‘Here you go: a genuine Preddy’s bread tin’, said Danny, emerging from his shed and dusting off a rusty piece of history. To the uninitiated eye, it was an unlikely thing to get so excited about. But I was in the midst of researching Preddy’s bakery, the literal foundations of my childhood, and I had just been gifted one of the very tins in which those golden loaves, described by locals as ‘nectar’, were baked.
It was late May 2021, and I was visiting Danny Hicks, Wroughton’s resident historian. After a brief phone call during which I explained my interest, Danny invited me round and I sat at his kitchen table, poring over the village’s archives and listening eagerly to his many stories. He would later put me in touch with Wendy, daughter of Master Baker Dick, who I subsequently visited on several occasions over the course of my research. She gave me the address for her brother, David, to whom I wrote to ask if he might also like to share his own memories. Over the next few months, I received regular handwritten letters from David, in ‘blackboard script because if I try joined up writing neither I nor anyone else knows what I am saying. I am now in my 87th year and my memory is poor but I am looking forward to going back over the years at the bakery.’ It was exciting to return home from work to discover another letter had arrived, another piece of the puzzle fitting into place. A former English teacher, David’s letters had a Dickensian quality to them, his family history presented in dramatic installments, ending on cliffhangers like: ‘Next time: The fire and closure’ or ‘I will write next time about The Swindon Road Crash Christmas 1953’.
As the letters came to an end, and I finished visiting other locals, I began to collate and sequence my research notes to write a history of a fondly remembered bakery that played such an important role in Wroughton village life for several decades of the twentieth century.
Raising the bakery
If it wasn’t for poor health, Dick Preddy would have been destined to take up an apprenticeship at the Great Western Railway in Swindon. His father, William (Will) Preddy, was an employee there, and Dick would have followed in his footsteps, as the eldest son in the family. Born in 1907 at 7 Brimble Hill, Wroughton, as a child he suffered from serious intestinal problems. After a period of time in hospital, he was sent home ‘to die’. His mother, however, determined, ‘I will not let him die’. She cared for him from his bedside and, gradually, Dick recovered. Despite his recovery, he was deemed too unfit for strenuous work at the railway. The apprenticeship was passed to Reg, Dick’s younger brother, and in 1920 Dick went to work, instead, at Cole’s Bakery (also known as Veranda Bakery, started by Mr Joseph Cole in 1910) in Marlborough Road, just a short walk down the hill from where he was born and lived.
When the Cole family decided to sell up, they offered it to a long-standing employee of the bakery, Ted Lee, who declined. Meanwhile, Reg had been dismissed - along with all other apprentices - from the railway and the Preddy family grew concerned that Reg had no work (and was not showing any inclination of finding a job either). George Hacker, Senior Clerk at the railway and brother-in-law to Dick and Reg, decided that if he could get Dick to take over Cole’s bakery, Reg could work in the bakery too, thereby securing a trade for both brothers. George, Dick and his grandfather belonged to an organisation called The Independent Order of Oddfellows which loaned money to people to help them start a business, in exchange for the deeds of the borrowers’ houses as collateral. David Preddy, Dick’s son, presumes that Dick already had the deeds of the house that went with the bakery, so he was able to offer up those and, with some persuasion, his grandfather eventually offered his deeds too. This persuasion came not from any desire to continue in the baking trade specifically. David told me, ‘I believe my father had no real desire to become a master baker.’ In fact, Dick already had another job at a shop in Swindon, called Morses. As a ‘packy man’, he would take a caseful of clothing around people’s doors, trying to sell his wares. David reflects: ‘I think he would have been good at it as he was pleasant, humorous and a very interesting talker’. However, Dick ‘gave way because the Preddys always stuck together’ and, in 1933, he became William Richard Preddy, Master Baker.
His fiancée, Alice Griffin, whom Dick had met when he was delivering bread for Cole’s by horse and cart, was rather cross about this change of plans. A daughter of a farm worker and trained as a cook by the wife of a farmer, Alice had taken up a position in London, but Dick missed her so she moved back to Wroughton, where they were due to get married and buy a house. George’s intervention meant that their marriage was postponed (they would marry on 5 June 1933) and Verandah Cottage, decorated by Reg, became their home instead. This was the home associated with the bakery, built in 1790 and, from 1847, was owned by Mary Jacobs. Around 1860, she leased a meadow and the bakehouse was built on it, both the bakehouse and the house being bought first by Joseph Cole in 1910, then by Dick. Thirteen years after Dick started work at Cole’s, Preddy’s of Wroughton was born.
Preddy’s early days
The bakery that Dick and Alice took over - known always to the family as the ‘bakehouse’ - was not in good order; in particular, the delivery van and dough mixer both needed to be replaced. According to David (born two years afterwards, in 1935), Dick had no idea where the money came from to put things right, but eventually order was restored and sales increased.
The dough mixer and the oven were, of course, the most important pieces of equipment. The dough mixer was a very large steel bowl, above which was a large steel arm. It was driven by a Lister engine, with an exhaust pipe fitted on an outside wall, which made a loud popping noise. David reflects, ‘The good people of Marlborough Road never complained.’ Flour (stored in a railway wagon in the yard), water and yeast were placed in the bowl and the steel arm descended downwards into the mixture, turning it into dough. David recalls one particularly memorable incident with the dough mixer, albeit from a slightly later period than these early days. To get the dough mixer started, the handle had to be slotted over a wheel, and the handle turned quickly to get the engine going. One night, Dick was struggling with the handle and failing to start the engine. David offered to have a go, swinging the handle round at speed and igniting the engine: ‘Then, like an idiot, I took my hands off the handle which continued to swing round at a terrific speed in great danger of flying off, beheading one or other of us or going straight up through the roof! Father somehow managed to knock the handle off the wheel and the engine died down. We were luck to have our heads on still.’
This was a serious piece of equipment: David recalls a time when, many years later, it was decided to move the dough mixer (and its Lister engine) from the back of the bakery to the front. They employed a Wroughton firm to lift the huge iron bowl with its big iron arm and large wheel, down to the roadside garage. It is believed that the dough mixer now resides at Wharf Farm, but I have been unable to verify this in my research.
It was like nectar
When the dough was fully mixed, the baker took a sharp knife and cut large pieces, lifting and placing them into large wooden boxes called ‘trows’. David speculates that this might have been another way of pronouncing ‘troughs’, while Wendy, Dick’s daughter, wonders whether these oak troughs were what gave Preddy’s bread its distinctive flavour. There was a village joke that it was, in fact, Reg’s cigarette ash that made the dough taste so good. Regardless, everyone I spoke to venerated this legendary bread: Danny Hicks told me there was ‘nothing like it’, recalling saving up halfpennies to buy a small crusty cob and going over the Wroughton fields to eat it; Isabel Habgood told me that her son would have nearly eaten the whole, irresistible crust by the time he got back indoors after collecting the bread from the delivery truck; Jeremy Kemble remembers the lardy cakes particularly fondly (with ‘lots of lard and sugar on top’); and Wendy asserts she has ‘never tasted bread like it’, describing the coke-fired golden bread as ‘nectar’. In one letter, under the heading ‘Wood you believe it’, David wrote to me about a time when a group of inspectors visited the bakery and suggested that they cover the inside of the three large trows with plastic sheets, threatening the flavour of the bread: ‘As we had never known anyone ever to have passed away from oak wood poisoning, we ignored what seemed to be a stupid idea and never heard any more. I think it was the inspectors who needed inspecting!’.
Trying to glean as many tips for my own breadmaking, I kept probing those who had been so fortunate to taste it what made this bread so good, such that it is remembered with salivating mouths all these years later by every villager I spoke to. Wendy told me that the bread ‘contained more fat/lard than other varieties’. Richard Preddy, interviewed for the 50th anniversary of the bakery, said that ‘We use less yeast and less water than some, and we make a slow dough to preserve the flavour.’ David understands that Dick bought English and Canadian flour and blended the two. It was also bread of substance: David remembers the bakehouse ‘being taken to task by inspectors because our bread was too heavy!’ He muses, ‘I should have thought that this was to the customer’s benefit. Perhaps less generous bakers objected.’ I gathered more tips from Dick and Alice’s interview in 1973 for Down Your Way, a BBC radio programme which visited towns and villages across the UK, speaking to local residents and playing their choice of music, a way of showcasing and archiving the lives of people who would otherwise be unheard. I had written to the British Library and to the BBC Archives to see if they had any record of this programme, to no avail, so I was delighted when Wendy produced a tape recording of the show when I visited her in August 2021. In the programme, which begins with the broadcaster describing Wroughton as ‘one of those lucky places that has a real bakery, one with two enormous ovens made by a Bristol firm’, Alice confirms that the crusty split loaves and cottage loaves were the most popular breads, often enjoyed not only locally but even in Scotland and Wales.
She goes on to describe how the lardy cakes were made. Wiltshire is famous for lardies: the pig industry in Swindon meant that lard (pig fat) was readily and cheaply available. Wendy told me that Preddy’s lardies contained ‘enough lard to sink a battleship’. At Preddy’s, the bakers would simply layer the leftover dough with lard, sugar and currants, forming it into a cake. I followed Mrs Preddy’s instructions very carefully when trying out my own. She can be heard on the recording giving swift, straight-forward instructions for a bake that had clearly become second nature to her: ‘Make the dough, cut it into half pounds, then roll the dough out, spread on the lard, then the sugar, then the currants, fold it up again, roll it out again, and you do this three times, then make it into a little round and put it into a round tin.’ To conclude, she proudly announces, ‘That is a lardy cake.’ When I spoke to her on the phone, Sheila, David’s wife, kindly provided further instructions for making a lardy. After experimenting with quantities and technique, I proudly delivered my efforts to Wendy’s door and I hope, one day, to be able to take one to David and Sheila, too.
To return to the baking process: the dough was left all night in the warmth of the bakery and, by the beginning of work the next day, it was lifting the lid of the trow. The bakers removed the dough from the trows and placed it on the lid of an empty trow strewn with flour. Then, they placed a piece of dough on scales, cutting it until it was the official weight of a large or small loaf. A moulding machine - which David remembers once getting his fingers trapped in as a young boy - would shape the loaf ready to place in the tins, which Dick greased on a Sunday morning to prevent the bread from sticking: ‘This job was always done by my father’, David recalls.
The bread was then baked in two very large ovens, heated by a coke furnace. Dick spent many hours of his life wheeling coke in from the yard, where there was a large heap of it, throwing it into the furnace and raking it with a long metal poker. The only time the furnace was allowed to cool was when its brick interior began to crumble and had to be repaired. Otherwise, it burned day and night, bread being baked every day except Sunday. The loaves were placed in the ovens using a peel, like a very long shovel, which is now displayed on Wendy’s kitchen wall.
Isabel Habgood, writing for the Wroughton Monthly magazine in September 2009 and whom I visited in her beautiful, well-tended garden in summer 2021, points out that the original ovens ‘were still in use when the last loaves were baked there in 1985.’ The oven doors were sold to the Gosling family, who had them installed in their farmhouse at Berkeley Farm Dairy, Wroughton. The Goslings happen to be close friends of my family, ever since my mum met Christine on the maternity ward at Wroughton’s RAF Hospital - I was born a day after their son, Edward - so I have been fortunate enough to see the original Preddy oven doors in their modern setting.
Customers could purchase bread directly from the bakery or, if they lived locally, they could opt-in to the bread round. If ever the delivery van was off the road, Dick and an assistant pushed a cart, loaded with bread, through the village, up Church Hill, down Court Lane and through Elcombe, returning to Wroughton along the Common, delivering as they went. This ‘truck’, as the cart was known, began life at East Street Co-op in Swindon and was later acquired by Dick’s uncle William Gibbs, a grocer in Greens Lane, Wroughton. Uncle Will sold the cart to Dick. It is heavy, with large iron-rimmed wheels. As a boy, David’s job was to fill up his grandfather’s smaller, lighter truck with loaves and meet his father halfway to replenish his supply of bread. When he was older, he would spend Saturday mornings delivering bread in the village from the truck. Happily, the truck still exists today, now fully restored by the Wroughton History Group. Jeremy Kemble is its custodian and, one sunny June morning in 2021, I cycled up Overtown Hill to visit him, his house surrounded by an abundance of delicate cow parsley. He had wheeled the cart out into his front garden for me to inspect: heavy, extremely well-made and robust, it belied its age. The cart, which David once wrote for the Swindon Advertiser ‘looks far better in retirement than it ever did during its working life’, is painted brown and cream, believed to be its original colours, the same used by the Great Western Railway, possibly from leftover paint. At Wroughton Carnival in 2009, the Wroughton History Group entered a carnival float for the theme, ‘From Corn to Crust’, to showcase the renovated cart and, indeed, the rich Wroughton history of breadmaking. Isabel Habgood described the float for the Wroughton Monthly magazine: ‘First came a young lady decorated with wheat, poppies etc. representing a cornfield. The farmer closely followed her with his scythe over his shoulder. The jolly miller and his assistant pushed a model of a water mill, which had been made by one of our talented members, around the route in a wheelbarrow, while the two bakers, Mr and Mrs Bun, came next. Then came the stars of the show, Mr Preddy’s bread cart and Mr Hyde’s delivery bicycle.’
Mr John Hyde, operating from a shop on the corner of Marlborough Road and Devizes Road, was well known in the village from 1898 for his one penny lardy cakes, and he used to deliver them on this bike and serve them at the socials at the Wesleyan Chapel. Before Mr Hyde, William Hinder had a bakehouse there from the 1870s. Isabel has researched in detail the history of Wroughton’s bakers for the Wroughton History Group: in the 17th century, villagers would have had their own grain milled in one of the village’s six (at least) mills, to bake their own bread. By 1815, there was at least one baker in the village, growing to six in 1849. There was a good customer base for bread in Swindon, due to the influx of labour to build the Great Western Railway. This included, from 1839, Mr David Cowley’s bakehouse at what is now 12 Church Hill. In the late 1800s, there was Green’s Bakery at Green’s Mill; during the same period, Mrs Jane Pickett was baking at what is now 3 Church Hill. By 1900, only two bakers were listed in the census. The Palmer family had baking premises in the High Street from at least 1816 to 1855, followed by Mr Phillimore, then Mr Banner, then Mr Arthur Hughes who was still baking there in the early 1940s, the time when Preddy’s bakery was taking off.
Besides the Preddy’s truck, there was also a ‘trade bike’. David tells me this had ‘a space above the small front wheel where you could load it with bread. But you had to be very careful when you stopped and dismounted. The heavy weight of the bread lifted up the back wheel of the bike high in the air and tipped the bread into the road. You had to keep your hand on the saddle [when dismounting]. After one or two mishaps I became an expert at holding the back down.’
In these early years, Dick offered Reg a partnership which he declined. David thinks there were four workers who came with the business: Ted Lee, the oldest of them, had been working for Cole’s for some time and had also declined ownership. The bakehouse certainly sounds like it was a convivial place to work. As David says, ‘the bakers who worked for Preddy’s liked a good laugh’, and he has shared many comic memories with me. One morning a lad from the village came into the bakery and said, ‘A large loaf and pay for the week, please.’ Reg replied, ‘Pay for the weak? That is you and me, John Leader! We are in the money!’ On another occasion, a farmer was collecting his bread and moaning about troubles on the farm and shortage of money. Reg went to the till, took out a very small coin, handed it to the farmer and said, ‘We hope this will help you in your difficulties.’ Just across the road from the bakery was a shop owned by a Mr Tuckwell. The unusual thing about Fred Tuckwell was that he whistled (tunelessly) non-stop. One day he came into the bakery, still whistling. Reg said to him, ‘Fred, do you whistle requests?’ Years later, when David was assisting Eric Kent, left in charge of the bakery one afternoon, a girl came in and asked for ‘two pennyworth of east’. Eric replied, ‘I’m so sorry. We’ve just run out of east. We have plenty of north, some south and a lot of west, but no east.’ The girl left but soon returned, ‘My grandma says don’t you be so cheeky! She wants some yeast!’.
The younger bakers were eventually called up for war service, and David assumes that Dick and Ted ended up running the business between them. Alice served customers in the bakery (there was no separate shop), but David says that she ‘showed little interest in it.’ As a small boy at this time, David remembers that the bakers used to make him small bread men if they had a piece of dough left over: ‘I very much enjoyed eating them.’ Wendy remembers running up the garden path into the bakehouse, poking her fingers in the dough or discovering an ‘odd loaf’ left on the kitchen table, still hot - this was made from leftover dough and the children would quickly rip it to pieces. The bakehouse yard was their playground: they would paint stumps and play cricket, later to be comforted to sleep by the familiar popping sounds of the Lister engine.
It sounds idyllic, but Dick’s children are acutely aware of the reality of the hard work that went into running the bakery: Wendy remembers that her father would get up at 3.30am each morning, her mother delivering breakfast sustenance to him a few hours later. By about 6.30am, the first batch of bread was ready. Dick would sleep after lunch, then make the dough for the following day, often retiring to the pub by early evening and then, by 11pm, bed. Wendy told me it was ‘an all-time job’: in 38 years, they never took a holiday. It is rather ironic that this was Dick’s employment, having been turned down for the ‘strenuous’ railway apprenticeship! But Dick was utterly devoted to Wroughton and happiest there: Wendy says that ‘if he got to the top of Croft Hill [on the outskirts of Swindon, travelling from Wroughton], he thought it was the moon.’
Mr Preddy, we wish we could take this aroma back with us!
Preddy’s in wartime
A big help to the business were the number of contracts that the bakery had with wartime canteens, from 1939 to 1945, as was the wartime encouragement of self-sufficiency: those who kept hens or pigs could purchase meal, corn and bran from the bakery, in addition to self-raising and plain flour. The bakery’s bill heads advertised themselves as ‘Bakers, Meal and Corn Dealers’. Another boost was the number of servicemen and women coming through the village after the war, owing to Wroughton’s busy RAF base. They would stop by the bakery on the way home, or on the way to Singapore. My mother remembers Alice Preddy showing her the airmail letters she received from Canadians and Americans after the war who had been gifted a lardy cake from soldiers stationed in Wroughton and who stopped by the bakery before flying home. Unfortunately these letters don’t seem to have survived, but Mrs Preddy was rightly proud of her lardies that garnered transatlantic praise. Danny Hicks, who helped with the bread deliveries in 1953-54, remembers getting ready for delivery one day when an American car pulled up and two tall nurses, ‘resplendent in white uniform’, came into the bakehouse just as bread was being taken out of the oven. They declared, ‘Mr Preddy, we wish we could take this aroma back with us!’
At a time when there was no such thing as cheap supermarket bread, this village bakery was one of the only sources of baked goods: during this period, Preddy’s sold bread, lardy cakes and dough cakes (Wendy told me these were square cakes, like a lardy but without the fruit). David Preddy reflects on this time, ‘My parents were able to put money into National Savings. Sales were excellent.’
Was this why Preddy’s did not flourish as I thought it should?
This boon was not to last: firstly, Dick was never interested in money and was very slow in making customers pay for their purchases. Extremely kind, he used to say that he had been Father Christmas to many children in the village. David also wonders how much Dick’s frequent trips to the pub cost the business. He was a very popular man in the village, such that the publican at the Three Tuns pub at the bottom of Marlborough Road (now a Co-op supermarket) said that Dick Preddy was worth a lot of money to him because people went to the pub just to see and talk to him. David told me, ‘He was kind, intelligent, genial, and an interesting talker. But the question to which I had no answer was: when he was talking to people, was he also buying them drinks? Was he even lending them money which he was not repaid? Was this why Preddy’s did not flourish as I thought it should? One morning an elderly man from Perry’s Lane came to our house and informed my mother that he wanted to borrow ten shillings from Dick Preddy. He waved his walking stick and shouted. My father was not at home and my mother, who was afraid of nobody, soon got rid of the old man. But it made me wonder. Was my father lending money?’
He never cared very much about money: once, when he made a considerable sum from selling a large number of bread rolls, Dick offered the money to his two sons, David and Richard. David reflects, ‘I begin to see that if he had enough money to buy drinks, food, to keep a roof over his head and look after his family, he was quite content. There was no urge to become rich, have much money in the bank or buy anything costly. He would wear any old clothes and drive any old van with pleasure. There was no hankering for costly suits or cars or furniture. If he was buying drinks and lending money, the money he spent was his and he was doing it from generosity, not stupidity. We children were always fed and clothed very well and rode our new bicycles with pleasure. The bakers were always paid on the dot. He always made his delivery vans last a long time but could always replace them when necessary. You may have had more money available than you let on, Dick!’
This lack of interest in money-making, coupled with the first commercially available sliced bread that came on the market in the 1950s (which Dick initially refused to sell), meant that Preddy’s Bakery was in the red throughout this decade, with regular summonses from the bank manager. The first commercial bread brand that David remembers was ‘Vitality Bread’, stocked by all small shops meaning that villagers no longer needed to frequent the bakery, as they had done on a near daily basis.
There was one significant form of diversification at this time, however. While none of the existing bakers were confectioners, after the war, Preddy’s employed George Morse who was a baker and confectioner of high skill. His birthday cakes, in particular, were well known and sold well; he would later make David and Sheila’s ‘very fine wedding cake’, and Danny and Patricia Hicks' wedding cake too. Sheila herself grew up opposite the bakery, at 1 Marlborough Road (David at number 7, which would later become number 15), in a house next door to their family-owned newsagents and shoe sales and repairs business, so the couple that would go on to marry met as young neighbours in Marlborough Road.
Throughout the 1950s, the Preddy family managed to survive on very little money. Grandfather Preddy had retired in 1939 from the Great Western Railway and now worked for the family as a handyman, gardener and chicken keeper. The family kept a large number of chickens, and a cockerel which could be very aggressive and would often attack customers. Dick would pick a fight with the cockerel, knocking it out of the way each time the cockerel threw itself at him, eventually taming it. With plenty of vegetables and eggs (or ‘Heggs’ as Grandfather Preddy said), and bread and cakes at cost price, the family was able to keep their food costs down.
New directions in the 1960s
From the beginning of the sixties, David and his brother Richard began to take a much more active interest in the running of the business (Wendy had left home at 19 to become a nurse). Richard had left school and was a roundsman (delivering bread) for the bakery. David had trained as a teacher and had taken up a post at Stratton Secondary Modern School. Out of school hours, he worked not only as a driving instructor, lecturer (at Swindon College), and lay preacher, but also returned to the family business on a part-time basis. The collaboration, between parents and their two sons, meant that the business could expand: they bought a larger van with a side door, and began to sell groceries (including sliced bread and Lyons cakes, known as ‘box cakes’ as these Swiss rolls, doughnuts, jam tarts, and individual fruit pies, all arrived in large boxes) in addition to their own bread and lardy cakes and dough cakes (and, Sheila remembers, hot cross buns for Easter).
With Peter Booth, Dick and Richard’s brother-in-law (husband to sister Wendy), the bakery was able to expand their bread deliveries to Chiseldon and Broad Hinton. On Saturdays, they had three vans on the road, delivering to more than 1500 homes, and, during this period, sales and profits increased. The last £400 owing to Oddfellows was still outstanding in the 1960s, but it was eventually paid off and the house deeds were returned. After Peter’s departure, they cancelled some rounds and reduced others, so that Richard (assisted by an aunt) could cover them on his own. On Saturdays, however, both David and two others, Steve Harvey and my father John Cairns, would also help with the deliveries.
She was holding a loaf as if it was a bomb!
The bread round
Most of the stories David wrote to me about relate to the bread round, which he clearly remembers with keen fondness. His delivery work started, unofficially, early in life: one of the delivery drivers used to let David drive the van on quiet roads or farm tracks when he was helping with deliveries so that, by the time he was ten or eleven, he could drive well. It must have come as a bit of a surprise when, at 17, he failed his first driving test, but he didn’t have to drive far at all before he was told he had passed his second. He learnt to drive in a 1935 Singer which, like all their vans at the time, was in a very poor condition.
When he was older, David would help with the bread round on Saturday mornings after a week of teaching. As a fellow teacher, I couldn’t imagine getting up at 6.30am on a Saturday to commence a bread round (I just about manage my sourdough baking routine!), but there seems to have been much conviviality to keep spirits up. David writes, ‘I have to say that delivering with John and Steve made a rather miserable job very pleasant. They were a couple of comedians, very witty and excellent company. They also worked very hard and were liked by customers. I shall remember being with them all day with great pleasure.’ My dad, likewise, recalls the bread round extremely fondly; we grew up on his many stories and we could never drive past the sign to Elcombe without dad reminding us of what he used to announce as the van approached that part of the village: ‘Elcombe we’re so late’. During my dad’s childhood, the sight of a red-faced Dick Preddy walking from house to house holding his bread basket and calling out that he still had some lardies for sale was ‘as familiar as Taffy the horse pulling the milk float for Berkeley Farm Dairy’. Later, he got to know David and Richard and, while my dad was studying at Ridgeway School Sixth Form, they asked him if he would like a Saturday job.
My dad writes, ‘Each Saturday at 6.00 a.m., two Preddy’s vans, a new red Ford Transit van, and an old red Thames van, would be parked outside the old Bakery so that, hot from the oven, they could be loaded with large and small ‘split-tops’, ‘sandwiches’, ‘cobs’, ‘cottage loaves’, ‘French sticks’ and, of course, 'lardies', as well as ‘bought-in’ thin, medium and thick sliced Mother’s Pride loaves. In the Ford Transit, Richard and his Saturday helpers, Pete Goldsworthy and John Hannon, would drive off to deliver to one half of Wroughton, whilst in the Thames van David, assisted by Steve Harvey and me would deliver to the other half of the village, leaving a tired old Dick Preddy sitting inside the Bakery, his work completed for the day.’ David remembers that ‘sometimes, but not often, John [my dad] used to oversleep and we called at his house to pick him up’. It’s hard to imagine my dad oversleeping; he’s punctual to the point of always being far too early. But he was just a sixth former at this point, after all. David recalls that my dad would ‘appear at his bedroom window, still very sleepy and try to tell us that he would be with us shortly, but was so much asleep that he could not be understood! We were, of course, highly amused by this and went off to continue delivering, knowing that he would be with us very soon. He always was.’
David remembers delivering bread one morning when a young woman ‘came to the door wearing very few clothes’. My dad was ‘so astounded that when he returned to the van he could not speak coherently. He did not know what bread she had taken or if she had paid for it.’ That would have woken him up. The bread round was certainly a way of getting to know the villagers. David remembers one customer who had a regular order for a sandwich loaf, which he always requested to be put in a bag. ‘He used to ring us up and say, ‘I’m sandwich-in-a-bag. Can you save me a loaf?’ ‘One little old lady used to leave us a note in her bread tin saying, ‘To luvs please’. She always got her two loaves.’
The customers that they called on early usually left out a bin on their doorstep. David recalls at Easter leaving bags of hot cross buns on doorsteps. He thought he was being quiet until questioned by one customer: ‘Did you deliver the buns last Saturday?’ ‘I was round at the crack of dawn,’ I said. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘We heard it crack!’ David added, ‘In the odd way that things happen, we later bought his house and lived there for many years.’ At a more reasonable hour, they would knock on people’s doors and take payment. My dad recalls, ‘Saturday was money collecting day so, as well as a bread basket, we would each have a leather pouch containing copious amounts of change. At the time a loaf of bread cost three shillings and four pence, which would prompt David to repeat the old wartime joke, “Send three and four pence, we are going to a dance” (“Send reinforcements, we are going to advance”).’
David says, ‘We rarely found customers unpleasant or difficult’. Even the dogs: David remembers delivering on Perry’s Lane one day and opening the gate to a house with a dog standing inside the yard. ‘Come on, then, come and help me deliver the bread.’ The dog trotted along happily with David, who pressed the bell. When the lady of the house saw David and the dog, ‘her eyes widened, her jaw dropped and she gasped, ‘Didn’t the dog bite you?!’ ‘No’, I said, ‘We are the best of friends.’ ‘Well’, she said, ‘He bites everybody else.’ Dogs and humans alike clearly couldn’t resist Preddy’s bread.
There were, however, a few occasions that David remembers when he ‘got an earful’ from the customer: once from a lady who lived at the bottom of Brimble Hill who found a piece of glass in a loaf she had purchased. Unfortunately, he was also the person delivering the bread when a farmer’s wife accosted him, ‘holding a loaf as if it was a bomb’, to point out a beetle that had found its way into the bread, attracted by the warmth of the bakery and the flour on the bakehouse floor. In rainy weather, some customers would also complain about the wet bread: the bread baskets had no cover. David would respond pragmatically, ‘Well, it’s raining’. Perhaps the villagers were just grateful that Preddy’s didn’t let bad weather get in the way of deliveries, because they never asked for a replacement loaf. David remembers: ‘Snow, ice, wind, rain: we skidded and ripped through the lot.’ The first six Saturdays that Steve Harvey worked for Preddy’s it tipped with rain. David thought he would get fed up and leave. He never did. David remembers how his father, Dick, wore a raincoat in wet weather but never buttoned it up: ‘It flapped in the wind but, inexplicitly, he never seemed to get wet!’. David himself remembers many times ‘skidding from side to side on a snowy or icy road. To make the back wheels grip the snowy road I used to put Sheila’s very heavy sewing machine right at the back of the van. I have many times driven up a snowy slope with boys jumping up and down on the floor at the back to keep us moving. I once convinced my father on a snowy morning that I could drive our van from the top of Priors Hill to the bottom. I did it, mostly travelling sideways. Mercifully, the van did not topple over. I never tried it again!’
Around mid-morning during the bread round, the vans would return to the bakery to be reloaded. This would occasion a well-earned cup of coffee, plus a slice or two of a still warm crusty loaf, with a knob of butter, made by Mrs Preddy in the kitchen of Verandah Cottage. With this replenishment, it was likely that there would be enough bread on the van to finish the round which, in the early days when getting used to the job, could take until mid to late afternoon. Still, a long day could still provide its amusements. David remembers one lady in Perry’s Lane asking him, ‘Ere, have you got any of them gatoos?’ ‘I was stumped! Gatoos? ‘I will go and look in the van,’ I said, playing for time. I looked all along the racks in the van and finally found some gateaux! Thank heaven! I sold her the cake she wanted and I had a few more coins in my shoulder bag.’ David also recalls one time when Dick was delivering his own mother’s bread. He would go ‘into her rather dingy kitchen, put the bread on the table, and drink the glass of homemade wine she always left for him when she was out.’ One day, he was puzzled to find something gritty at the bottom of the glass.. He went out to the van and the boy who was helping him that day cried out, ‘Oh, Mr Preddy, your lips are all blue!’ and was promptly sick. Dick looked into the van mirror and saw that his lips, tongue and the inside of his mouth were, indeed, a strong shade of blue. The bread boy was so queasy that he went home, while Dick went back into the kitchen to see what had happened. He found that a cube of Reckitts Blue (added to washing to make whites whiter) had fallen off the shelf where it was kept, into his glass of wine.
As well as helping David on a Saturday, after school on a Tuesday and Thursday my dad used to help Richard deliver to the hamlets of Elcombe, Overtown and Hodson. My dad writes, ‘Richard was in his mid-twenties at the time and I was pretty sure he didn’t really need an assistant on those days, but what he enjoyed was having some amusing company, which I was pleased to provide. As on a Saturday when working with David, a lot of the enjoyment of doing the bread round was in the banter that took place between delivering the bread, which became a kind of ritual. Driving up to houses where, say, the Archers or Hancocks lived, would prompt one of us to start whistling the appropriate theme tune. And driving in to Elcombe would prompt, “Elcombe (how come) we are so late” or as we entered Hodson “Hodson (odds-on) we’re early”. Richard’s driving through the narrow and twisty lanes of these hamlets in those non-seat belt days was quite hairy and on a number of occasions he would have to slam on the brakes as we came head-on with another vehicle. At such times the loaves in the back of the van would rush forward, some joining us on the front seat.’
There were a few occasions when, because of Richard and David’s unavailability, my dad did the bread round on his own. ‘This was never a problem’, he writes, ‘except on one occasion when somehow the old Thames van became stuck in second gear. Hill starts were impossible so how would I be able to deliver the bread to houses in Priors Hill? I realised that the problem might be solved by starting the deliveries from the top of the hill – as long as I could drive up the hill without having to stop on the way! I was fortunate in being able to do so and with a great sense of relief I managed to ensure that everyone got their daily bread.’ David remembers this occasion similarly clearly: he was on holiday with his family and remembers being approached upon his return by Ron Bulmer, a teacher at Ridgeway. ‘And what was John Cairns doing driving a bread van?’ he asked. ‘Was this a Preddy arrangement?’ ‘I was able to inform him that John had a full driving license and I objected to his implication that Preddy’s would send a pupil of the school to drive illegally. That shut him up. I added that Preddy’s had been in business at the bakery since 1933 and had never had any problems with the police.’
Fiery Alice put them right!
On Christmas Eve 1953, however, they came very close. David and his father were still delivering bread late into the evening: in order to have one or two days’ holiday over the Christmas period, Preddy’s did a ‘double round’, two days’ delivery in one day. David was at home on leave from the RAF and was driving the small, blue Morris van which they had purchased in 1949. Grandfather Preddy had adapted it for bread deliveries by installing racks in the back, while Dick found a seat from an airplane for the passenger side. David recalls that there was no heater, such that on frosty mornings the windscreen froze on the outside and the steam from the hot bread froze it on the inside. On this occasion, Dick was sitting in the passenger seat, having begun drinking his customers’ festive offerings from as early as five o’clock that morning, when a glass of wine had been left in a garden shed for him. He visited every pub they passed, making them very late. By ten o’clock, however, they were on the last lap, parked on Swindon Road, when a Morris Minor, heavily loaded with inebriated American airmen from the hospital at Burderop, ran at speed into the back of the van. David, delivering on the other side of the road at the time, ran over to where the van, now a wreck, had been shunted, mud and loaves covering the road. Dick was stretched full length across the pavement, the only thing that had saved his life being a rule that he made his children always observe. Vehicles in those days had only one red rear light, on the right-hand side of the vehicle. Dick always insisted that when standing at the back of the van, they always stand to the left so as not to obscure the rear light. The red rear light was smashed: had he not practised what he preached, the car would have crushed him against the back of the van. At the hospital, Dick was accused of drunk driving. David recalls, ‘They were put right by Fiery Alice, my mother, who said he could not be a drunk driver because he was not driving. I was.’ After Sheila had taken Wendy and Richard to her home, she helped David finish the bread round using a vehicle leant to them by a local butcher, while Alice went to the hospital. Having finished around midnight, David and Sheila returned the borrowed van, walked past the Roman Catholic Church and noted that they were well into their Midnight Mass. David had been working for nineteen hours. Dick happily returned home that same night and David even preached the Christmas Day Methodist service. Due back on camp at midday on 27th December, he managed another morning bread round before he returned.
This incredible work ethic shines through many stories about Preddy’s: just before his death, Grandfather Preddy was demolishing the long-empty pigsty at the back of the bakery, later to take to his bed and die. Reg Preddy came to work even when he was suffering severe pain from cancer. For some time after his death, it was thought by some that his ghost roamed the bakehouse: David, explaining the superstition of village men, said that George Morse and Dick were ‘certain that they could hear strange, disturbing noises in the loft above the bakery.’ They even took a ladder to the side of the bakery where the door was, high up above the road, but found nothing when they entered the loft. Dick did, however, maintain that he had seen Reg on the stairs of David and Sheila's home, and Richard, working alone in the bakery one night, saw something ghostly there when he was carrying a tray of cakes from the mixer room. He dropped the cakes and ran out, terrified. David said, ‘What he saw was never spoken about. Was it connected to Reg’s death? A Ghostly Reg?’
The end of the bread round
When George Morse retired in 1971, Preddy’s decided to drop all bread rounds and run the business from the bakery with Richard working full-time as a baker with Dick. At this point, the bakery had £12000 in the bank and things were going well: they enjoyed good sales and there were lots of customers.
However, when the new Wroughton Centre opened, one of the shops being a bakery, trade was inevitably impacted. Then, in 1975, the bakehouse was changed irrevocably. Dick’s daughter Wendy told me that, the morning before her father died, he went to the doctor and ‘said sweet words’ to Alice. His wife thought he sounded strange when he got up to start work, as usual, at 3.30am. He always stood in the bakehouse window but Alice could not see him there when she looked over that day. She walked over to the bakery to find him dead on the floor, following a heart attack. Wendy told me he ‘went with dough on his hands’, with his machinery still working diligently away around him. Just as he wanted, he died ‘in harness’. One of the most moving letters I received from David was one in which he wrote: ‘While I have been writing this I have to say that I have seen my father in a new light. I have been criticising him and misunderstanding him for far too long. I suddenly see that he had no grasping desire for wealth and his approach to life was one I should admire, not criticise.’ In another letter, David addressed his words, in part, to his father himself, ‘Father: Earlier, in one of these reflections on Preddy’s, I said that you were often not able to get customers to pay. I now think that, with your easy going character, you may have been paid without annoyance on either side. My way of extracting money from those who were not paying was one of confrontation and demand. I may have lost many customers by my attitude.’ Documenting the history of the bakery, David said, ‘has opened my eyes to him and made me see his worth as a man and as a father.’ In another, he wrote, ‘I have written about my father rather unfairly. Yes, he liked a drink, or several, but he was a very hardworking man, witty, humorous and intelligent. The bread he produced was delicious and the best I have ever tasted. He kept the business going because he was very much liked by his customers. It was after he died in 1975 that Preddy’s Bakery began its decline. I remember him with love.’
Reading each of his letters, it wasn’t a critical tone that I detected: the meticulously rendered portrait that David drew of his father - with his flapping raincoat, his fights with unruly cockerels, and the sheer devotion towards his trade - struck me as the close and tender observations of a son who, even when his own career took him away from the family business, always returned to support his father and family, ever respectful of and committed to his father’s work. David was driven by the same impulse that led to Dick becoming Master Baker in 1933: ‘Preddys stick together’. With clear pride, David signed off one letter as ‘David the baker’s son.’
The bread he produced was delicious and the best I have ever tasted.
Preddy’s after Dick’s death
By the time of Dick’s death, the bakery was losing money. Son Richard took over the bakery, living and caring for his mother Alice. When she was well enough, Alice also helped out, and David also worked at the bakery on Saturdays, starting at 4am. David writes, ‘Over the next ten years, Richard used every penny of his own savings and business money (if any) to prop up a failing business. He simply could not face working elsewhere.’ He continued baking loaves each day and my dad, ‘as someone brought up on Preddy’s bread’ would ‘naturally call in for a split top, sandwich or two.’ However, Richard’s heart was not in baking. My dad writes, ‘it was clear that this was the end of an era and each day sitting alone in the bakery, Richard cut a rather forlorn figure’. David says, ‘I do not blame him for getting out of his depth. He did his best but did not have the experience, interest or training that was necessary for success.’ The business went slowly downhill, sales falling and customers disappearing.
The bakery fire
During this difficult period for the business, in 1983 the bakery caught fire during the night and was severely damaged, particularly the roof. David reflects that this would have been a good opportunity to close the business down but, instead, six weeks later the refurbished bakery was reopened. David says, ‘The slide towards disaster was then more rapid. It turned out that the bakery was very much under insured. Richard had not checked before getting it repaired. Soon it was difficult to pay flour bills and the bank was jumping up and down. Closure or bankruptcy were inevitable.’
I knew that he was also reimagining his life in the Bakery, baking and delivering bread
The end of an era
Settling all bills and avoiding bankrupcy, Preddy’s closed in 1985 when it became clear that the business was no longer viable. To help fund Richard’s retirement, the land was sold to J and R Builders, Jim and Bob Patterson, of Wroughton. Two houses, number 1 and number 2 The Old Bakery, were built on the site. At the age of five, I moved to the site of the Old Bakery, my parents having purchased one of these houses. My dad reflects, ‘That I should end up living in one of those two houses always struck me as somewhat fitting for someone who had a close affinity with what had gone on there, at least during its last few years.’ With my siblings, I enjoyed visiting Richard and Mrs Preddy in Verandah Cottage. Mrs Preddy would always let us choose a chocolate treat from a tin, and she would talk about the bakery with my mother, to whom she proudly showed the airmail letters which contained words of praise about Preddy’s bread and her lardy cakes.
Alice had been very ill after her husband’s death, and she died on 8 January 1993, aged 84. My dad remained good friends with Richard: reminiscent of the banter enjoyed on the bread round, my dad would occasionally remove a particular green-hatted gnome from Richard’s garden, sending a letter to Richard a few days later from the gnome on holiday. My dad remembers often seeing Richard ‘sitting in his favourite upstairs room looking up Marlborough Road past where the Bakery used to be situated. Doing the bread round with him he would often tell me how as a child during the war, from that same room he remembered seeing the Lancaster Bombers that had taken off from Wroughton flying over the Bakery on another bombing mission. As well as still recalling those memories, I knew that he was also reimagining his life in the Bakery, baking and delivering bread, especially during its heyday when on Saturdays it was the mission of two red vans and its crews to keep Wroughton supplied with bread.’
Richard died from a heart attack on 26 July 2001, found sitting in his armchair with his radio still broadcasting.
A baking legacy
I wonder if locals felt the loss of the daily conversations, the warmth of the coke-fired oven, and the yeasty aroma that would have accompanied each visit to the bakery, or if the convenience of the likes of Vitality Bread superseded these pleasures that had been, no doubt, long taken for granted. France somehow retained the importance of the boulangerie at the centre of village life, even to this day, but there are signs - in the micro and independent bakeries that are cropping up in our communities - that Britain is starting to turn away from commercial bread and towards, once more, bread with substance and story. Perhaps, one day, Wroughton will once more be ‘one of those lucky places that has a real bakery’.
There are no bakers left in the Preddy family, according to David. ‘I have realised, as I was writing, that, strangely, my father never made any attempt to teach me the baking trade! I got involved in delivering by the age of ten, but never once used the dough mixer. I worked in the bakery at times but really only as an odd job man. I never fired the furnace or used a peel. This line of thought has never before come to me.’ Jon, David’s son, loved working in the bakery with his grandfather when he was a boy, but he was to become a firefighter. It has been a long time since David and his wife Sheila have been back to Wroughton, though their middle son, Paul, still lives there and may ‘give us a trip around the village at some point. (Perhaps not. Too many memories.)’.
In one letter, however, David told me he was ‘looking forward to going back over the years at the bakery’ and, in a later letter, said how the exercise had ‘certainly reminded me of what I was doing many years ago’. At times, he would write to express his ‘hope that what I have written so far has been useful and interesting’. David: I have immensely enjoyed reading your family history - I have not yet met you, but I feel that I know you from the voice in your letters. I became so invested in and moved by your beautifully told stories. Mostly, I have been struck by the sheer industry and hard work of your family. Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to write to me, and for trusting me with your family’s history. You mentioned that some in your family won’t know all of these details; I hope that this record can serve as a source of pride for the Preddy family.
Speaking with so many villagers, it is clear that Wroughton still misses Dick’s bakery. As its site is once again transformed - my childhood home has been demolished to make way for a new housing site - I was moved to document its rich history, before its stories are displaced by new ones. While the bakery’s recipes sadly haven’t survived, I have tried to recreate the lardy cake from the instructions that Mrs Preddy gave during Down Your Way, which I have named Preddy’s Lardy Cake in honour of the family. In this small way, I hope that the memory of Preddy’s bakery can continue on our tables today.
My sincere thanks goes to all who spoke to me and helped me while conducting this research. I am indebted to: