ID: ML2013_012_P54 / Ron Green

TitleAbberton Bakery

I recently received a telephone call from Terry Slowgrove, owner of Abberton Bakery informing me that it had been sold and the new owner was clearing it out that day. Would I like to come over and take anything we would like for our Mersea Museum?

The last time I had set foot in the bakery would have been in the 1960s when my father and I had carried out repairs to the old brick oven which we did on a regular basis. I had thought for a long time I would like to see what it looked like now having been unused for a long time. I contacted fellow Museum member and good friend David Green who shared my enthusiasm and came along with his camera. Marcus, the new owner was busy filling a large skip when we arrived and Terry came in to tell us that the last batch of bread came out of the oven some fifteen years ago and it was obvious that the emptied tins had been stacked and other items put in their place, the door was shut and and everything was left to gather dust of which there was plenty.

We were rather limited to what we could carry in my little hatchback and indeed what the Museum could store. We came away mostly with old ledgers, rounds books ( the bakery had vans delivering to surrounding villages) and one or two other small items that would give an insight into the workings of the bakery. Mersea Museum already has a number of items on loan which were part of our exhibition a couple of years ago. David took a lot of photos which have been downloaded onto the Museum data base in the Resourse Centre and can be viewed when it is open on selected Saturdays during the winter and, of course, during our summer season. The attached image shows the oven door. In order to carry out the repairs needed inside, a man had to be pushed through head first on his belly on several layers of flour sacks as insulation from the burning hot floor. Dad and I would take turns while the other hung on to his ankles ready to pull him out should he pass out through the intense heat.

The bakery was owned for over 100 years by the Smith family who also owned West Mersea mill and bakery. My wife Wendy's Gt Grandmother Mary Overall Smith was the owner a centuary ago. She had taken over the the businesses when her husband George Fredrick died in 1902 leaving her not only the businesses to run but thirteen surviving children to care for, the youngest being only three years old. She was obviously a very clever, hard working woman. Trade directories from between 1912 and 1825/26 show Smith, Mary O Mrs - baker. She had sold the Mersea business to her son Fred G. Smith in 1920 but obviously retained the Abberton bakery which was being run by her son Preston Grove Smith. My 1929 directory of Essex shows E. A. Smith as the baker at Abberton. Eddie Smith had bought the business from his mother an continued there until about 1948 when it passed to his nephew Nathan 'Si' Smith who was Preston's son.The two families swopped properties. Si, wife Beryl and daughter Christine were living in a bungalow in Suffolk Avenue, West Mersea. They moved out to the bakery and Eddie and his wife, always known as 'Aunt Baggie' to the family as her maiden name was Bagworth, moved into to the bungalow. David Green and I were near neighbours and knew the families very well - another reason we were both eager to visit the bakery. We were very pleased to hear that the old brick oven is to remain and now we are wondering how many others, if any, remain intact.

Article by Ron Green for Mersea Life December 2013, page 54.

AuthorRon Green
PublishedDecember 2013
SourceMersea Museum