People and places of Middleton
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F. Wagstaffe's Bakery

Grandad Some of my earliest memories are of the bakery F. Wagstaffe's that was opposite the Conservative Club on Long Street. Fred Wagstaffe was my grandfather who had originally run a bakery with his brother-in-law on Taylor Street, known then as Little Park before it was demolished in the slum clearances of the late 60's. This, combined with a family fall-out, resulted in my grandfather renting the premises on Long Street and my parents were drafted in to help, mainly my Dad who was a bus conductor prior to this.

Only having recently married and after securing a brand new house in Heywood where I was born in 1966 two years after my brother, my Mum and Dad were forced to sell up because of the very early working hours and had managed to find an older house up for sale very cheap on Farmway in Alkrington. This house had a rather chequered past and required a lot of work. The wrench from the brand new house was heart-breaking for my Mum but Dad promised he would make the house beautiful, a promise he stuck to, doing much of the work himself on top of his long hours in the bakery.

The operation at the bakery was very much a family affair. At the front was the shop itself where my gran served along with the help of several employees over the years. There was a central room where ingredients were stored on wall shelves all around the room. A gas cooker was in here and the kettle seemed to be permanently 'on' for a brew. My Mum worked at a worktop in this room part time making up the sandwiches for the factory deliveries at dinner time which my Dad would deliver. Dad also iced wedding cakes and there was a permanent display model in one window.

At the back of the shop was the bakery, probably a later extension to the original building, and here were housed the huge ovens, various mixing machines and work benches. This was where my dad and grandad would be working from 3am baking the bread, cakes, pastries and confectionaries fresh for the day. From this room led the stairs to a further two storeys of accomodation which were empty and a little spooky to me. My family never did anything with this space (I believe separate entry access would have interfered with the shop too much) but it was at some point converted into living accomodation by a later occupier. A door also led from this back room into the yard where the seemingly huge (to a child) retaining wall of the Parish cemetary loomed high above our heads with it's spooky atmosphere beyond.

The bakery. c.1970

Many hours of school holidays were spent mostly in the middle room with Mum. My brother and I would occupy ourselves at another bench by drawing and crayoning on the white paper bags that were supposed to be for the sandwiches but we were often given them to keep us quiet for a while! I would sometimes go out on the delivery rounds with Dad visiting many of the local mills and other shops. In a way, it was like a childs' paradise with the large margerine sized tubs of hundreds and thousands and angelica shapes for decorating the cakes. We would be allowed the occasional handful as a treat. Mum helped to ice some of the small cakes and buns and we would get to scoop out the left over icing mix, still unset from the bottom of the old-fashioned earthenware mixing bowl. Similarly, grandad made the little traditional trifles in their plastic tubs and we got to drink the bright red left over jelly, still in liquid form and still almost hot! This sounds so sickly now and it's a surprise we weren't two round balls with no teeth left! Bizarrely in adult-hood, I dont have a sweet tooth at all anymore. Maybe it being so accessible then cured me in later life. Who knows?

Me, Grandad & Nana

I have mentioned the bakery in conversation on several occasions to find people often remember it. It appears it had a very good reputation as it is often said how they were always sold out by dinnertime. It all came to an end when my grandad retired around 1977/8. I actually remember being on a delivery with Dad in one of the firms on one of the floors of the Warwick Mill. The lady Dad was handing the sandwiches over to was telling him how it had just been on the radio that Elvis had died. Some of the girls in the place were devastated and crying. Of course that was 1977 and it wasnt much later grandad retired. He wanted my Dad to take over and carry the bakery on but Dad had other ideas of his own and guess just wanted a change.

The bakery changed hands but remained a bakery for many more years, even into the early 90's when I delivered the mail as a postwoman. I was surprised that even then, none of the traditional original fixtures had changed much. The old wooden shelving with its layers of paint was still intact around the shop walls. How different things are now because of health and safety rules. Everything has to be stainless steel and there are probably laws about small children being around machinery too. Indeed I set my hair on fire once sitting too close to the cooker whilst doodling away obliviously at the bench! It was saved though when Dad promptly batted it out with a towel on hearing my screams.

Mum and Dad moved on to other things, selling up and taking us to South Africa for 3 months (where we almost stayed) and moving to Boarshaw on return before settling back in Alkrington. They went on to run a newsagents back in their hometown of Droylsden, Tameside before moving to Hyde and retiring to the South of France. Gran and grandad continued to reside at Kirkway and had stints of running the Dyers and Polishers Club (now a car park) opposite the Warwick Mill. Grandad died in 1980 but 'Nana' enjoyed a much longer life living with Mum and Dad in Hyde before her death in 2003, aged 90.

In recent years, planning permission was acquired to turn the bakery into a fast food take away and, as of the fate of many shops in the area, sadly this is what it is today. I don't mind a take-away but do wonder just how many more we need sometimes, especially in a conservation area, but as this permission was granted, it waved goodbye to yet another era and to a traditional bakery on Long St forever, as has happened in all other local trades.

Written by the editor. July 2008

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