Flourishing bakers created smells of yesteryear

BEFORE OUR TIME...Bells Road in Gorleston, possibly a century ago.Picture: PETER JONES COLLECTION

BEFORE OUR TIME...Bells Road in Gorleston, possibly a century ago.Picture: PETER JONES COLLECTION - Credit: Archant

FORGET those “looks like butter” substitutes prolific in supermarkets nowadays because despite their appearance, to the Peggotty palate none tastes even close to the real thing. I have never knowingly eaten margarine.

STAND BY YOUR VANS! Bullards’ staff ready to start delivering the daily bread.Picture: SUBMITTED

STAND BY YOUR VANS! Bullards’ staff ready to start delivering the daily bread.Picture: SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

Yes, today deserves the only best for the best; creamy dairy butter to spread on a knife-cut slice of a good old-fashioned loaf - the real McCoy, figuratively speaking!

Recollections of postwar loaves were jogged by my recent feature about Mrs Peggotty acquiring a bread-making machine (we haven’t bought a loaf for six months) and memories of the many bakers large and small that once flourished in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston.

From one of those family bakers came a message to say: “It was wonderful reading your article about bakeries in the Yarmouth area. It brought back lots of memories of my childhood being in our family bakehouse.”

My correspondent was 88-year-old Donnie Bullard, once of Bullards’ Bakeries on Nile Road in Gorleston. He continues: “Our bread was baked in a good old-fashioned side-flu oven fired with coal.

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Don Bullard, now 88, who loved his years in the bakery business.Picture: SUBMITTE

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Don Bullard, now 88, who loved his years in the bakery business.Picture: SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

“It used to be lovely going into the bakery at 4-5am and getting that wonderful smell of fresh-baked bread and rolls etc, then having to go out in all sorts of weather to deliver on a good old-fashioned trade bike (one with a pannier in which to carry goods).

“They were tough days, but enjoyable, though!”

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Donald Bullard, born in Nile Road in 1926 but now living in Elm Avenue in Gorleston, tells me: “My grandfather, Frederick Bullard, started the business in the 1800s and it was passed down to my father, Stanley, then on to my brothers Ernest and Bert and me. But Ernest and Bert emigrated to Australia many years ago, leaving me and Dad to run the business.

“Eventually we sold the property to Carman in 1954 and the business to Matthes. The place is now Koi Joi, fish supplier.

“My grandfather bought the sweet shop in Bells Road which is still there. It used to be run by my grandmother, Ada. Also, the gents’ hairdresser in Bells Road on the corner of South Road was owned by my grandfather and run by my Uncle Percy Bullard.”

He goes on to mention some of the other family bakers who were in business in the borough decades ago - “Don Stone, in Gorleston High Street; Watson, in Howard Street; Westbrook, in High Street; Benge, in Bells Road; Bales, in Northgate Street..and one named Archer, called ‘the Midnight Baker’ as he would be delivering bread on his bike sometimes at ‘pm’ by the light of a hurricane lamp!”

I must confess that before I started a Saturday job as an errand boy for greengrocer and fruiterer Fred Mitchell and his wife Ivy in Bells Road in the early 1950s, I had to bike every Saturday morning to that busy road to queue at a baker Westbrook (a Bullard competitor) to buy vanilla slices or jam puffs for my mother.

Presumably because there was still some food rationing, Westbrook’s output of these two varieties of pastries was limited, and it was first-come, first-served. Those too far down the queue had to be content with less exciting fare, like congress tarts (always dubbed “concrete tarts” by my father) and jam tarts...

Don Bullard, who certainly recalls my Mitchells’ shop in Bells Road (“next to Benge’s the baker”), did military service with the Royal Norfolk Regiment towards the end of the war, serving in Burma and India.

After the Bullard family relinquished their bakery, he became an insurance agent with the Prudential. In retirement, pursuits include involvement in the administration of Gorleston Parish Church.

Bells Road once bustled with diverse businesses, some boosted by catering for the nearby small hotels and guest houses that thrived during the holiday season. Nowadays it looks comparatively quiet on my occasional drive along it, perhaps a victim of the powerful supermarkets,

I delved into a 1952 Kelly’s Directory (a year when I was the Mitchells’ delivery lad) which confirmed the diversity and abundance of traders there, most long gone but chord-striking for older generations.

Here are some: John Tarrant (sports goods, games, toys), JH Tyrrell (fishmonger), Harold Hudson (electrical and radio engineers); Mrs M Blake (drug store), Peacock and Caston (hardware), Divers (wines, spirits), Barclays Bank sub-branch, H Savory (fruit merchant), Mrs Stewart (wool), Charles Blyth (dairyman), Arthur Young (hairdresser), F Bailey (market gardener), CH Cooke (bootmakers), Ridley’s Restaurant, GW Ward (boot repairer), JD and CO Johnson (greengrocers), Artis (fish curer), Westbrook (baker, pastrycook), JO Wells (butcher), Wynne Robinson (ladies outfitter), GF Kirby’s Empire Fruit Stores, Maison Joyce (Miss JE Westbrook, hairdresser), J Cooke (upholsterer), National Provincial Bank sub-branch, Whittington (baker), AW Browne’s Gorleston Pet Stores (and garden supplies), Black (motor engineer), Bussey (grocer), Bellamy (butcher), Miss EL Leggett (draper), Robert Robinson (confectioner), PR Hill (chemist), Hopkinson Brothers (dyers, cleaners), Mrs HE Key (china), The Granta Bureau (printers, stationers), Eagle and Green (drapers), Tilsley (hardware), Ernest Spain (newsagent), JH Edney (haberdashery), Bessey and Palmer (coal merchant), C Williams (ladies hairdresser)...

Despite the length of Bells Road, its commercial importance to Gorleston in those days and the number and range of trade premises and private homes lining it, anybody fancying a pint to pass away a convivial hour or two were not well served.

When penning today’s feature, I almost concluded that Bells Road was a pub-free zone. Don Bullard shared my feeling that it had lacked a pub.

But then I remembered that it did have a small, almost insignificant, public house – the Royal Albert, between Lower Cliff Road and Englands Lane. In the Fifties the Royal Albert, a Lacons house, was run by Arthur Bowles, described in the street directory as a beer retailer with no mention of his pub which was listed only by its street number. In the late Seventies Mrs R Bowles was the beer retailer there

Today Bells Road has no pub, the Royal Albert having been demolished in the Seventies. New homes named Albert Terrace were built on the site.