As the National Bakery School celebrates its 125th anniversary, British Baker looks back through the archives to discover what makes it such a special institution.

Now the oldest bakery school in the world, the National Bakery School at London South Bank University is steeped in history and heritage.

What was started by John Blandy on the premise of sustainability and innovation is now an institution that remains true to its core values – providing opportunities for everyone.

“We stay true to our roots of being inclusive and offering opportunities to people with passion and drive, and a desire to be part of the baking industry, regardless of their A-level results,” says Devon Petrie, the school’s lecturer in science and baking technology.

In 1899, the school was given its National Bakery School title after gaining support from the National Association of Master Bakers and Confectioners, the London Master Bakers Protection Society and the Scottish Association of Master Bakers.

Ahead of its time, in 1915 the school became the first to arrange classes for women and, in 1920, it started a course in tea room confectionery, which was aimed at training women in every branch of baking needed for small restaurants and teashops. In the same year, it started offering a national diploma.

Over the years, the school has had many connections with dignitaries, the first being a cake for HRH Princess Mary in 1921, and more recently a cake for the Houses of Parliament to mark 750 years since the signing of the Magna Carta.

 “For me, being able to walk in the footsteps of the likes of John Kirkland and E B Bennion is a privilege,” says Petrie. It’s a feeling echoed by Elaine Thomson, course director at the School: “We’re proud to be part of this rich heritage and if we can continue to move it forward with that community feeling then we’ve done our job.”

The National Bakery School now collaborates with businesses and organisations both near and far. In 2018, it hosted the first American Association of Cereals & Chemists International Methods in Action workshop outside the US.

It also works closely with the British Society of Baking and the Alliance of Bakery Students & Trainees to inspire the next generation of bakers to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.

“We’re an extended family, all working for the same result – success for the industry and for individuals,” says Thomson.

1910: Students at the National Bakery School.

1916: Short courses were offered by the National Bakery School during the First World War, including their first courses aimed specifically at women to help fill the labour gap caused by men joining up.

1923: Cake ornamenting was a part of the National Bakery School course, including classes taught by the Polytechnic’s art department. This class are decorating a child’s birthday cake.

1930: The Duke of York being presented with a cake in the shape of a crinoline doll for the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, at the opening of the Borough Polytechnic extension.

1946: The National Bakery School started the first course in the UK specialising in sugar and chocolate confectionery. This image shows a lecturer at work with chocolate.

1950: A piping class, including meringue swans.

1969: The Duke of Edinburgh visited the National Bakery School as part of the official opening of the Polytechnic’s tower and extension buildings.

1989: The National Bakery School made a cake to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the City of London. This image shows the detail of the cake featuring the Lord Mayor’s carriage.

1990: A cake made by the National Bakery School for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who turned 90 in 1990.