Talking about the bakery with my Dad yesterday has prompted me to write about it. I've also suggested he does too after his lament to me about why his father, W.F. Dobson, had persuaded him to work there. For it was after all, a rather grim place.
"Why on earth he thought I would enjoy delivering loaves of bread at five in the morning down the dark, wet cobbled backstreets of Nelson and Burnley I have no idea. It certainly didn't make your Mum very happy" he said. He then disclosed in a slightly strained voice, why he thought his older brother Michael, had been spared the indignity of the grind down at the bakery. "I think to my Mother, he was the apple of her eye and she thought he was destined for greater things" he said. There was a pause after he said that. It made me think of Michael. It also made me think of them. The family dynamics. Their dreams and ambitions. And regrets.
The Bakery was as I can vaguely recall, a rather Dickensian place. Certainly from the broken recollections that only a 8 year old could have, I try to salvage some of the memories of it.
As they push through, I'm reminded of how utterly fascinating it was. Maybe not for my Dad at the time, but certainly to me as a toddler. And in all honesty if I could return to it now, with a camera around my neck, to exactly as it looked then, I would be able to create a truly remarkable set of pictures. For it was all pre-war industrial revolution, Florence Nightingale vibe.
If anyone knows the work of British photographer Bill Brandt, who made his name photographing pre & post war Britain, especially the factories and backstreets of the North of England, then you can imagine exactly the setting for the bakery.
So for now I post one of Brandt images, and tonight I write my recollections.
And yes I'm going to press my father (while he's still with us) into delving deep into his own memories of not only the experience of working there but also how it affected him psychologically. How ultimately it was instrumental in taking us all away from England altogether. For his wish for his wife's happiness, would eventually lead us to emigrate to much jollier climes.
The Bakery. (Part 1)
One of my most vivid recollections of the bakery was a night visit. Hardly vivid actually. More abstract impression as I try conjure up the memories. I think Dad must have forgotten something. Keys perhaps. We needed to pop in before we went home. We'd just come up from London. Before that, we'd been house sitting my cousins smallish pre-war semi across at South End on Sea. His brother and family away on holiday.
I remember somewhere up the M1, probably north of Sheffield, it raining rather heavily. The motorway soaked in lurid orange sodium street lighting. The dark interior of the car. Mum and Peter my brother asleep in the back. I was upfront, aware that the car was speeding up. Dad bathed in the light from the dash board had a rather concentrated look on his face. He was pushing our Truimph MK 2 hard. At a point when the engine seemed to be making a bit of a din, and the windscreen wipers were madly attempting to slosh off the water, he turned to me, grinned and said, "100mph son". It was a speed milestone for cars in those days. Dad looked rather chuffed with himself as the engine wound down and the car began to slow.
When we pulled up outside the bakery it was still raining. It's rather imposing exterior was situated on our right. Before us lay a cobbled street, and terraced houses either side. They tapered off into the dark, wet night. It was all very Coronation Street. Dad beckoned for me to come with him, while we left Mum and Peter to sleep. We'd be waking them when we finally got home.
The Bakery. Part 2.
Goodness my memory is vague. This all feels like peripheral vision stuff. But it goes like this.
The big rolling shuttered gates remained closed. We entered into the bakery through a small door, beside the big gate. I followed my Dad through that door into the dank dark interior. It smelled of sour milk. He was fumbling about for a light switch. There was an office to the right illuminated by the half glow of a dull lamp, seen through a glass hatch window. Where orders were passed between the office clerk and baking staff and delivery man. (My Dad).
A Bedford delivery van was skulking in the shadows. This was the main loading bay. When the flourescent ceiling light above our heads flickered into life, I saw a logo on the van's side. Dobson and Sons. A few bakery cats came out from underneath the vehicle. They started meeowing. I thought of the 3 white mice. Characters invented by Grandma, who told me bedtime stories of their intrepid adventures, finding the cheese and cream, all the while dodging the bakery cats.
While my Dad rummaged about in the office looking for what he'd come to find, I took a peek through one of the doors that led from the bay to the working area of the bakery. I'd been before so I knew what lay beyond. In the shadows of the night, the huge dough mixing bowls, appeared quite eerie, their ginormous brooding shapes looking like metal monsters from War of the Worlds. I recalled how different the bakery was now in the dead of night to how it was during the day.
Daytime was busy. There were the men, tossing eggs and bags of flower into the dough mixers. I thought about the women, who would come and fuss over me. The ones I remember wore their hair in nets and rather bland frocks and aprons. They looked funny talking to me in little boy speak, while the fag they had pursed between their lips, bounced up and down. They all had rather pasty faces and smelled a bit sour too. Of dough. Milk. Cheese. My Dad too. I seem to recall his blue anorak smeared in crumpet oil. He looked rather frail and underweight. I think his Dad was pushing him too hard.
My Grandad, the gaffa (boss), as my Dad called his Dad, was the best dressed on the premises. His Daimler parked outside the bakery was my favorite car. I always wanted to sit inside on the leather seats and play with the electric windows. I didn’t mind the ashtray smell. Overflowing they were with his fag ends. The carpets were a silver grey from all the ash he dropped on them.
W.F was was an amicable fella. Always standing about smiling, looking immaculate in suit and tie, his hair brylcreamed down. Shiny leather shoes and a fag smouldering between his fingers, while everyone else dashed about.
My cousin Steven has way more memories of the bakery than I, telling me recently of the time he went, Grandad was looking all serious while they investigated the case of a fag stub been found in a loaf of bread. It might have even been one of W.F's. Everyone smoked in those days. I guess the mystery was never solved. Another great anecdote Steven shared with me. W.F Dobson became known as 'The Crumpet King of the North'. Bloody marvelous I thought.