Department Index

Princess Elizabeth visits. Photo 1951

Princess Elizabeth's wedding cake

Princess Alexandra's wedding cake


Ornamental Department

The Ornamental Department was part of the Bakery Department and they specialised in making wedding, christening and iced cakes for special occasions. Their motto must have been quality and not quantity as there was no belt conveying an endless stream of cakes from one end of the room to the other. Experiments on these lines had been attempted but the intricate workmanship required for the decoration of a wedding cake calls for a skilled craftsman, even an artist. Neither could the work be shared for it was found more satisfactory for each cake to be decorated by one person. Where other departments impressed their visitors with thousands of cakes and loaves and miles of Swiss rolls, the Ornamental Department claimed only to make about twenty completed cakes each day. A modest claim until one inspected the finished products.

Their cakes had real beauty, large or small, their design was proportionate to their size, and there was a choice of design and price to suite all tastes and pockets. They ranged from a single tier cake at £2. 10s.(1951 price) to magnificent three tier beauties costing very much more. The large cakes were often in two colours, with tinted plaques bearing Wedgwood figures. These plaques were all made from icing sugar, the figures moulded separately and laid carefully on the plaques, a job involving great care and delicacy of touch. Some of the tracery which edged the cakes looked as fine as a frosted cobweb, and the finished work was worthy of a lengthy and admiring inspection.

Christening cakes were also produced here although they were of a less elaborate design in keeping with a more homely occasion. The fruit cake for wedding and christening cakes were mixed and baked in the Cake Bakery, and only came to the Ornamental Department for icing and decoration. The skilled decorators of the department were only about five in number, and their skill had been acquired during long service with the company, all having over twenty-fives years service. An apt pupil may have been able to pick up the rudiments of the art in about three months but it took many years to acquire the artistry of Frank Jacobs, who led these craftsmen. He designed most of the works himself in sugar. Among the photographs of cakes made in the department was one of a birthday cake with a sugar round-about on top that actually worked. There was a model of a cinematograph with pictures of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and another of a golf course, complete with golfer made for James Braid, the foremost golfer of his day. One of the most amusing was a model of a Swiss Roll factory built on Heath Robinson principles with the sponge mixture being put through a mangle.

The Ornamental Department was proud of its royal connections. It had decorated cakes for four royal weddings, those of Princess Elizabeth, Princess Mary, the Duchess of Kent, the Duchess of Gloucester, Princess Margaret and Princess Alexandra. One of the finest pieces produced was the wedding cake for Princess Elizabeth. It was in Wedgwood blue and white with Wedgwood vases made specially by the pottery firm. During her visit to Cadby Hall she had an interesting conversation with Frank Jacobs on cake decoration and was particularly delighted with his model of HMS Vanguard, made just before the royal family left for South Africa.

Wedding and christening cakes could be bought by staff who received generous discount, more so if both man and fiance worked for the firm. Birthday cakes were also made for all Nippys and each was presented with one on the anniversary date of their formation (1 January 1925).




© Peter Bird 2005