The bake house oven

Last month I endeavoured to describe how the bake house oven at the mill was constructed, it being typical of all the other bake house ovens in Southam, and I guess in towns and villages up and down the country for that period in time.The construction was such that it was nothing more than a giant storage heater, the heat contained within it from the previous day requiring little firing to bring the oven temperature back up to baking heat.

Whilst I cannot for sure be exact in my estimation, I seem to recall that dad said about 56 pounds (Half a hundred weight or for the younger readers if I have any, approximately 25 kilos) of coal was enough to bake about 200 plus loaves. After the fire had been started with newspaper sticks and small coals, the dampers were opened for maximum draw, and when ignition was well under way, larger coals placed on it. At this point in time the oven floor was cleaned by the use of the daffle.This was like an angled floor mop, but with a long handle capable of pushing the cleaning head to all corners of the oven.

About once a week the roof of the oven was sweaped clean of soot with an angled broom. Dad told me that some of the old bakers would do this by get the oven very very hot opening the oven door and throwing in a hand full of flour, shutting the door as rapidly as possible. Once mixed with air, the resulting flour oxygen mix, resulted in an in oven explosion, that blew off every trace of soot and ash. Although my dad was quite fearless, I am pleased he never tried this method. Had he have done so, I hate to think what the outcome could have been. I seem to recall a somewhat similar explosion occurred some years ago, but with coffee particles, that did considerable damage to the Banbury coffee plant.

As for estimating the temperature of the oven, this was done in exactly the same way as mum tested the iron that was heated in front of the fire, ready to do clothes ironing. That’s to say by spiting on the fingers, dabbing the wet fingers on to the iron and listening to the sound of the steam generated. In dads case, by the heat coming on to the oven door. It would seem that the first firing of a new oven was a very critical operation, the temperature requiring to be built up over a long period of time.

At some point in the 1930s, the Co Op had a new brick oven installed by Mr.F.C.Watson, Builder of Coventry Street.(Watson’s corner being opposite the fire station) only to have it crack up and start to fall in on the first firing, as a result of increasing the temperature much too quickly. My recollections of our bake house layout and those of Mr.J.T.Grant in Coventry Street and Mr.Usher on Market Hill, were all very similar. The oven was at the end and on either side of the building were wooden vats with hinged flat tops, called locally dough kivers, in which the dough was made and on which the bread was cut and kneaded in to loaf shape. We at the mill had four dough kivers on the left side of the bake house and a very large flat kneading bench on the right, at the end of which was an enamel bowl for hand washing.The dough was always made in the evening and left over night for the yeast to do its work.

Dad would start dough making about eight o clock, and usually finish around ten.The flour which was supplied by either Kenche’s flour millers at Warwick, Edmunds and Kench flour millers at Banbury or Robbins and Powers of Coventry, who’s trade mark was Home Pride, (now used by another company) was brought in from the mill where it was stored in white cotton type 140lb sacks, and emptied in to the vats or kivers, followed by a certain quantity of salt, water and yeast. I think a sack of flour was used in each vat, the mixture process being entirely by hand. It was a hard mauling job and one that dad took great pride in doing.

He used to tell me that the more you knocked dough about the finer was the bread that resulted from it. I recall that at times dad (like us all ) was not well enough to knock the dough about to his liking. On completion of the mixing process, the sacks that the flour came in were turned inside out and layed on top of the mix before the lid was shut for the night. On a few occasions as little children my brothers Alan and Philip and myself after being washed ready for bed, would be stood on top of the inside out sacks and be told to jump up and down on the dough, thus knocking it that bit more than dad had the energy to do. I often laugh now at the thought of such goings on, not that our feet came into direct contact with the dough, as they did with crushing grapes.

Whilst on the subject of dough making, dad recalled an event shortly after he left school in 1926 to work for Mr.Grant senior in Coventry Street, how his son young Mr Jack Grant, one evening when making the dough thrust his hand down the side of the vat to start the hand mixing process, only to have a splinter of wood driven so hard down his finger nail that it came through at the bottom of his finger nail. At that the mixing was stopped whilst the splinter was removed and he was patched up with a plaster, before continuing on. When the mix was completed young Jack found he had lost his plaster , the search for his missing plaster was something akin to looking for the proverbial needle in a hay stack. As flour was in short supply and the folk of old Southam relied upon them delivering their daily bread, they had to turn the dough in to bread come what may. On delivery every house holder was told of the mishap, but mysteriously, non of them ever reported that they had found the missing item in their loaf.

Dad was usually up about 5 o clock each morning, by which time the yeast in the mix had done its work to the point where quite often the wooden dough kiver (no idea where that word came from, probably a local word) lids would be lifted slightly open. After removing the inside out flour sacks and viewing the dough, large blue yeast blisters would be seen over much of its surface. At this point the dough would be cut up by hand to be weighed on the old W.T.Avery bread scales.

Too much and you cut a bit off, too little and you threw a bit on. When the space available became short, cutting up was stopped and the cut dough moulded into the traditional loaf shape and placed in to tins that I had greased up the night before, with lard. I was learnt the art of bread moulding by hand, it being a wrist rolling action using the palms of the hand only. Dad being able to mould with both hands and able to do eight or more in the time it took me to do just two.The cutting weighing moulding and tinning was quite hard work, and when all the mix had been redyd for the oven, it was left to rest for a short time during which the yeast caused the dough to swell up in the tin.

At a given time when the oven was deemed to be of the correct temperature the tins were individually loaded on to the bread peele. This was like a flat wooden shovel with a long handle, and the oven was filled to the brim with tins by dropping them individually ,in to position. The door was shut and the time written in chalk on the oven door as to when they should be cooked. This was always a give or take a few minutes, the final decision being made by the colour of the crusty top. Those nearest the fire were first out as they were first in, but some times they came out perhaps a little over cooked.

However there were some Southam families that preferred their bread to be as they called well baked, so few loaves were ever left over. Once out of the oven the loaves had to be knocked out of the very hot tins to allow them to cool down, before handling them.Getting them out of the hot tins was not a very nice job, and was done by having the hands inside a small Hessian bag that by good fortune the yeast was delivered in. Remember this was 1947 ,and at a time when most folk had very little or in some cases nothing. Nothing then meaning exactly that nothing.

One advantage having dad as a baker was that we had the use of a Ford van for the delivering of the product of his labour both around Southam,s ome parts of Long Itchington, Bascote ,Ufton, etc.When not in use as a bread delivery van,it was the families means of transport to relatives in Oxfordshire etc, it often carrying dad driving with mother by him, with grandad grand mother and three kids sat in the back on sawn off legless kitchen chairs. I will elaborate more on this in a future article. On one occasion dad was left in a dilemma when the van broke down, and it had to go into Mr, Edy Berry’s workshop for his mechanic Mr.Jim Bourton, who is still in Southam, for repair.

This left dad with no means of delivery. Fortunately the method of delivery before the van had been purchased was by horse drawn bread cart, and this cart was still in a shed down the yard. My dad’s father had been killed in WW1 but his mum has re married a Mr.George Powell and step grandad Powell had worked with horses most of his early life with Mr. Buty Hough at Brookland’s farm on the Leamington road, so step grandad suggested using the horse drawn bread cart to tide us over the loss of the van .So it was that a draft horse was loaned to us by Mr.Webster who’s farm was on the left hand side as you go down Woodbine hill. The horse duly arrived and grandad soon had it harnessed up to the bread cart.The cart was loaded with bread and my dad’s brother my Uncle Len Griffin with me sat by his side started the delivery around the town.No one took much notice of us, as the horse was still much used, the Pratt and King family’s to deliver milk,the Co Op coal man,coal, etc.

At that period of time the horse drawn cart was put to many uses. Indeed ,in the severe snow of 1947 winter, two land girls pulling a thrashing drum by two horses up church hill, found their horses loosing road grip, the weighty thrashing drum dragging them back down the hill on their knees. After our Southam deliveries we set of for Ufton. On leaving Southam we went down Woodbine hill at such a pace that I think Uncle Len thought he was driving the Deadwood stage and that we were being followed by red Indians in full war cry. I was hanging on like the proverbial grim death whilst Uncle Len was half standing half sitting singing his head off Horsy get you tail up.

Talk about putting the cart before the horse, I recon the cart was by then pushing the horse. Our first stop should have been at Mr and Mrs Trusslers home (John married Miss Rosmary Fell, Rosemary is still in Southam.) half way down Ufton hill on the right. However we shot past, and was well on the way to Radford Semele before the horse was pulled up. Needless to say our journey up the hill was such that Uncle Len had to lead the horse up on foot.

On coming back in to Ufton. I recall we delivered bread to Mr. A Reed at the farm opposite to the Church, to I think his brother Mr.E.Reed who’s farm was along the back road to Bishops Itchington., to a Mr. Gregory who lived in a bungalow close by to Mr.Whithead and Mr.and Mrs. Satchwell who lived by the school. Our journey back to the mill being under the wood where we made deliveries to Mr. Jim Bourton’s (previously mentioned) mum and dad Mrs. Bennett, Mrs.Rawlings, the Markham family on the right of the wood, to granny Markham on the left,elderly Mrs.Hillier and I think the Bleloch family who were at the farm down Feather bed Lane.

Our return journey back in to Southam being over Alsford Bridge with a last delivery to Mr and Mrs.Walter Scott at Oldford Farm.Their daughter Diane a Southam resident. to this very day, and living in Coventry Street. Must close now as my eyes are giving out. As they say in today’s jargon M A C U Nxt time. I hope you all have a nice life, and a very happy Christmas. As always kind regards to all. Bill Griff.


This article has been kindly written by Bill Griff

> Return to articles

Previous Articles Published before 2010
Article Name Author
> Twentieth Century Defences in Warwickshire Nimrod
> Warwickshire Murders District Advertisers
> Clerical activities Mary Rock
> The bake house oven Bill Griff
> Warwickshire county links Mary Rock
> Hot Oil, the drive that followed steam Bill Griff
> How can I get a quality tenant in the shortest possible time Jordans Rentals
> The fifty five rung ladder Bill Griff
> The poor are always with us Mary Rock
> Ensure the garden can cope with the heat of summer Farnborough Garden Centre
> It can be very pleasant to walk along the towpath Mary Rock
> With muscle power and a big hammer Bill Griffin
> July, a time to relax and enjoy your garden. Farnborough Garden Centre
> Most peoples daily transport was the bicycle Bill Griffin
> Not a Liberty Mary Rock
> May: the garden approaching its most exciting period Farnborough Garden Centre
> Farms in Southam in the 1900's Irene Cardali
> A few facts about Southam’s past Mary Rock
> April is one of the most exciting months for gardeners Farnborough Garden Centre
> Remembering the Warneford Irene Cardall
> Notable events in our vacinity during the last war Bill Griff
> Where is Southam or the Country Heading? Peter Crosby
> Christmas seems top fly past so quickly District Advertisers
> Christmas has changed little since the pre-war days Bill Griff
> Midwinter in the garden: January Farnborough Garden Centre
> Going to the post Irene Cardall

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