The Thurlows

Village News & Information

The village bakery

I had now started work at the bakery on Saturday mornings. I used to fetch the water from the village pump outside no.120 in a water cart. This was a metal cart with metal wheels. It had to be filled with a bucket, tipping the water in until the tank was full. It was a bit of a drag up the yard to the bakery, especially if it was slippery with the snow and frost.

On reaching the bakehouse, as it was always called, the water was transferred by bucket from the cart into a storage tank inside the building. The oven was heated by a coal-fired furnace at the side of the oven and there was a small boiler over the furnace. Vic Marsh was the main baker and he would start work on the previous evening, laying up the first batch of dough. This was done in a large wooden trough under a chute from the loft above where the flour was stored in sacks. The flour was measured into the chute and then released into the trough. The yeast was weighed and mixed with warm water and salt was then added with the rest of the water that had been measured by the buckets. Vic finally mixed the dough by hand, the lid was lowered, and the top of the lid covered by sacks for warmth.

Vic would then start the next morning at 5.30am. When the lid was lifted the dough that had risen to the top of the trough was punched with a wooden pole to release the air. The dough was then cut into large chunks, transferred onto a long table and covered up again. Vic then repeated the mixing process, this time increasing the amount of yeast to ‘hurry it on’. By now Mr Rutter was cutting off and weighing the first batch of dough into different sized loaves. The sizes and prices were; 1lb = 2d, 2lb = 4d, and 4lb (a quarten) was 8d.

These were all moulded into circular shapes. Another large table was dusted with flour and the dough was placed in rows, but not too close as the dough was then covered with sacks and left to rise (or prove) for a time. When it was ready the dough was then moulded and placed into the tins, which were all laid out on another large table that had small wheels allowing it to be pushed up to the oven when it was ready. The tins were all covered up, to help the dough rise. The different loaves all had names: Cottage, Coberg, Bloomer, Cob, Sandwich and Tin. Rounds of hot Pads were a big favourite. A small amount of wholemeal bread (called Vit-be) was made and also some bread rolls.

During this time, Vic would have been looking after the fire to make sure the oven was getting hot. Some ovens had a large pebble at the back, and when this turned a whitish colour the oven was hot enough. When the dough had risen and the oven was hot, the tins were put neatly into the oven using a peel. This was a flat piece of hard wood, thin and quite wide, which would carry about six tins on a long wooden pole handle. Vic would then go home for his breakfast, and by this time Reg would be working in the bakehouse. Reg started later as he did much longer delivery rounds and finished quite late in the day.

When the bread was brought out of the oven it was tipped out of the tins and then stacked on the shelves and racks to cool before being loaded into the vans. The tins were then greased. After breakfast, Vic would get the last batch of dough out of the trough and the process would be repeated. By now the vans were being loaded – Reg’s first, as he did the biggest round while Vic did the local run. Mr Rutter would make the cakes and these would go in with the last batch of bread.

The flour was delivered by Hovis from Haverhill and by Marriage’s from Colchester, the latter using a Sentinel steam lorry, which was quite a feat to see the driver reversing up the narrow yard. The sacks of flour had to be carried up to the loft by a staircase at the back. Canadian flour was the best, but this was in short supply. Later, a national loaf was introduced, which was part wholemeal and part white flour.

The fruitcake that Mr Rutter made was in very large tins. It was cut up and weighed, and put into paper bags with the prices marked on. This was restricted to one bag per household, due to the shortage.

Mr Rutter was helped by his two daughters, Cherry and Thora. He was a nice cheerful man with a great sense of humour, liked his poetry, and would often recite Kipling when drawing the loaves of bread from the oven. Mr Rutter came to this country from New Zealand after the First War.

Working on the farm

During the summer months several of us older boys got harvest work on the farms. It was called ‘getting a harvest’. We used to ‘drive away’, which meant leading the horse and wagon from shock (stook) to shock, while the farm men loaded the sheaves on to the wagon with pitchforks. A shock usually consisted of about twelve to sixteen sheaves that had been stood on end to allow the straw to dry. When the wagon was loaded, the horse and wagon was led to the gateway to the road and one of the farm men would be coming back with an empty wagon and sometimes with two horses. The lead horse was called a trace horse.

The trace would be unhitched and transferred to the loaded wagon for the journey back to the farm or stackyard, which sometimes was quite a distance. Us boys would then go back into the field with the empty wagon and start again. I can still remember some of the horses’ names. Mr Tilbrook had Duke and Captain, and Mr Wickerson had Blossom and also a lorry, in which he used to bring up his sheaves from his fields down the Drift. Mr Wickerson was the farmer I sometimes helped.

When the corn was being cut, I sometimes got a ride on the binder. This was considered a privilege, and usually happened when the man on the binder was having either his ‘docky’ or his ‘fourses’. The seat on the binder was a hard cast iron metal one, usually helped to be made a bit more comfortable with a bag of straw. I had to watch that the sheaves of corn were all tied up as they left the binder, as sometimes the twine broke or the ball ran out. If the sheaves were coming out loose and the tractor driver has not seen what was happening, the drill was to hit the metal casing on the top of the machine with a large stick which was carried just for this purpose. The noise attracted the driver’s attention and he then stopped to try and remedy the fault. Sometimes the canvas would break.

When the tractor reached the corner of the corn being cut, the sheaves that were being released had to be caught in a metal scoop operated by a foot lever, so that an area was clear of sheaves and the tractor and binder could complete a turning circle without running over any sheaves. The two main makes of binders were, Massey Harris and McCormack. When a field had almost been cut, any rabbits that were in the field would start running out, and we would chase them with large sticks. With rationing, a rabbit pie was an extra help on the table. There was a coalman who would buy up the rabbit skins, so nothing was wasted.