The Baker and the Postmistress
When my husband and I came to the village over 40 years ago, the smell of John Garrett's baking was absolutely wonderful. People came from miles around to buy his bread, and we counted ourselves fortunate indeed to live so close to such a talented baker. Having the smell of new baked bread and cakes wafting over the village, as well as buying and eating the bread was manna indeed!
Amazingly, close as we were to the bakery, our bread was delivered to our door in large baskets of different tantalising varieties. It was hard to resist buying more than was needed.
It was a sad day when John retired and the smell of his bread baking was no more.
I recall the Post Office and Bakery when we first arrived here, with grass either side of a path running from the roadway to the Post Office. Either side of the path, there grew the most beautiful double flowering Plum trees. By the size of their trunks, these trees appeared to be quite old, and to see these in heavy with blossom in the sunshine, was a sight indeed. Sadly, these trees were removed when John and Ruth extended the building, and their frontage became a car park to enable car drivers to access the shop, as it had become quite impossible to park on the busy A420 that then ran through the village.
John and Ruth Garrett were interviewed by the History Society on living and working here, and they have both given me their permission to add their story to the website.
A Hard Working Life.
John: I came to the village when I was six when my parents took over the bakery business. Originally my uncle, Mr John Bown had it and he got called up during the war. Mr Bown was known as Jack and lived in Longworth and was my mother’s brother. When he came out of the forces my father and my uncle bought this business at Longworth [Southmoor?] for him.
The bakery then was totally different. The bakehouse was where the ground floor flat is. There was a side-flue oven and you had to put coal in the side and the flames would go round and heat the oven. They’d rake the fire out. You could bake about 120 loaves at a time in it. It was a very good oven. We used to do bread and cakes, quite a selection of things really.
It was going to be my elder brother Tony who was going to take it on but he got killed in a motor cycling accident while doing National Service.
Ruth: You weren’t going to do it at all originally were you? John used to go to Abingdon School and he used to cycle from Southmoor. He went when he was 10 to Roysses.
John: Yes and you used to have to cycle to get there. The wind was always in your face coming back. I was going to do Science originally but my parents needed some help so I felt obliged to help really. There was one younger brother but he was born 14 years after me, so he was much younger.
The Post Office
Ruth: I came in 1956 when we married when John’s mother and father moved to 'Restwood' [Faringdon Road], and we moved in with them and we had one room up and one room down at the bakery when we first went and I took over the Post Office then because John’s mum’s MS had got so bad that she couldn’t do it. They bought Lynhaven (now Durlston)[Faringdon Road, opposite Latton Close] and Mrs Tubbs lived in. She rented it for 3/6 a week from John’s father. John’s father used to rent all fields between 'Restwood' and the cottage where 'Durlston' now is.
John: It was just an open field and my father used to keep geese. It was originally for the baker’s pony. During the war my father did have a horse because it was so difficult to get petrol. He used to have a horse to pull a van thing to take the bread round. It was a grey called Polly. He had some people on the vans, I should think it was about 4 or 5 helping. He used to go to Standlake, Northmoor, this village and Fyfield and Tubney. There were plenty of millers about. We used to deal with Clarks in Wantage. They are still operating now. He was quite busy in the war. He had an allocation of so much sugar and so much fat. Before the war he’d bought quite a bit of sugar and the fat allocation was based on the sugar. So he had quite a good allocation and we were able to make quite a bit of confectionery – cakes - because people couldn’t get the ingredients themselves to make it. Prices were controlled. A loaf of bread was only 4½d . National flour was a sort of grey colour so consequently made a greyish sort of loaf. A couple of German Prisoners of war used to be in the camp at Besselsleigh used to come and help with the baking because they were bakers in Germany. They used to quite enjoy coming to help. We kept in touch. His son visited us several times from West Germany.
The Post Office was next door to the old school (west side). Mrs Russell had the post office. John’s parents had it for a few years before John and Ruth took it over in 1956 after we were married. The new bakery behind the shop was built in about 1948. The old bakery was then converted into a shop.
Ruth: After a while we knocked the end part down and built the new shop so the shop after that was totally new. Before that they only used to sell the bread, cakes and a few grocery items but nothing much. Valerie [Belcher]came to us soon after I came. She used to work evenings for John’s mum and then when she left school at 14 or 15 she came to us then and was with us ever since.
John: My father used to rent the bakery from St John’s College and after I took the business over they were going to increase the rent quite dramatically so I bought the property from them. He also rented the field where Bellamy Close now is. It was then Nissen huts. When St Johns sold this plot – the field between here and Restwood - they allowed him to rent the field where Norwood and Bellamy are. He used to keep quite a lot of pigs there. It was originally a camp in the war and there were some old huts there which he used to keep the pigs in.
When I was a small boy the American 8th Air Force was based here. They used to have an airfield - I used to go and watch the Lightning aircraft taking off and landing. Two Americans came to the Methodist Church and were quite friendly with my parents and when the Air Force moved from here to the Continent one of them used to stay with us on his leave. When they were here on the site they used to take my brother and I up there and we used to stand in the Chow Line along with the other Americans and have a meal with them.
Ruth: We had someone come over the wall and Shirley thought he was acting suspiciously and then he pulled out a toy gun and pointed it at Shirley but she knew him and said to him. “Well, I know you.” and with that he fled. We had the police and the ambulance as they thought he was a bit strange and he might do something. Previously when someone broke in there was a police car on duty at the Hind’s Head and when we rang the police they rang them straight away and they had seen this car go by down to Standlake so they were able to get on their tail straight away and they caught them. We had the new grill in after that.
Running the post Office I more or less knew everybody in the village but the village was so much smaller. I mean I was able to serve in the Post Office and go indoors and peel potatoes and then go back when the bell rang and serve someone else but as the village grew so we were not able to do that. We used to have help in the house obviously. Mrs Gregory helped us in the house first. Then we had Mrs Farmer (from School Lane) for years.
John: As time went by we expanded and gave up doing door to door sales and just supplied supermarkets and shops. We supplied Kennington, Abingdon, Stanford, Charney, Fyfield, Longworth and Hinton Waldrist. We delivered it early in the morning. I used to get up at a quarter to three every morning and I just kept going really until about 9 o’clock at night.
Ruth: It was an endless job. Even on a Sunday, you’d go out for Sunday and then all the tins had to be put out in the bakery and get ready to start in the morning. All the bread tins on the table. All the dough cake tins out and greased. And then when you’d finished that you had all the invoices to do. It was endless.
John: We had an accountant to do the books but I used to do my own VAT and all the wages.
Bread and cakes, especially Lardy Cakes.
Peter Thompson [RAF Officer who lived in Bellamy Close] used to take them to America and people came from far and wide to buy them. At one stage we supplied the Wonderloaf bakery in Oxford with 400 lardy cakes a week.
We sold bread to the forces when they arrived until they got settled in. The airmen used to queue up to buy our bread.
John: I went to John Blandy School. The head master was Mr Stephens. He had a hard rubber ball on his desk and if you turned round to talk to someone he would throw it at your head. Nine times out of ten he would miss and hit someone else. We went home for lunch. There were two classes. Later the infants were taught in the Village Hall and nearer the end there was a Terrapin hut in the playground. I did tend to watch the clock and the hands didn’t seem to move. In the war my father had a horse called Polly which pulled the bread van. He had a field across the road between our present house and Restwood. On a Wednesday when it was half day they used to drive the horse and van into Oxford. There was a pub at the beginning of Queen Street where they could leave it.
My elder brother, Tony, and I had a Wednesday half day from Roysses would catch the train from Abingdon to Oxford to meet them. The train only had two carriages and was called the 'Abingdon Bunk'. They would have tea with waffles at Elliston and Cavell and they returned together in the horse and van.
Ruth and John met through John visiting his uncle at Childrey. They were having a Talent Contest at the village hall at West Challow and Ruth was appearing with her sister and a friend. John was on the judging panel. After visiting again he asked her out to the theatre in Oxford and to her amazement he turned up in a big bread van.
In the previous century, there was grass in front of the bakery and a farmer milked cows there. Later there was a garden and the photo in the 'Rose' shows the railings. These were always getting knocked down – particularly on May Morning and in the end they got rid of them. They went to the Weller’s garden.
Rose cottage was a separate house rented by Mr and Mrs John Broughton from St John’s College. Their grandchildren are the two sisters who live in Town Pond Lane.
When Mrs Lawson who ran the old people’s home in Southmoor House retired she bought it from St John’s College but she only lived there a short while. Her daughter, Jean Nibbs then took over Southmoor House.
Ruth worked in the shop and did the post office accounts all through having children. They didn’t have time for hobbies or many outside activities. Ruth did belong to the WI and often, on WI evenings, John would often be in the bakehouse doing things with one hand and rocking a pram with the other. Beryl and Sid Ilott, next door where excellent neighbours and although they had no children of their own they were a wonderful help with our three children.
All three children went to John Blandy School. Mrs Young taught both John and Amanda. (Mr Young was a gardener at Kingston House). The younger two started at the old village school (now the Scout HQ).
Amanda the oldest went on to the Elms and was there for the change to the comprehensive system. This was unsettling because so many staff left. Elaine and Coralie went to St Helen’s. Elaine is now working for Nokia in Camberley as a Knowledge manager, Coralie is in Cheltenham working for Zurich as a computer analyst and Amanda works for the Home Farm Trust as a carer. Both Elaine and Amanda were keen on riding and they kept a horse behind the Bakery. Coralie didn’t take to riding as the first day they had the horse, she fell off and broke her arm.
We had very few holidays because of running the bakery, and when we did go away it was only for a week. We had to buy in bread, at one time from Nash’s at Bicester and Ruth’s parents looked after the house and business when they were away. John was rarely ill and even if he felt ill he struggled on. On the one occasion when he caught mumps from the children and was very ill he had to buy in bread for a week.
The Methodist Chapel.
Both Ruth and John came from Methodist families. John’s parents went to the Southmoor Chapel. We went to the chapel until the children became old enough to go to Sunday School. As there wasn’t one in Southmoor we changed and went to Abingdon, Trinity Church where we have continued to worship since.
The bread ovens.
The first bread oven in what was later the shop was coal fired. It was brick built had a side flue. Two years ago in Malta we saw a similar one still in operation.
When the new bakehouse was built behind the shop it was fuelled by coke which meant that John had to keep stoking it and rake out the ash. Baking was hard labour and a very hot job. Later they converted it to oil which meant it could be started in the morning automatically with a timer. They were Steam tube ovens. There were two decks and the fire heated water and the resulting steam circulated through pipes above and below each of the two decks to cook the bread.
Flour was stored in a loft and had to be wheeled on a trolley to be tipped down a chute into the bread mixer. To make a batch of bread needed 4 sacks of flour (4 x70lb bags). To the 280lbs of flour were added 18 gallons of water, 6 lbs of salt, 5lbs fat and 6lbs yeast. We used to use lard at one time and then we bought a special fat for bread. We used a lot of yeast so the dough didn’t have to be proved for a long period. When it had been mixed we weighed it by hand. You could get 220 large loaves from such a mix and John could weigh out the loaves in 20 minutes. Other people took much longer!
John would make three batches of bread a day and then he would make the cakes. They baked different cakes on different days for example Monday was Banbury cakes and dough cake. Friday and Saturday used to be Lardy cake day although later he baked those every day. People came from far and wide for them!
They had very little waste but if there were any left-overs they went to Jim Soden for his pigs.
All the girls helped, they took it fore granted. They took it in turn in the mornings, getting up at six to help. They heard John coming up the stairs and heaved a sigh of relief when it wasn’t their turn to get up early. The fact that they all helped meant that they were able to have a lot of perks like being able to buy and keep a horse. They also had things like a piano, cello and Elaine’s violin. Coralie played the church organ at one time. They also helped to deliver the bread and even now going around the village they will say, “Oh, she’s a large brown.” or 'She’s a Hovis”.
I had to get up at 2.45 on weekdays and 1.45 on Saturdays. The earlier time on Saturday was partly the increased demand for the weekend and partly to enable us to take a half day holiday. Originally Wednesday was half day closing but we changed to Saturday to give us a longer weekend. We made the bun dough the previous day and kept it in a walk-in fridge. The next morning it was put in the prover to rise and then baked.
The bypass didn’t make much difference to bread sales although previously we did make a lot of sales when there was a football match in Swindon and fans used to stop on their way through. It also made a difference when Morris’s closed for their fortnight’s holiday. All the factories closed at the same time and people travelling to the coast used to stop and buy bread and cakes.
At one time we had 12 people working for us; they were mainly part-time. Boys used to come and help in the bakery at the weekends. Mr and Mrs Beck also used to help. Mr Beck started doing the gardening and then when he retired did deliveries and also worked in the bakehouse. Shirley’s father (Mr Nobes) also drove for us.
Towards the end Ruth didn’t serve in the shop but she did the P.O. books. VAT made a lot of extra work. Towards the end regulations enforcing labelling all products also made extra work.
When we retired we sold the business to Kieran Brennan (6.1.89). Amanda and a baker ran it for him for a while but then he gave up the bakery side of the business.
It was a gruelling life for John and when he retired at 54 it was like being released from prison. They celebrated by going to America for 3 weeks to visit Elaine.
As we were in the process of selling the business we built our new house “Loafers” behind the bakery in Norwood Avenue. We lived there for 5 years but when John’s mother died (four years after we sold the bakery) we decided to move. The main reason was the fact that our house and garden were overlooked first by houses in Bellamy Close and when they built in the field behind the Stone House we were overlooked on that side as well. We debated about moving to the main road site as it was not overlooked and in the end we decided rather than extend and alter the existing house we would knock it down and build a bungalow. We have now been in the house for 6 years. They were relieved when the large pines were taken down as they seemed to threaten the house. John has planted new trees in the garden to make a barrier.
Main changes in the village.
Houses on Draycott Moor estate and By-pass. The village was always a friendly place and especially when the children were young we knew everyone and made a lot of friends. We know fewer people now the village is bigger and there is a bigger turnover of people.
The buildings of the Bakehouse.
The original house was built of stone. Although we don’t know how old it was we found a 1760 coin in the old oven when it was demolished. Brick extensions were built on later.
When we first took the bakery on, when John’s parents retired we had two rooms one upstairs and one down. Later there were three bedrooms but you had to go through one to get to another. We later added three more bedrooms.
Originally there was a shallow cellar with the loft over it for storing flour. The men delivering flour – often 100 bags at a time had to carry them up the steps to the loft. The bags were originally 140lbs but Health and Safety requirements reduced their size to 70lbs. These steps were steep so the children were not allowed to go up there so it made a good place for hiding birthday and Christmas presents. However, we filled in the cellar and built rooms over it where the loft had been.
It never seemed a large house because the three girls always had friends round. They belonged to the Young Farmers and the house always seemed to be full. We also built on a new kitchen and a conservatory. Now since the shop closed the house has been converted into 2 flats and a house next door. Because the bakery was let on a ten-year lease that is still in operation it was not converted into a house.
The post was delivered to our Post Office by van from Abingdon about 6.30 a.m., when it was sorted by the local postman. First being Mr Jack Adams. We were always amazed how efficiently he did this only having one arm. He then delivered around the village on his bicycle. When he retired after several years, Mrs Lily Gregory took over but as the village grew she was assisted by Mrs Holloway. Then Mrs Gregory left to go back to Ireland and Mrs Baines helped. After a for years deliveries were completely taken over by Abingdon and delivered by van.
Source:Memories given by Ruth & John Garrett to Longworth History Society