Nov 26 2017
London Grip readers may remember Bernard Green’s previous reminiscences about his early life on the Surrey-Hampshire border. Here he returns with a new recollection – this time couched in verse…
BILL, THE BAKER Bill Wilkinson was a strong, massive man. He lived in a village called Badshot Lea In a cottage of hand-made bricks, oak beams Where he managed the village bakery. Perhaps you thought the strongest man was the blacksmith But flour sacks weighed two-twenty pounds (sometimes more) I believe the much stronger man was the baker Who dragged bags of flour to the upstairs floor His huge mixing bowl held a whole sack of flour. He’d a bin made of wood to prove the warm dough in. Cottage loaves when proved, were placed in the oven with a long oar-like pole while sandwich bread went in a tin Each day, as he mixed up the dough, he lit the wood fire the wood was so dry it burned with ferocious red heat Then with brush and mop he swept up the ash Scones cooked first, then the bread, then cakes as it cooled – very neat! The bread tins went in upside down This put flecks of ash in the crust, which was nice. The proved loaf was turned over onto the paddle Then onto the bricks, where a holly-sprig added some spice. I would collect twelve loaves of bread on my bike Balanced on the handlebars and brakes Chewing, while pedalling, round the crispy crusts That birch ash was tastier to me than cakes! One day I was watching Bill mix the dough Stripped to the waist, bent over the bin Sweat running from all over his body and dripping from his arms and his chin. I was only eleven years of age, but I said “Bill your sweat is going in the dough.” He laughed, but didn’t bother to wipe his brow “Yes, it’s salt, it makes it taste better you know.” This is a true story from 1946. The village of Badshot Lea is in Hampshire and the baker’s name
was William Wilkinson. The oven has been demolished but the house is still there.