaf a matter of bargain. Of course the baker will not lower the price, if not compelled; but they have carried the high-price matter too far; and not individual remonstrances but public attention is now directed to the matter. As bread is an article of daily manufacture, it might be as well to consider whether it would not be a good speculation to establish ovens, where for a small charge (smaller than now demanded for baking a joint) loaves might be baked, and thus people enabled, if they pleased to bake their own bread, as they bake their own dinners.

We see that the practice of roasting the Sunday joint in the baker’s ovens for a charge was a long established one and also that many, perhaps most, working-class families had stopped baking their own bread, in spite of Cobbett’s campaign.

Thomas Lee died on the 12th April 1855 and in his will left to his brother William, a grazier in Great Oxenden: 

. . . all that my messuages and tenement in Ringstead aforesaid wherein I now reside with the Bakehouse, Yards, Gardens, Premises and appurtenances thereunto belonging.

He also left nineteen guineas to his servant Susan Archer and five guineas to John Griffuth Leete, his surgeon.

As we have seen Thomas Lee was not the only baker in Ringstead but before we consider his rival it is worth just noting a certain James Wilkinson who was the alleged father of Lydia Attley’s first child before she disappeared heavy with her second, allegedly by William Weekley Ball. James was a journeyman baker from Leicestershire who married Lydia Hill, the daughter of James Hill, publican of the Black Horse. They moved to Welford and he was a baker there for over thirty years.

The other baker in the 1841 Ringstead Census was Thomas Chapman Coleman. He too came from outside the village being born in Holcot and baptised in Ringstead on 30th September 1813, some seventeen miles to the west. All his younger brothers and sisters are christened in Ringstead so it seems the family moved there soon after his birth. . He married Deborah Lawrence from Denford on 3rd May 1831 in Ringstead Parish Church. His mother, Mary, died less than a fortnight later and was buried in Ringstead churchyard. His sons, Charles Chapman Coleman, who was born on 5th November 1826, and John Joseph, born on 18th June 1835 were baptised in the Ringstead Particular Baptist Church

By 1841, as we have seen, he was a baker in Ringstead, with his wife, and sons Charles and John. By 1851 Charles has moved away and John is a butcher’s apprentice. Louise Saddington, from Denford is a house servant. The Northampton Mercury for 12th July 1851 may give a possible reason for there being no further children and the need of a servant. Among the death announcements is the following notice:

At Ringstead, July 4th, after eight years’ spinal affliction, borne with Christian fortitude, Deborah, the beloved wife of Thomas Chapman Coleman, baker, Ringstead, aged 45 years.

We do not see any of the family again in an English Census and it seems certain that soon after Deborah’s death they left England and took their chances on the other side of the world. We have chased many a Ringstead resident across the seas but this time we will only record three entries in the Birth, married and death columns of the newspapers:

On the 1st instant, [May 1852] by special licence at St. James’ Church by the Rev. J. Grylls, Mr. Charles Chapman Coleman of George-street to Miss Mary Ann Esther Chormdery, eldest daughter of Mr. J.J. Chormdery of Windmill-street, Sydney

COLEMAN – April 24 1886 at his residence, Botany-road, Waterloo [Sydney], Thomas Chapman Coleman aged 74.

John Joseph probably died in 1876 in Victoria so the following item in the Barrier Miner [Broken Hill, NSW] which may or not be relevant. It does sum up a way of life for those mining pioneers:

John Joseph Casey was found guilty at the Criminal Court of the manslaughter of John Joseph Coleman. Casey hit Coleman on the head with a stick on Good Friday. The judge fined Casey £15 and allowed him time to pay it.

Thomas Haines was the next baker to help provide the daily bread from one of Ringstead’s bakeries. He had been born in Great Catworth in Huntingdonshire and in 1841 it is probably him working for a farmer in Easton. In 1849 he married Elizabeth Vickers Wilby, whose father was a baker from Market Harborough. Perhaps as a result of this, aged just twenty-five, he is also a baker at 49 Newlands Street in Higham Ferrers. They have an eight-week-old daughter also called Elizabeth, an apprentice baker and a young servant girl. Thomas’s younger brother, William, is also staying with them. He, too, is a baker and although shown as a visitor he is perhaps also helping his brother.

He moved to Ringstead some time in the middle of the 1850s. We know that from the 1861 Census which shows him, aged 35, in the Ringstead High Street. He has two more daughters. Honoria is 6 and born in Higham Ferrers and Anne is 5 and born in Ringstead so it seems that he moved to Ringstead in 1855 or 1856. He is now described as a master baker, employing two journeyman bakers. His bakery business seems to be growing fast: perhaps too fast for his finances.

In April 1862 we learn a little about what has been happening from a newspaper report in the Northampton Mercury. Unfortunately it is from a report of a case in the Crown Court where Thomas has been indicted for obtaining the sum of £171 by false pretences from the Thrapston branch of the Northamptonshire Union Bank. The article records that Mr. Merewether, for the prosecution told the jury that:

The prisoner was a local preacher and might well have paused before he entered upon an act upon which nobody who heard of it could come to a favourable conclusion.

Thomas banked in Wellingborough and was struggling financially. He had been granted an overdraft, upon certain sureties, up to a limit of £600. He had used £535 of that permitted overdraft when he received cheques to the value of £386 [in effect, unpaid bills] from London. He tried to borrow £100 from his father without success and presented a cheque for £170 at the Thrapston branch of the Northamptonshire Union Bank and was given this amount in cash. He then paid this into the Wellingborough account so that he could pay off some of the outstanding bills. He had hoped that the cheque would go via London and take several days to clear, giving him time to borrow the money from somewhere. The Thrapston manager, however, sent the cheque directly to Wellingborough and it was immediately dishonoured.

The jury found Thomas not guilty of trying to defraud the bank but he was obviously in financial difficulties. On April 9th 1862, Thomas Haines, corn factor and baker of Ringstead, by his own petition was registered bankrupt. On 3rd June of the same year at five o’clock in the afternoon, at the White Hart Hotel Thrapston, his possessions were sold by his ‘Mortgagee’.

These were sold in four lots. These included:

Lot 1. All that roomy and convenient MESSUAGE or Farm House situate in Ringstead in the County of Northampton, with the Barns, Yards, Gardens, Homestead, Orchard and piece of Land thereto adjoining. And also all those THREE COTTAGES or Tenements thereto adjoining, with the Barns and Out-buildings.

These Premises extend from the East end of the Street of Ringstead [High Street] to the Back Lane and contain with the site of the buildings 1A. 1R. 9P. (little more or less.)

Lot 2 contained a close of pasture land containing 6 acres and 36 perch; Lot 3 arable land of 8 acres and 29 perch; and Lot 4 arable land of 8 acres 1 rood and 9 perch. This land appears to have been in one piece with Back Lane on the south and Denford Road on the east. Surprisingly there is no mention of the bakery. Of course he may have been renting it or owned both and it was the purchase of the farmhouse, cottages and land that caused his downfall. He overreached himself.

Whatever the details, his career as a baker was over and the 1871 Census finds the family living in Green Lane Terrace in Kettering. Thomas is now a ‘Traveller’ and one daughter is a haberdasher and the other a governess. His wife, Elizabeth has no paid work and they still employ a young girl as a servant. Things are similar in 1881 but by 1891, a Traveller in the Corn Trade, Thomas and Elizabeth are living at 20 Castle Road, Bedford. Their married daughter Honoria and her daughter, Maria are staying with them and they still have another young girl working as a general servant for them.

It seems likely that Thomas and Elizabeth overstretched themselves in Ringstead but he found new work in the corn trade and they managed to maintain a servant and their middle-class status.

In the 1862 edition of Slater’s Royal National Commercial Directory there are three bakers in Ringstead. Alongside Thomas Haines there are John Childs and Andrew Bull. Andrew does not appear in the Melville and Co. Directory of the previous year. We see the Andrew Bull is a new village baker but does the fact that the three bakers are all recorded in 1862 mean that there were three bakeries?

Whatever the answer it does seem that probably John Childs started his bakery in 1861 and Andrew Bull in 1862. They were both to remain village bakers for many years. It is their stories that we are now going to try to discover.

John ‘Chiles’ had been baptised in Ringstead Parish Church on December 25th 1816, the son of James and Susannah. James was originally from Southoe in Huntingdonshire but had married a Ringstead girl, Elizabeth Whiteman, and settled in the village. John  married Elizabeth, (also ‘Chiles’), on June 12th 1837 also in the parish church and by the 1841 Census the young couple already had three children; Joseph 3, Sarah 2 and Martha 6 months old and had moved to Swineshead, some ten miles away, in Bedfordshire. John’s mother Susannah and his younger brother George are also staying with them. Judging by the birthplace of their eldest son, Joseph they moved to Swineshead immediately or soon after their marriage. John is a shoemaker.

By 1852 the couple have seven children living at home and two young shoemakers from Catworth are working for him. It is not clear but it appears that John is also a grocer. His wife, Elizabeth is a shoe binder and the two older girls are lacemakers.

It must have been a busy household but by 1861 they have moved back to Ringstead and John has a new career. We see him in the High Street, one of the village bakers. He is 45 years old, two years younger than his wife, and is helped in his new business by his fifteen-year-old son, Samuel. Robert, the eldest son, and still at home, is a shoemaker. His house and bakery is one house from the Chapel Road turning in the Census so we can be sure that it is what are now two houses, 47 and 49 High Street. It seems that the bakehouse was in number 47 and the house and, possibly, the shop in number 49. This position is confirmed by comparing the black and white postcard below with the earlier picture of the Post Office in the biography of the postmasters. We can see that the two shops were neighbours, although unfortunately the Post Office building has now disappeared.


The Old Bakehouse (47/49 High Street)

Author’s Photograph 2012

1871 finds the family still at the bakery but only daughters, Elizabeth, a dressmaker and Martha a ‘baker’s daughter’ are now at home. Does a ‘baker’s daughter’ help in the shop or the bakery?

At about the time of the Census collection in 1871, John is involved in a court case to recover 12s. from a porter called Cadman, employed by the London and North-Western Railway Company at Thrapston. The debt had actually been to his son who we learn had since emigrated. In fact Cadman’s wife, who was a witness, was too ill to attend so the case was adjourned.

The years roll by and 1881 has John (65) and Elizabeth (67) with the only family living with them being John’s widowed sister, Mary Ann (68). John does have some help, however, because lodging with them there is a sixteen-year-old assistant baker from Raunds.



A 1920s view of the Old Bakehouse from the opposite direction showing the Swan in the distance

[The Bakery is the white building on the left. You can just see the shop sign over the door. The first building on the left had been the Post Office at the end of the Nineteenth Century]

Reproduced with permission of the Northamptonshire Telegraph. 



Olde Bakery Cottage (17 High Street)

Author’s Photograph 2012

Two bakers might seem enough for a small village but it appears that there were sometimes three or more competing for trade. Perhaps as the village bakers got older others saw a chance to increase their own trade. Henry Peach was a baker in Denford and we know that at this time that he too was delivering bread in the village. On 15th May 1882 he and his ‘boy’ were on their round, in the village, unaware that Inspector Alexander was watching them. There had been ‘complaints’. Perhaps one of the village bakers was annoyed by Henry Peach coming into his patch. The Inspector:

Went to Mr. Bradshaw’s, publican [I am not sure which public house this was] and found he had left two loaves there, a “cottage” and a loaf baked in a tin. Witness weighed the bread, and found 4 ozs. Short in the two loaves, - Mr. Peach acknowledged the offence, and said he was very sorry it had occurred but he was under the impression that the loaves came within the denomination of “fancy bread” and did not require weighing. – The same defendant was also charged with selling five other loaves other than by weight on the same date and in the same parish. – Inspector Alexander deposed that these were delivered at the house of Joseph Fox. There was a deficiency of 6 ozs. In the five loaves. – Mr. Peach was then charged with delivering bread from his cart and not being provided with scales to weigh the same, at Ringstead, on the same day. – Defendant acknowledged the offence and pleaded in extenuation that the lad had accidentally left the scales at home. He was very sorry for what had occurred, and would take care it did not happen again.

Henry Peach was fined for not selling ‘by weight’. The fact that Henry Peach might consider the loaves ‘fancy’ may indicate that the standard loaf was a ‘batch loaf’ which was not baked in a tin.

Unfortunately for John, at the same court session, he was charged with having an ‘unjust flour scale’ just two days after Henry Peach was caught. The report states:

It appeared that the scale was about one ounce against the purchaser. There was dough on it, and after cleaning the scale the deficiency was reduced. – Inspector [sic?] Noble said the defendant was a most respectable man, and had never before been summoned on a similar charge. – The Bench considered that it to be rather the result of carelessness than with a fraudulent intent; they therefore imposed the mitigated fine of 5s. and 14s 6d. expenses. - On Superintendant Noble’s application the scales were (after adjustment) ordered to be given up to the defendant.

We do see that John Childs was a well-regarded man but perhaps age was catching up on him. We do not have a description of John. Was he like Grandfather Iden, who Richard Jefferies describes in Amaryllis at the Fair, which was published in 1887?

He wore a grey suit, as a true miller and baker should, and had worn the same cut and colour for years and years. In the shop too, he always had a grey suit on, perhaps its original hue was white, but it got to appear grey upon him; a large grey chimney-pot, many sizes too big for his head apparently, for it looked as if forever about to descend and put out his face like an extinguisher. Though his boots were so carefully polished, they quickly took a grey tint from the flour dust as he pottered about the bins in the morning.

John died in 1888, aged seventy-two, and was buried in the churchyard on October 20th 1888. It seems likely that the house and business was sold and by 1891 his widow, Elizabeth, aged 74 and his sister, Mary Ann, are living together in Carlow Street.

At first I had thought that his only competitor was Andrew Bull but there was one other, besides Henry Peach, who does not appear in any of the trade directories. On 29th April 1876 the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser printed a nationwide list of ‘Petitions for Liquidation by Arrangement’. Among them was:

                T. Austin, Ringstead, Northamptonshire, baker.

He must have managed to carry on with his business for, on 22nd November 1879, the Northampton Mercury records that at the Thrapston Petty Sessions on November 16th:

Thomas Austin of Ringstead was charged by Inspector Alexander of Oundle with unlawfully selling to one, Rebecca Morris, two loaves of bread otherwise than by weight. – Defendant was fined 5s. and also ordered to pay expenses amounting to £1 3s. 8d.

It may be now that baking ovens were more easily installed. Coal-fired ovens, heated externally, sometimes by pipes, were taking over from ovens needing wood fires lit in the oven space itself. In the Northampton Mercury of 5th June 1880 Hughes and Co. of the Railway Waggon [sic] Works and Coal Yard, Gas Works Wharf, Northampton advertised its list of coals for sale. These included:

                BADDESLEY         Best known kind for Bakers

[Baddesley was a pit in Warwickshire. Just two years after this advertisement, on 2nd May 1882, 32 men lost their lives when a pumping boiler set light to coal dust causing an explosion. 23 of the dead were from the rescue party.]

When we look through the Ringstead Censuses we find that Thomas Austin was a carrier in 1861. He was 33 years old and born in Podington in Bedfordshire. He and his wife, Sarah, have four young children, all born in Ringstead. By 1871 he had become a baker and a grocer in Shop [High] Street. Sarah died in 1879 and by 1881 he is shown as a widower and a ‘baker and outdoor beer house’ only two doors from the Black Horse. He died in 1890 and was buried on March 14th aged sixty-two.

We can only guess at Thomas Austin’s place in the local baking hierarchy but it seems likely that he was at the corner shop end of the market providing bread for London End rather than the emerging middle classes. We see no description of ‘Master Baker’, and no journeyman assistants. It seems that he never made more than a poor living from his shop.


A Baker’s Oven

This picture is from 1920s but would have changed little from nineteenth century

[From Work and Workers, Shown to the Children by Arthur O. Cook]

If we now return to Andrew Bull, we have already briefly met him in another biography. He was the younger brother of Kezia Bull who married the Chemist, Herbert Joseph Abington. He is recorded in the diary of Herbert’s son, also Herbert, as Uncle Andrew. He was born on 18th April 1826 to John and Sarah Bull who were paper makers at Ringstead Mill. They were member of the Ringstead Particular Baptist Church and there is some temptation to wonder if the bakeries were divided on sectarian lines, one for the established church and one for the nonconformists.

There is no sign of Andrew in the 1841 Census but there are two Samuel Bulls, both rounded to the age of fifteen and both tailors. One is living with one sister, Susannah and the other is with Sarah Cheney, another, widowed, sister. It may be that one of these boys was Andrew and probably he is the second ‘Samuel’ as in 1851 he is shown as living with Sarah and her second husband, George Smith. By now he is working as a shoemaker. On 6th July 1854 he married local girl, Mary Ann Partrick and had three children, Elizabeth, Ralph and Eliza before the 1861 Census where he was shown as a shoemaker and baker. The eldest child, Elizabeth is given as being born in Brigstock so presumably the couple had lived there for a time.

His wife, Mary Ann Partrick, had been born in Ringstead but in 1851, at the age of twenty-three she was a cook at Islip for Ralph Wilson (76) a wine merchant and his wife Susannah (70) who is described as a ‘gentlewoman’. When we return to the 1861 Ringstead census we see that Mary Ann is shown as the ‘Manager of the Bakehouse’ and it seems likely that she was the one with the expertise, who was in charge of the baking. There is a young apprentice shoemaker living with them and the only help is probably from Herbert Abington, their nephew, who is described as a baker. It seems that the couple had to do almost all the baking themselves with much of the work falling on Mary Ann. It would have been hard work with long hours but she would have been used to this as a cook.

It seems unlikely that the sickly Herbert worked long for his uncle and by 1871 Andrew is shown in Shop Street (High Street) as the baker and Mary Ann as the baker’s wife. Perhaps Andrew had learned his trade from his wife and had given up the shoemaking. Mary-Ann may have run the shop still but she had four children to look after, ranging in ages from three to sixteen years old, for the youngest son, George has been born

We learn from a court case in July 1875 that Andrew had a sideline as a pig dealer. He had bought a dozen, twelve-week-old pigs from Mr Brawn of Ringstead. The next day he tried to make a quick profit by selling them at auction but they did not make the price he wanted so he had to buy them in. He had a chat at the Swan Inn with Mr Holmes a coal dealer from Denford and agreed to take them there for him to examine:

Plaintiff [Andrew Bull] emptied the pigs out of his cart into the defendant’s stye. Defendant [Mr. Holmes] then examined the pigs and found a good deal of fault with them. I said, “Look here, Mr. Holmes, if the pigs are no good to you you don’t have to have them.” He said, “I will give you 16s. each” and I let him have them.

After some haggling the sale was agreed. This was on the Tuesday and on the Friday Holmes asked Andrew to look at the pigs for two of them were dead. It transpired that they had tuberculosis. The judge decided that there was no evidence to show that Andrew had known of their diseased state and ordered Holmes to pay for the pigs, with the usual costs because he ‘must consider that the defendant did make this purchase with his eyes open’.

By 1881, at 54, Andrew is still a baker and only George, the youngest child, is still at home. He is shown as a baker like his father. Ten years later and one son, George, has moved out to become a baker elsewhere and the couple’s oldest son, Ralph, a butcher, has returned home. There is also an eleven-year-old granddaughter called Elsie Marsh who is staying with them. Mary Ann died a year after the 1891 Census and Andrew, another year later, in spring 1893, re-married. His new bride was Sarah Horn, Ringstead born, but the widow of an Irthlingborough beer seller.

In spring 1895 there were high winds in the area and many houses were damaged. The Ringstead correspondent wrote in the Northampton Mercury on the 29th March:

In several cases the houses are practically unroofed. The thatched houses and other buildings, as might be expected, suffered considerably. A bakehouse chimney, belonging to Mr. Andrew Bull was blown down, smashing through the roof into the bedroom. Fortunately, no one happened to be in the room at the time, or the consequences might have been more serious

Andrew’s time was nearly up, however, and he died in 1896 and was buried on 26th June. In his will he left to his second wife:

. . .  my plate, linen china glass books pictures furniture and other household effects with the exception of a chest containing two drawers at the bottom. The said chest I bequeath to my grandson Raymond Bull of Irthlingboro’ Norths.

He appointed John Knight as his sole executor with instructions to sell everything off and divide the money equally between his son George, now a baker in Irthlingborough and his daughter Eliza Mary Marsh of London. Of his two oldest children, Ralph had died in 1892 and Elizabeth who had been a drapers assistant in Newmarket, possibly died a year later.

By this time the industrialisation of food provided competition to the producers and in the High Street. In 1880 there were some 10,000 water and wind corn mills in Britain but by 1899 there were only around 2,000 left. The hard wheats from the New World together with the steam-driven roller mills drove most local mills out of business although the Ringstead windmill and water mills hung on longer than many.

In politics, in the middle of the century, the Corn Laws repeal had split the old Tory Party with the Peelite faction joining the Whigs to form the new Liberal Party, the right wing becoming the new Conservative Party. The 1867 Reform act had given many working men in urban areas the vote and the 1884 Reform Act extended the vote to all men paying an annual rental of £10 or those holding land valued at £10. This meant that many men in Ringstead now had the vote and the Liberal Party had a Labour wing. Women were still excluded but we can see the influence of these changes in the local politics in the backgrounds of the people who later sat on the new Parish Councils, the attitude of some parents to the National School and the rise of industrial action culminating in the Raunds March.

Part of this working class movement was the growth of the Co-operative movement through the latter part of the century and as it came to a conclusion the Co-op made its appearance on the Ringstead High Street.

First we will look at the last of the individual Ringstead bakers before the new century. It seems likely that Joseph Scholes took over the bakery of John Childs. We see him in Kelly’s Directory of 1890 alongside Andrew Bull. We can also note a George Wadsworth, shown as a miller at Ringstead Water Mill showing that local flour was probably still available.

Joseph was born in Stamford in about 1835 and had become a baker at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire. He had married, aged 30, to Mary Ann Whyman on February 1866 in Oundle and we see that his first wife had died for he is a widower. His father was Richard Scholes who was also a baker. He is there in the 1871 Census with his second wife. As with most bakers there is a young apprentice living with them. Presumably he was baking for Belvoir Castle and would have been able to produce fine white bread as well as the wholemeal bread for the servants.

By 1881 Joseph has set up as a baker in his own right on the Higham Ferrers High Street. There is just one son, John Joseph, born in about 1873 at Belvoir. It seems that Joseph and family moved to Ringstead to take on John Child’s bakery after his death. We know this because of a case in which Joseph was involved with, although it is a little confusing. It seems that after Higham he moved to Irthlingborough for a short period for he was there when he took on a workhouse apprentice from Bedford Union, called William Askew.

As part of the democratic political movement, which we have briefly mentioned, acts were passed by Parliament to improve the legal position of working men. In 1875 the Employers and Workmen Act put employers on an equal footing with their staff in a legal contract. Previous to this act only the workman, if he broke a contract, was subject to the criminal law and could be imprisoned or fined. This act made it that both employer and workman were only subject to the penalties of the civil law in such a case.

In The Register of Visits to Boys and Girls sent out as apprentices or servants from the Bedford Union Workhouse it reports that:

ASKEW, William, 13. 10 Dec 1884, Joseph SCHOLES, baker of Irthlingboro’ bound 31 Jan 1885,     term 5 years – in consequence of a complaint having been made by a gent. at Irthlingboro’ that the boy was ill treated I went to see the lad who said he had no complaint but the case is a suspicious one. On 5th July 1886 Mr SCHOLES applied to have the Indrs. [Indentures] cancelled. On 28th August SCHOLES brought the boy before the Bd [Board] and said that he had no use for him in consequence of the impediment in his speech. The Bd told SCHOLES that he must keep him but they would endeavour to find him another situation. In consequence of information received I visited the lad and made enquiries at several places and found that without doubt the lad had been constantly ill treated. Steps were taken before the Magistrates at Thrapston and the Indrs, were cancelled and his master fined heavily. Askew returned to the House 29 Oct 1886.

Neither here nor in the court case report do we learn what this constant ill treatment amounted to but presumably it included beatings and physical force. It certainly does not shed a good light on Joseph Scholes, even accepting that William Askew was probably a difficult youngster, and his next employer, a blacksmith in Yielden, also had problems with him.

The report on the case at the Thrapston Petty Sessions on Tuesday November 23rd 1886 states that Joseph is a baker at Ringstead so it is probably some time in 1885 or 1886 that Joseph moved to Ringstead. He is still there in 1891 and 1901 at 2 High Street, next to the Post Office. At 6 High Street is his son John Joseph, at 28 a journeyman baker, almost certainly working for his father, with his wife Martha and their two young daughters, Kathleen (4) and Rita (2). In spite of the numbering it seems most likely that this is 47/49 High Street and he took over the bakery from John Childs. Joseph died in early 1905 and John Joseph took over the family business. The 1911 Census shows us that of the three children that the couple had, only Kathleen aged 14, is still alive and she and her mother are shown as assistant bakers.

In the Ringstead cemetery is a large marble grave with the inscription:

In loving memory of our dear father John Joseph Scholes who passed away July 23rd 1945, aged 72 years. And Martha Jane Scholes who passed away March 9th 1946.

It seems that by the end of the century there were two bakers for the village but perhaps it was not as simple as that. In September 1895 the Board of Guardians of Thrapston Union Workhouse accepted a series of food tenders. Among them was one for:

                Mr. Betts, Ringstead, bread 3¼d., flour 10d. per stone;

So there was a Betts in the bread trade at the end of the century as well as at the beginning but, as yet, I have not found how he fitted in. It is possible that he was a wholesaler rather than a baker himself.

The 1901 Census alerts us to another baker for at number 25 lived Robert Woodruff aged 57 from Riseley in Bedfordshire and his wife Sarah, also 57 and born in Raunds. He is shown as, ‘baker Co-op manager’ Round the corner at 2 Chapel Road lived 19-year-old Lillian Mary Abbott whose occupation is given as a shop assistant in the Co-op stores.

The Co-operative movement probably started in Scotland in the eighteenth century but it was the Rochdale Pioneers who were the first successful example of working people getting together to set up a jointly owned shop . From the start it was also a political movement but its main aim was to provide unadulterated food at reasonable prices. We see this at a meeting of the Kettering District Cooperative Association at Desborough in October 1884:

Mr. Scotton, who was enthusiastically received, gave an instructive speech on how working men, by taking affairs into their own hands, might provide for themselves, and the good co-operation has done for the whole of the working classes throughout the whole country.

The Desborough Co-operative Stores had started in 1864 so it is perhaps surprising that Ringstead did not form its own Co-operative Stores, which included a bakery, until 1894.


Ringstead High Street in 1920s. Girl is leaning against Co-op window (now Londis)

1920s postcard. Author's own copy

The first manager, as we have seen, was Robert Woodruff, who had been born in about 1842 in Riseley in Bedfordshire. By 1871 he was a baker, living with his widowed mother in High Street, Raunds. He married Elizabeth Ann Green in 1877 but she died just two years later and in 1881 he is still a baker, staying with his mother-in-law, Ann Green who was a sixty-eight year old widow living in Rotton Row , Raunds.

He married again to Sarah Pentelow (nee Brown), the widow of a wealthy Raunds farmer, John Pentelow, who had had 300 acres and employed ten men and two boys. 1891 finds the couple in High Street, Raunds. Robert is 49 and Sarah is 48 years old and, living with them are Sarah’s four children, aged 9 to 15 from her first marriage.

One would have thought that Robert was well set up with a bakehouse and presumably married to a rich widow. If this was the case, something changed for by 1901 the couple, with Helen, their eldest daughter, 25 and unmarried, are living at 25 High Street, Ringstead and he is the Co-op manager. Just over a year later Robert died and by 1911 Sarah is living with her 59 year old unmarried brother, a farmer in Walgrave. Also living there are her unmarried sister and widowed brother, all in their sixties.

As an aside, Robert was probably the ‘Mr. Woodroffe’ that Mr David Ramsay, M.B. M.R.C.S., the doctor from Raunds was attending on December 7th 1901. After visiting Robert the doctor called on another patient and while there was consulted by someone with an abscess in his foot. The doctor operated but in the process the knife slipped and the point went in the, ‘principal joint of the forefinger, causing a slight but deep wound’. At the time he did little about it but when he returned home he bled and disinfected the wound, but it was too late. He was almost immediately in pain and despite the attentions of various local doctors and constant nursing he died on Monday 6th January 1902. We tend to forget how the discovery of antibiotics has changed our attitude to many infections.

In 1901 a John Kingsmith had ordered some plans from Wellingborough architects, Talbot, Brown and Fisher, to improve a bakehouse in Ringstead. John Kingsmith (originally King Smith) was from Raunds where he had grown up with his widowed mother Keziah Smith and his siblings. In 1861, aged 19 he was a rough stuff cutter and his older brother Owen was a clicker. His mother had been an Infant School Teacher but by this time was only a ‘Housekeeper’. Lodging with them is Cornelius Steven aged 52, a shoe manufacturer born in Louth. Was he part of the reason for their rise to be manufacturers also?  It seems unlikely for he married on the Isle of Wight in 1865 and the next two Censuses show him as a Schoolmaster living with his wife in Peterborough. Whatever the reason, by 1901 John Kingsmith, as he was now, was a Government Contractor, living with his second wife Mary Ellen. He had given generously to Raunds Parish Church and had also been a trustee of the Raunds Methodist Church. He had also been one of the employers who had agreed to pay the statement prices for piece work and as a result his workers continued to work during the Raunds Strike in 1905. He also gave £5 for the relief fund and promised to pay in ten shillings a week for the duration of the strike.

Why was he getting plans drawn up for a bakehouse in Ringstead? Was he the landlord or was he possibly doing it as part of his good works for the Ringstead Co-operative Society. We must remember that this was still a self funded group: Part of a big movement but not part of a large organisation. We may discover the real truth later. The plans show the building as it is and suggests two possible ways of increasing the size of the bakehouse. It does therefore give us some idea of what a bakehouse would have looked like for the latter part of the nineteenth century




Drawings of Bakehouse before alterations

Talbot, Brown and Fisher October 29th 1901 (NRO. TBF 221)

With permission of Northampton Record Office

 The century had seen bread move from being the main sustainer of life for many working, and pauper families, to being a part of their diet, if still an important part.

We are now into living memory and there are still a few people who recall the two bakers’ shops and the Sunday ritual of taking the Sunday joint to one or other of them to have it roasted in the bread oven. Stan Attley, who was born in 1918 was recorded by the Anchors Away Youth Group in 1998, telling of his childhood:

All food was cooked over an open fire – fried or boiled. The Sunday dinner was taken round to the bake house to be cooked, also cakes and pies etc.: and it cost 2d. There were two bake houses in the village.


Censuses 1841 – 1911

Ringstead Parish Registers (Northampton Record Office).

Northampton Mercury

Bedford Union Register of Apprentices 1838 – 1913 & Paupers’ Service Book 1851 – 1880. (Transcribed and published by The Eureka Partnership 2010)

Baking and Bakeries. H.G. Muller (Shire Publications 1986)

Bread in English History (The Millers Mutual Association 1920)

Cottage Economy. William Cobbett (1st pub. 1822: Peter Davies 1926)

Lark Rise to Candleford. Flora Thompson (OUP World Classics 1954)

A Pound of Fine Flower. Recipes from a Lincolnshire Village Bakery of the 1830s. Teresa Crompton. (Castle Yard Books 1997)

Work and Workers. Arthur O. Cooke. [Shown to Children Series: T.C & E.C. Jack Ltd. c.1920s]

Remembering the Past. (Evening Telegraph publication 1986).

Alterations to Bakehouse. Talbot, Brown and Fisher Octo