A patch of greenery marks the spot where coal-fired ovens at Thatcher’s first bakery in Churchgate roared through the night to provide the people of Stockport with their daily bread before the turn of the century.
Now, a hundred and twenty five years later, Thatcher’s ovens still roar through the night. But today they are in ultra modern premises in Portwood, are fired by electricity and cope with a much wider range of bakery products than the early members of the family could have possibly envisaged.
These products also go much further afield than in the past, and the company’s vans are loaded in the early hours to deliver not only to shops in Stockport, but also as far afield as Manchester, Crewe & Chester.
The Thatcher story began in 1891 when William Thatcher married Frances and set up home over the mixed grocery shop they took on at 27 Churchgate. The property was owned by the church and they agreed to pay a 99-year lease at £52 a year.
It was not long before they started to make hand raised pork pies in the oven attached to their fire grate, but within the next 10 years, they had built the first of many extensions which enabled them to build a flued oven and bake the white loaves so popular in that era.
One of their first delivery boys was son George William who, at the age of nine, became a familiar figure as he pushed his four-wheel wicker skip round the area with loaves, but soon, as reputation grew, they had to find other means of delivering their wares, and at one stage had the two horse-drawn “vans” pictured.
George officially joined his parents in the bakery at 13 – after passing a ‘labour’ exam at Hanover School – and up to the start of the first world war, saw the bakery develop by taking over adjoining premises to make room for the two large ovens required to deal with demand. The location of the shop was perfect being so close to a very busy market. There were also numerous dwellings all around; quite an unbelievable number actually in such a small area.
Another son, Robert Edmund, was born in 1907 and he also joined the business in 1921. Since those early days, Thatcher’s products have become even more popular and between the wars expansion was the name of the game.
Robert’s son George, who joined the business when he was 14, has seen most of the changes including the move to the purpose-built premises in Portwood in 1973. George retired in 1986 with his sons Philip and Andrew following in well-trodden footsteps and taking over. The two younger members of the family set about making changes, particularly in the areas of administration, marketing and sales; The old ways of trying to do everything yourself…work in the bakery first, answer the phone as you go, write things on scraps of paper, then work in the office were now over.
From William and all in between, including uncles, aunts, cousins and partners of uncles, aunts and cousins, all too numerous to mention by name, nearly all have spent a part of their lives working in the bakery. Philip’s son, Ross, having obtained a business degree and gained some work experience in the real world, joined the company in 2009 to become the first of the 5th generation to carry on that which was started 125 years ago. Along with Andrew’s son James and bakery manager Garry, the current custodians are continuing the fantastic traditions of previous generations by making delicious, freshly made bakery and confectionery products.
In 1889 the Eiffel Tower was built and in 1891 William Thatcher Bakery came into being. Not comparable in significance to the world at large, there are no tourists wandering around Portwood Industrial Estate, just that, while thinking about it, they have both been around for a long time.
The origin of the bakery was a two-up-and-two-down row house on Church gate. That road ran, as it still does, down to the market place and St. Mary’s Church in Stockport. The house had been converted into a general store and was occupied by the alleged founder, William Thatcher and his wife, Francis Anne. The story goes that it was actually Francis Anne who started the whole thing off making pies. The cliché start with a little domestic oven. Then William stepped in with his name over the door. Their son George William was born, also in 1891, and later they had another son Robert Edward.
The bakery was home as well as the work place and as the bakery business expanded so did the family. The Great War came and afterwards G.W. married Ruth Barber. Their son, George, was born in 1921 and later on daughter Dorothy. The Second World War came after which George married Helen Wilkinson. In 1947, Christopher was born. Then came Paul, Philip, Andrew and Elaine.
The location of the shop was perfect being so close to a very busy market. There were also numerous dwellings all around. Quite an unbelievable number actually in such a small area. The business was expanding so adjacent properties were acquired and the back alleys built over. Walls were knocked through and enough space created to fit out with the baking equipment of the day: A coke fired oven, wooden mixing troughs and a big table.
In the late 60’s the old bakery was compulsory purchased and we relocated to the present site in the early 70’s. From William to Elaine and all in between, including uncles, aunts, cousins and partners of uncles, aunts and cousins, all too numerous to mention by name, nearly all have spent a part of their lives working in the bakery. Roni, who is Chris’s wife, Paul, Philip and Andrew, work in the business still. Philip married Carolyn Hooley and their son, Ross, having obtained a business degree and gained some work experience in the real world, has recently joined the company and becomes the first of the 5th generation to carry on that which was started over 118 years ago.