The sweet smell of childhood memories

ANNIVERSARY CAKES: pastry-cooks at work in Matthes bakery in Gorleston in 1948, the year the company

ANNIVERSARY CAKES: pastry-cooks at work in Matthes bakery in Gorleston in 1948, the year the company celebrated its golden jubilee. - Credit: Archant

It has become one of the top dozen popular quotations in cinema history, spoken by Hollywood actor Robert Duvall as a high-ranking American officer in the 1979 epic film about the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now. His character declared: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning!”

DOORSTEP DELIVERIES: one of the Matthes fleet of horse-drawn carts.

DOORSTEP DELIVERIES: one of the Matthes fleet of horse-drawn carts. - Credit: Archant

Here in Peggotty’s Hut in Gorleston, where neither Mrs Peggotty nor I are early risers unless we have places to go or people to see, there is a new incentive to getting up – the delicious smell of freshly baked bread wafting through from the kitchen.

I love the smell of home-made bread in the morning!

Last autumn, one of our sons sent her a domestic breadmaker as a gift. As there are only the two of us at home and our bread consumption is therefore quite small,

I regarded it as an indulgent waste of money whereas Mrs Peggotty was thrilled to bits, excitedly removed it from its box and immediately began studying the instruction book in earnest.

LONG GONE! Purdy's baker's shop and coffee bar in Great Yarmouth Market Place, next to Palmer's depa

LONG GONE! Purdy's baker's shop and coffee bar in Great Yarmouth Market Place, next to Palmer's department store. The premises were sold to the Halifax Building Society in 1972. - Credit: Archant


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Acquiring flour, yeast and other ingredients was no problem although there was a bit of a glitch because the instructions said a special thermometer was needed.

A tour of likely retailers in Great Yarmouth and Norwich proved to be in vain, but she carried on regardless and eagerly produced her first loaf. A little fine tuning, and the second was perfect, just the right size and a pleasure to eat.

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She experimented until she produced an off-white loaf to suit both our tastes. Every two or three days when the bread bin is looking empty, she replenishes it.

Getting the streamlined electronic machine up and running takes her only a few minutes, and the kneading and mixing and baking is all done at the press of a switch and a push of a button or two.

It takes about three hours from start to loaf.

But after learning from a friend in Caister about his routine, she decided to use the breadmaker’s delayed-action timer, preparing everything before we went to bed so it automatically came to life and its cycle ended more-or-less at our wake-up time.

What resulted was that intoxicating aroma of newly-baked bread filtering through to the bedroom, an incentive to roll out of the duvet and head through to the kitchen to empty the dormant Morphy Richards machine of its content, inhale deeply, and make a morning cup of tea.

Only once has that system failed: pressing the wrong button late at night caused the machine to start immediately instead of programming the delayed-action...so we had to put the alarm clock on for the approximate finish time in the small hours so we could go through, remove the new-baked loaf to prevent it from becoming soggy, and switch everything off.

Until the acquisition of the bread-maker, we usually bought mass-produced medium-sliced wrapped bread at supermarkets, interspersed occasionally with a “traditional” treat from, say, The Bradwell Butchery, a Yarmouth market stall, or long-established (certainly before 1937) Bales in Northgate Street, depending on where we happened to be.

But all have lost our custom with the advent of our new “toy” and we have not bought a single loaf for about three months.

Perhaps one day we will go to a shop and buy a harvest granary brown, or a conventional medium white sliced, just to remind us of all those decades before the Morphy Richards - which requires little after-bake cleaning, by the way – came into Peggotty’s Hut.

Another slice, anyone? Or a toast to technology?

It is all a far cry from my Gorleston boyhood in the mid-1940s when bread was still rationed.

Occasionally my mother would buy a loaf and pastries from family baker and confectioner Westbrook’s in Bells Road, but our usual supplier was Matthes who delivered to customers’ doors.

Thrice weekly the Matthes roundsman called in his horse-drawn cart, bringing bread and a sparse selection of cakes to our front door in his big basket.

The only downside was the blind end of West Avenue where our family house stood was also the horse’s regular lavatory...

Matthes, with its famed Sunshine Bread, had a large bakery in England’s Lane, Gorleston, employing many staff and running a fleet of delivery vehicles. With satellite bakeries and shops, it covered much of East Anglia, and also had restaurants (one in England’s Lane with a meeting room above it, one in Yarmouth town centre, for example).

The business founded in 1898, was the national pioneer of the wrapped loaf in 1923, was acquired by Spillers Foods in 1974 and closed four years later.

The runner-up in the bakery size stakes hereabouts was probably Purdy’s.

During much of the 20th century, the neighbourhood family baker’s shop was a common sight but, like other similar one-man and family businesses, was ousted by the arrival from the United States of the supermarket retailing everything on the housewife’s weekly shopping list – and much more besides.

Out of curiosity, I looked through two old local Kelly’s Street Directories for the Yarmouth district.

In 1937 there were 33 so-called small baker’s shops in urban Yarmouth and Gorleston, plus nine belonging to Matthes and eight to Purdy’s, a total of 50. In 1972 that figure had dropped to a dozen, plus eight of Matthes’.

No shops were listed for Purdy’s, only its North Quay bakery.

The current telephone directory mentions only half a-dozen baker’s shops but perhaps mobile phones have replaced landlines and thus limited the number of listed premises.

Harking back to 1972, Purdy Foods sold its prime Market Place premises to the Halifax Building Society for £207,000.

Purdy’s had also boasted a Kenya Coffee Bar but, when it shut, neighbouring Palmer’s opened its coffee room in 1967.

Interestingly, a recent Mercury’s Letters to the Editor section included a photograph of the 3ft 6in high trio of polished wooden bakers/ chefs figurines that stood above Purdy’s shop doorway in the Market Place for years and have long been decorating Linda Howkins’ interior garage wall in Hoveton.

Ooops, apologies for the slip last week over the character Victor Meldrew. Must have been a senior moment, and not spotted by my junior proof-reading colleagues.

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