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Food shopping, early 20th century

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Bakers shops in the early 20th century

By the webmaster’s mother, 1906-2002 based on her experiences as a child in north London

Bakers' cakes

Bakers did not make or sell cream cakes in the early 20th Century when I was a child. The two cakes that I associated with them were long oblong shortbreads with a cherry in the centre and something called rice cakes. These were very plain that had crystallised sugar sprinkled on top, again with a cherry in the centre.

Bakers' bread

The bread was cooked in the bakery at the back of the shop. It was a lovely sight to see the baker come into the shop wearing a cap and white apron and carrying a tray of hot bread on top of his head, and the smell was wonderful. The bread was lovely, crusty and its tasty. Most of it was white; there was some brown but white was much more popular.

Bread makeweights

The unsold bread

Guest contribution

Any left over bread would be sold the next day as 'stale bread'. Once it got too hard to sell, it would go back to the bakery to be made into bread pudding or sold as 'crumb' to butchers to bulk out their sausages. My mother knew all the tricks of the bread trade.

Peter Johnson

During the 1914-18 war bread had to be sold by weight, rather than by loaf, so it had to be weighed. If the loaf was supposed to be two pounds, and it fell short, the shop had little squares of bread about two inches across that were called makeweights. Usually only one would ever be required. In those days when the children went to fetch the bread, it was quite normal for them to eat the makeweight on the way home.

The bakers dozen

Makeweights bring to mind the 'baker's dozen' which was 13 of a baker's wares given when the customer paid for only a dozen which was 12. The practice seems to have passed into disuse in the 20th century, unless you know differently.

Some typical bakers' shops

There were two bakers shops along Silver Street in my home town of Edmonton when I was a child in the early 1900s and both were owned by Germans which seems not to have been at all unusual in other towns.

Breyers Bakery

Old photo of Breyers bakery in Silver Street Edmonton, 2 of 2

Two old photos of Breyers bakery*

Old photo of Breyers bakery in Silver Street Edmonton, 1 of 2

I well rememb­er the baker whose name sounded to me like Brayer. His wife served in the front of the shop and he would come in from the back where he had been baking carrying a tray of loaves on his head. He was very fat. His wife never made conversation and her appearance was like that of so many women of the time: a long skirt, tight bodice, hair loosely taken away from her face and coiled onto the top of her head in a bun. She kept the bun covered with a white bun cover.

Information on Breyer's bakers from the 1911 census

The 1911 census shows that my mother's memory was absolutely right:

Christian Breyer, 45, master baker, was born Kupfernzel Germany and lived at 123 Silver Street, (presumably above his shop) with his wife Ellen Elizabeth Breyer, 49, born Devizes, Wiltshire. No children were recorded but two servants assisted with the business.

Ungerer's bakery

The name of the other German baker sounded like Hungerer. He had an assistant who helped in the shop and I have good reason to remember her. One day I went in there with my friends and on the counter was a large tray of homemade toffee, broken up for sale. One of my friends said, "I dare you to take a piece". It wasn't like me, but as nobody seemed to be around, I did. In a flash the assistant appeared and said, "You can put that back." and, "I'll tell your father of you". I was really scared because I thought she really would tell my father who was well known in Edmonton. He was an ambulance driver for the hospital and nephew of E G Cole who was chair of the Board of Guardians and owner of the local Pottery. In fact she never did tell on me, but I lived in fear for days.

Information on Ungerer's bakers from the 1911 census

Note from the webmaster

bakers delivery handcart, early 20th century

Ungerer's baker's delivery hand cart**

Tap/click for a larger image and note the shapes of the loaves that the men are holding, which were normal for the time.

The 1911 census again shows that my mother's memory was absolutely right:

Charles Ungerer, 43, baker and confectioner, a German resident, lived at 83 Silver Street with his wife Frances Ungerer, 37, born Pimlico, and their sons Christian, 13, born Southwark, Bernard, 9, born Southwark, Frank, 3, born Edmonton and Alice, 1, born Edmonton. Their daughter Amy, 5, was born in Edmonton. 83 Silver Street was part of the large houses in Pymmes Villas, so the family's shop must have been elsewhere in Silver Street.

Curnock's bakery

Note from the webmaster

I am puzzled that my mother does not mention a third baker in Silver Street - Curnocks. According to the 1911 census, Alfred John Kurnock of Edmonton was born about 1856 in the city of London, and his son, Earnest Alfred Curnock, was born in Edmonton about 1884. The family was therefore trading before my mother was born and was also trading for decades afterwards.

All the images on the rest of the page are courtesy of Tony Curnock

Guest contribution

History of Curnock's bakeries

My grandfather Alfred Curnock took over the bakery premises at 27 Silver Street from James Kilsby in 1898, as is evidenced by the document on the right. It enlarges to a legible size on tap/click.

The family was still trading through the 1930s, as shown by the advert on the left, from a late 1930s newsletter from Tanners End Mission, and they continued until the 1950s. It too opens to a legible size on tap/click.

During this time, they had opened a second shop in Fore Street, Edmonton

Tony Curnock

Bakery shop front about 1910 UK

Curnock's bakery shop at 27 Silver Street about 1910. Note the gas lamp hanging over the shop window.

Baker's hand cart delivery, about 1920, UK

A Curnock's delivery by handcart about 1920

Bakers horse and wagon delivery 1929 UK

A Curnock's delivery by horse and wagon, 1929


If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.

Page based on the recollections and notes of the webmaster's mother (1906-2002) with additional research and editorial work by the webmaster

Text and images are copyright

*Photo courtesy of the Scarff family, probably taken around the time when George Scarff (1889-1960) was the bakery delivery boy.
**Photo courtesy of a family member who prefers to remain anonymous. Charles Ungerer, who is understood to have had a strong German accent is on the left and the man on the right could be an assistant.


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