Newdigate Bake House – Dismantling by the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum

Just to the south of Wirmwood/Zieglers and on the site of Chestnut Cottage stood a small building which many years ago served as the bakehouse for the village. The structure itself was of interest as it had undergone a series of changes and additions since it was first erected. The left-hand side was timber framed and dated from the seventeenth century. It had a wide door and ripple-stoned floor and it probably served as an abattoir for the butcher’s shop. (This shop is now the front room of Wirmwood and it is still possible to see the meat hooks around the porch, and the extra wide door for carrying in the sides of meat)

Wirmwood
Wirmwood

In the eighteenth century a bread oven was built next to the abattoir but it must have fallen into disuse because there is no mention of a baker in the 1841 census. However, towards the end of the nineteenth century the oven part was demolished, as it was probably worn out, and rebuilt. This could be seen as there were two types of brickwork in evidence – Flemish bond in the older and English bond in the later parts. The bakery was operated in the early part of the twentieth century by Walter Carpenter.

The bakehouse again fell into disuse in the 1930s, due to competition from Whittinghams in what is now called the ‘Old Bakery’ opposite. Similarly, no doubt, the abattoir was disused much earlier due to the opening in about 1905 of the larger slaughterhouse behind Forester Villas (Bob’s Shop).

Since bread had last been baked the building was used solely for storage and it had deteriorated and fallen into disrepair. Next to this building was a workshop which was probably used by James Farindon as a cobblers or shoe-making shop. By 1850 he had taken over from his father-in-law, James Humphrey, as grocer at the village store (now Zieglers) and his family remained there until Alfred Dean took over in the 1890s.

In 1988 the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum, led by Richard Harris, systematically dismantled both buildings.  A detailed drawing was completed and every brick, stone and tile was numbered to coincide with the drawing. Polyurethane was pumped into the oven and as the bricks were removed the perfect pattern was created by the mold. Mortar was analysed to establish exactly where the sand came from.

The buildings still remains in the museum’s collection waiting to be re-erected and the bakehouse is illustrated in the book entitled ‘Building History, Weald & Downland Open Air Museum, 1970-2010 – the first forty years’ edited by Diana Zeuner.

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In the Autumn 2016 issue of the Weald and Downland Living Museum magazine it was recorded that the bakery had been scheduled for funding. Re-building started in 2017 and is should be complete in April 2018.

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In 1988 John and Bob Carpenter the late sons of the baker Walter Carpenter (1877-1962) were interviewed about their father’s working life:

Flour was delivered in two hundredweight sacks from Wonham Mill and stored in a room adjacent to the bakehouse. At about seven o’clock in the evening Walter would walk from his cottage in Kingsland to the bakehouse and commence work. He mixed the dough by hand in a large bin, estimating the quantities of yeast and water required, by experience and ‘feel’. He would then go home for a while to allow the dough time to rise. Later that evening he would form the dough into about 120 loaves – he made Coburgs, Cottage, Tins and Split Tins.

At about two o’clock in the morning he placed three six foot faggots, purchased from Henry Horley at Parkgate, into the oven, set them alight with a burning piece of paper, closed the door and pulled out the damper. The faggots burned very quickly and the heat generated could be as high as 400-500 degrees fahrenheit (205-260 deg. C). All the loaves which had previously been placed on trays over the mixing bins were covered, because once the faggots had finished burning all the ashes were carefully removed from the oven into a container and inevitable a lot of ash would fly around. Next he used a ‘scuffle’, which was a very long stick with a wet sack tied to the end, to remove the last of the ashes from the oven – this operation also produced steam which helped to improve the texture of the bread. Once the cleaning operation was complete he then placed all the loaves in the oven by using a ‘peel’, which is a flat shovel on a long handle.

He then closed the oven door and allowed the bread to bake for about forty-five minutes – during this time he would make a drink of hot chocolate by placing his metal cup, filled with the drink, into the hot ashes. Once the loaves were ready he took them out of the oven and put them onto the bin covers to cool. He gathered a few sacks together, took off his boots and had a sleep.

At daybreak he would deliver the bread to the shop and to houses around the village. He used a pony and trap, and would stop at the Surrey Oaks for his lunch, eating the top of a cottage loaf and some cheese. Finally he reached home in the afternoon, ready to start again at seven o’clock.

From time to time he also baked cakes and hot cross buns, and at Christmas time villagers would take their meat to the bakehouse and pay sixpence for the use of the hot oven.

In 1931 Walter left the village and Mr. Kemp took over as baker. He became landlord of the Old Magpie public house which was on the site of what is now the entrance to Heathrow Airport. He retired in 1947 and moved back to Kingsland Cottage in Newdigate. He died in October 1962 at the age of 85 and is buried in St. Peter’s churchyard.

Walter Carpenter on the left