Sorting through my grandmother’s bakery file with my pop, we came across a folder containing old documents and newspaper clippings. One item from the year dot was my great grandmother’s birth certificate, dated 1887, and the rank/profession of father is recorded as baker. That confirmed my heritage as being at least a fifth-generation baker and gives my son, Milo, the opportunity of being the sixth (no pressure - but we’re already seven years into an 18-year training programme).
I then learnt from ’Memories of Down Ampney’ how my great grandfather, Thomas Herbert, a blacksmith by profession, swapped his leather apron for a linen one, when business dried up during the Great Depression. His wife, with her bakery upbringing, encouraged him to convert the forge to an oven and a very primitive bakery was built. The first delivery of one 140lb bag of flour from Henry Cole and Co was boycotted by 22 other local bakeries, who said they would withdraw their trade if Mr Herbert was supplied with flour.
Fortunately, the miller stood his ground, stating that everyone had a right to live and that he wouldn’t deny the novice baker his right. Consequently, Henry Cole and Co delivered the first bag at the expense of 16 customers. It is recorded that the bread was awful and, while down on their knees praying for divine intervention to put bread on the table to feed their six children, a Mr Richards, a local ancillaries man, arrived. He empathised with their plight and took his annual leave to assist them in getting established. I have subsequently had the privilege of working alongside his son Ro, who, in his 90s, has generously passed his Lardy cake recipe and method on to me.
Later, Herbert’s bakery made bread for the RAF’s Operation Manna at the end of the Second World War, when loaves were dropped on the famished Dutch to ease their hunger.
One of their six children, Joe Herbert, was a passionate baker and an article from 1981, celebrating his 50 years in business, describes how he regularly gave demonstrations of his craft to schools. His youngest brother David Herbert, my grandfather, shared the bread gene and his entrepreneurial vision led him to buy a farm and mill, growing English wheat to supply his own bakery.
Another clipping tells of his establishing a world record, with the fastest loaf from field to table. This 90-minute odyssey involved a helicopter ride from the harvested crop to Bristol City football ground, then on to the bakery. As a young boy, my brother George and I were mega-impressed with that helicopter ride, and it seems the enthusiasm and passion of my forefathers has imbued in me a sense of ’baker’. The desire, the challenges and the loaves are the same. We bake because we can; times change, but the story lives on...