Where did the villagers get their bread? They might have bought it at one of the shops – or elsewhere. They might have baked it themselves. It also appears that large-scale baking was taking place on in the village.
The early 1800s documentation about the Mill includes references to them having a “Baking Office”. After all, they were producing one of the principal ingredients at their own establishment. However, in the later 1800s the mill changed hands twice whilst we have not seen references to on-site baking in any later mill documents.
The R D Day Ledger provides information about two families who must have been involved with commercial village baking during the 1880s.
The first of these is William Bunn who was one of R D Day’s account customers. (There was also a village fishmonger called William Fish – but that’s all we know!)
Between November 1886 and April 1888 the Ledger tells us William Bunn bought about 2 tons of flour from R D Day.
The ledger describes most of this being delivered in 10 stone sacks – about 140lbs to the sack. By our estimates, that is enough flour to bake about 100 loaves per week.
The census records of 1881 and 1891 show that William Bunn was living at a property on the Turnpike with his wife, Sarah. Both census documents describe William as an agricultural labourer but does not reference any occupation against Sarah’s name. We might presume that she baked the bread – and, when he wasn’t labouring for a farmer, he was moving the huge sacks of flour!
The second R D Day account customer buying large quantities of flour was Thomas Bell snr.
There were two Bell families in Wreningham, at the time. We are presuming this “snr” Bell is the one who had married Hannah Day – and who was 24 years younger than him.
From the quantities of flour they bought – nearly one ton per year for just over 3 years, we might presume Hannah Bell was baking a more modest 80 loaves per week.
Incidentally, Thomas and Hannah Bell appear to have been the grandparents of Margaret Preston. In the early 1990s Margaret was hugely generous to the village by part-funding the village hall extension – which is why the hall’s Margaret Preston Room is so-named.
In those days, it was common for people to have more than one job. However, the census enumerator was an “official” – and people avoided disclosing sensitive information to “officials”. Perhaps the informal baking of bread (for money) was potentially sensitive?
As we have not seen any records about R D Day’s suppliers, the great unknown is who sold flour to him. He might have bought it from the Wreningham mill. If so, why did the Bunn and Bell customers not cut out the middleman and go directly to the mill for a potentially “better deal”? We can see from the Ledger that each one paid R D Day very regularly, so it probably wasn’t a credit issue. We will probably never know.
As part of the Victorian Jubilee booklet, Robert D Day published a history of the retail price of flour – as sold by him and his father, at their shop, during its (then) 40 years of continuous trading.
Shown here is just the first of their four page listing! Prices are given for a 1 stone weight – just over 6kg. (The idea of just popping down to the shop to carry home about 6kg of flour needs a bit of thinking about. Perhaps the shop provided some “help”?)
The constantly changing prices suggest there is more to this than the success, or otherwise, of the previous year’s harvest etc.
As we have noted elsewhere, agricultural prices were also greatly impacted by lower cost imports from North America during the second half of the 1800s.
Not all village bread was prepared “commercially”. Unsurprisingly, some villagers baked their own. Here are modern photographs of an original bread oven and chimney at Fir Grove. It’s incorporated into an annex at the rear of the farmhouse – with the bread oven built into the side of an open fire.