Provincial Bakeries 


Courtesy Malcolm Cross


Courtesy Gary Dibley


......Lyons Bread........


Limited bread and baking activities had been undertaken at Olympia (the company's first headquarters) before Cadby Hall had been purchased. Some bread-making activities, especially for the outdoor catering events, had been undertaken in field kitchens-a skill which helped Lyons secure the contract for feeding the troops while they were on their manoeuvres between Hounslow Heath and the New Forest just before the Boer War. When Lyons took over Cadby Hall in 1894, bread-baking capacity was greatly enlarged and this was delivered from handcarts, for sale on a door-to-door basis. The Vienna rolls first introduced into the teashops also became popular with the growing clientele of bread buyers. Such a heavy demand was placed on the Cadby Hall bakeries that by 1899 it became necessary to expand their capacity. Six new ovens were installed and formed part of what became known as the Vienna Bakery. Vienna bread was produced in static ovens with sloping soles (surfaces), enabling the dough to be loaded under a ceiling of steam. When the steam was withdrawn, the dry heat of the oven baked the starch, thereby producing the characteristic high glaze and thin crusts of Vienna bread and rolls. Undoubtedly it was this method of baking which prompted Lyons to lay claim to a 'steam bakery', a term which appeared on a hoarding outside the factory entrance.

The new baking ovens operated day and night to meet the additional demand from the catering establishments and their associated retail outlets. Door-to-door sales grew progressively, and the handcarts were soon augmented by horse-drawn vans which were able to operate within a wider radius from the factory. By 1900 the local door-to-door delivery fleet numbered eleven handcarts and five horse-drawn vans of the type where the driver was exposed to the weather on an outside 'dickey' seat. By 1905 the number of journeys from Cadby Hall had grown to thirty, all operating within a five-mile radius. To meet the increasing demands from the suburbs, bread depots opened at Crystal Palace, Brixton, Highbury and Croydon. From these centres the rounds developed with similar success.

By 1913 demand again outstripped capacity and it became necessary to build another baking block housing what was known as a Titanic travelling oven, which displaced the draw-plate method in use up to this time. The draw-plate method had gone some way towards automating the production of bread in that the whole baking surface of the oven could be withdrawn to allow bread tins to be loaded or unloaded very much faster. This replaced the earlier static oven system in which bakers manually loaded or unloaded bread tins into the baking chamber by use of peels or spatulas. Incorporating a continuous-belt action, the Titanic oven enabled bread to be made on true production-line principles. Prepared dough was placed on the steel belt, in sandwich tins, and taken mechanically, at the appropriate pace, through the heated chamber, appearing as cooked bread at the other end of the production line, where the loaves were discharged down chutes into a packing area ready for dispatch. This was a more efficient process than the conventional draw-plate system, and when a second Titanic oven was added, with automatic machines for weighing and cutting dough, the output from the bakery increased to 10,000 loaves an hour.

There is some doubt as to the exact date when the next phase of bread distribution started, that of the wholesale sales. It has been suggested that agents had first contacted Lyons before 1914 to buy bread in bulk to sell on to their customers. Other evidence suggests the process did not start until 1914. In any event the real transition from door-to-door sales to part-wholesale selling did not properly begin until 1922. Then, two vans with a nucleus of some ten dealers started to build from the East End of London and from there the service extended to cover the whole of outer London by the start of the Second World War. Meanwhile, the traditional horse-drawn vans continued to ply their routes radially from Cadby Hall, but this service declined as the wholesale and retail trades matured through agents and the teashops. Nevertheless, by 1920 each morning 200 horse-drawn vans, of varying sizes, were radiating from Cadby Hall and returning later to the extensive stabling facilities.

Bread-wrapping and bread-slicing machines were introduced and yet more ovens installed. With the introduction of motorised transport the wholesale trade expanded outside London, distributing from provincial catering establishments. Despite the huge output of bread from the Cadby Hall factories, more than 80 per cent of the nation's bread continued to be supplied by local craft bakers. As these small operations had modest overheads, with little or no transport or labour costs, they were able to provide bread that was not only inexpensive but fresh. In urban and thickly populated areas the balance of advantage rested therefore, with the craft baker who 'established price equilibrium' during the 1920s. Since the cost of retail distribution amounted to about 16 per cent of the price paid by the consumer for bread (1923 figures), Lyons decided to open provincial bakeries in Brighton, Bristol, Liverpool and Margate in the period leading up to the Second World War.

At the outbreak of the Second World War the government took steps to control the milling and bread-making industry. From October 1941 until September 1956 national bread was subsidised and its price was rigidly controlled; 8d. until October 1942, and then 9d. until 1946. The government was also concerned with the potential disruption of bread production and distribution in the event of air-raid damage to factories or to the supply of gas, water, electricity and transport. To prepare for such eventuality, the Emergency Bread Scheme was introduced in May 1940. In the London area this was co-ordinated by Area Bread Officers whose appointments were honorary) in collaboration with the baking industry itself. The Bread Officers were expected to ensure that bread was produced whatever the difficulties, so as to prevent a breakdown of normal supplies which the government feared would severely damage morale. Throughout the war the public, at least in London, never lacked bread supplies except for a few hours after the heaviest air raids. The success of the scheme was partly due to the efficiency of the bakers but mainly because every bakery had spare capacity as a result of cuts in cake production through shortages of ingredients. In November 1940 the system was comprehensively tested when the city of Coventry suffered one of the most intensive bombings of the war. All services were cut off and the transport systems crippled. Bread baking in the city was impossible. Nevertheless, no one in the city went without bread, since the bakeries in other Midlands towns, notably Leicester and Birmingham, stepped up their production to maximum capacity. These bakers worked long hours until after a few days a small bakery was again able to operate in Coventry. Similar instances occurred when Swansea, Bath and Liverpool were bombed. Two million loaves were supplied to Liverpool from outside bakeries on the morning after a heavy raid on the port. The Cadby Hall bakeries were fortunate in that they came through the war period unscathed. Being so close to much of the devastation in London, they were able to make a positive contribution to feeding the nation.

In July 1946 bread was rationed for the first time in British history, even though Europe had been at peace for over a year. This followed a disastrous shortage of world grain: the United Kingdom's import of wheat was reduced by 250,000 tons in the first half of 1946. It was also necessary to feed 30 million Germans, for whom famine loomed after the collapse of their agriculture. Bread supplies were not rigorously controlled, but its quality was adversely affected by the progressive restrictions that had been imposed during the war years. Despite these problems, Lyons' manufacturing divisions gradually improved their performance to the extent that a new bread plant opened at Tottenham in 1951.Other new bread factories followed at Bristol, Crawley, Chessington and Eastleigh. The Brighton factory too became a provincial bakery. The opening of these bakeries provoked a violent reaction from some quarters of the trade, since local bakers felt their own markets might be threatened and the National Association of Master Bakers organised a series of mass protest meetings. Government control of the milling industry ended at midnight on 29 August 1953, freeing the baking industry from all restraints and allowing white bread to be produced after thirteen years of control. The National Association of Master Bakers announced that the recommended price for the new 14oz white loaf was to be 5.5d. in London and 6d. in most other parts of the country.

By 1953 Lyons were classified as the third largest producer of bread in the UK, while Allied Bakeries and the Co-operative Wholesale Society enjoyed a huge lead. With the demise of the small craft baker, the bread (and cake industry) began to consolidate into a few large producers. Concerned that their margins might be threatened by the bakeries, the milling industry sought to secure their markets. Rank and Spillers began diversifying by forming their own baking companies, which became known as British Bakeries and United Bakeries respectively. Before the war Lyons had gained a good reputation with its Puriti Wrapped Bread. With no artificial ingredients, just flour, yeast, lard, salt and water, it was highly popular, especially since it could be conveniently bought in all teashops. After the war, Lyons' national brand was Superbread. During the 1950s, competition from Mother's Pride and Sunblest became so intense that by 1960 Lyons' bread-making position had slipped to fifth place, accounting for only 1 per cent of the national market, although its share in London and Bristol, where the main bread factories were situated, was higher. Traditionally Lyons had favoured the cake market, not only because of its longer shelf life but because there was greater scope for innovation, allowing higher profit margins. From the table it can be seen that profits from cake outstripped bread profits enormously between 1949 and 1964.


Lyons' loss of market share in bread was due not only to competition but to a number of factors. Unlike some of their rivals Lyons objected to paying the vast sums of money that were needed to acquire regional bread bakeries in order to boost market share. Lyons had already invested heavily in a new bread plant, and in any case were reluctant to enter into the retail bread trade for fear it might alienate their wholesale traders. Closure of some of the teashops had also reduced the volume of bread being sold through the front shops. With Lyons' stranglehold on the more profitable cake market, the effort expended in increasing bread sales had diminishing returns. As to milling, Lyons had always preferred to buy their flour from a diversity of suppliers because their vast consumption helped them obtain the keenest price.

The bread-manufacturing department of Lyons formally became the Bread Division in 1963 under Brian Salmon. He continued the process, started in 1962 to improve profitability, of decentralising some of the new bread factories which had opened in Bristol, Crawley and elsewhere by giving management control of their own production, distribution and accounting. Bread sales, however, were now only modest in volume, just about meeting budgeted forecasts. While the national consumption of bread remained static, Lyons could increase its share of the total market only by relentlessly pursuing efficiency in production and distribution. The quality of bread had improved enormously since the 1950s, but this did not stop consumers from complaining that it was not as good as bread in the past. Management, on the other hand, were convinced that the public had never enjoyed such a wide choice and such a high standard of bread.

By 1967 Lyons were producing over fifty varieties of bread and continuing to diversify. In a foray into the developing slimmers' market, the Bread Division brought out a high-protein, low-calorie loaf called Slim-Vita, which was made from stoneground wholemeal flour and baked at a lower temperature than other bread. In March 1968 at Cadby Hall, under the Bakery Sector chairman Christopher Salmon and the Bread Division chief executive Robin Salmon, a new bread roll plant came on stream. Costing £250,000, it was capable of producing up to 18,000 rolls or buns every hour. Later that year a similar plant was installed at the Eastleigh bread depot, which made a variety of bread rolls and buns, but specialised in Vienna rolls and other types of crusty bread which had become popular in southern England.

However, as Lyons had such a tiny share of the UK bread market as a whole, in June 1969 management decided to hand over its bread-making business to J. W. French and at the same time reinforce Lyons' influence in Celebrity Holdings by acquiring the outside shareholders' interests. Thus J. W. French & Co. Ltd became a fully owned subsidiary into which Lyons transferred its Bread Division for £2.5 million on 31 March 1969.

See also Provincial Bakeries.


 © Peter Bird 2002