Fringe Box



Bread, Cakes and Pasties: Memories of Ayers’ Bakers

Published on: 18 Jun, 2013
Updated on: 18 Jun, 2013

By David Rose

Following on from the mystery vintage photo of Ayers’ bakery in Woodbridge Road, Where is This? No.60, Brian Holt has supplied some more details about the business and the days when he worked there in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

A youthful Brian Holt when he worked for Ayres' bakery. With the firm's managing director William Hambrook, Brian helped bake the plum cake that was presented to the Queen during her visit to Guildford in 1957. It was the first time in 300 years that a reigning monarch had visited the borough, and, as tradition demanded, she was presented with a plum cake as a token of affection - a tradition that goes back to medieval times. Ayres found a recipe that dated back to the 19th century.

A youthful Brian Holt when he worked for Ayers” bakery. With the firm’s managing director William Hambrook, Brian helped bake the plum cake that was presented to the Queen during her visit to Guildford in 1957. It was the first time in 300 years that a reigning monarch had visited the borough, and, as tradition demanded, she was presented with a plum cake as a token of affection – a tradition that goes back to medieval times. Ayers found a recipe that dated back to the 19th century.

Here are his memories:

The address was 71 Woodbridge Road, which was also the office address, as it was above the shop. At one time Ayers had a total of six shops in Guildford: one was in North Street where Greggs shop is now. There was another in Onslow Street, between Fogwills and Buyers’ shop. At the bottom of the High Street on the corner of Bury Street there was another shop with a restaurant behind. Another was situated in Worplesdon Road (Woodbridge Hill end) – it was the end shop next to wine and spirits merchants F.W.Francis. There was yet another further down Worplesdon Road, where Heaters bakery shop is now (between Sheepfold and Byrefield Road).

Ayres' bakery and shop at 71 Woodbridge Road, Guildford.

Ayers’ bakery and shop at 71 Woodbridge Road, Guildford.

In the photo the tall building behind the sloping roof is where the flour loft was. Normally there would be 50 to 60 sacks of different type of  flours stored here.

This flour loft was above four coke-fired ovens. Once these oven were lit on Sunday evening they never went out until all baking was finished at about 10am the following Saturday morning.

There were two night bakers, Sometimes I had to step in at very short notice for someone going off sick. The night bakers did all the brown breads, such as Hovis, Allison, Bermaline,and Vitbe.

Back then they would hand mould all the bloomer loaves. They worked six nights a week. A few years after I left in 1966 they ended the night shift. Shortly after this, in about 1970, late one Friday evening there was a large fire when the flour loft when up in flames. At 8am on the Saturday morning, when I passed by, the fire brigade was still there.

At Easter time, on the Thursday, before Good Friday, eight of us made 72,000 hot cross buns. It was my job to pipe the crosses on every one, while also working on the revolving oven with the foreman.

This revolving oven had 16 shelves, which you never stopped. You had to take two trays off and put two more back on quickly before the shelf passed the oven door. It was hard work.

Ayers’ bakery made its wedding cakes every 10 months. It would make and bake all different sizes in one go, then wrap them up in greaseproof paper and foil, and store them in tea chests down in the cellar. This was because the heavy fruit cakes had to mature and become mellow. If fed with alcohol they could be stored for a year or more.

Ayers was supplied with all its white flour from either Botting’s Flour Mill at Albury, or from flour that arrived by barge on the Wey Navigation from London at Coxes Lock in Addlestone.

For a few years I was doing all the puff pastry, making things such as sausage rolls, eccles cakes, apple turnovers, and so on.

Puff pastry takes a long time to make. I was making 32 sheets, three days a week, and each one had to be rolled out and folded four times to get the layers.

All apprentices were sent one day a week to bakery classes at Kingston upon Thames Technical College, to take their City & Guilds certificates.

Fire bucket from Ayres' bakery.

Fire bucket from Ayers’ bakery.

Another regular reader Bill Stanniforth has sent in a photo of a fire bucket he has that came from Ayers’ bakery in Woodbridge Road. Bill and his brother Doug run Pedal Pushers in Stoke Road, but their previous cycle shop was next to the Ayers’ bakery. When the bakery buildings were demolished in 1987, Bill rescued this bucket that he now uses as a planter for flowers!

Confirming Brian’s list of Ayers’ shops. The 1967 edition of Kelly’s Directory of Guildford, lists the following: Ayers F. & Sons Ltd, bakers (head office), 71 Woodbridge Road (Telephone, Guildford 61329); 26 Onslow st. & 42 North Street & cafe & caterers, 4 / 6 High Street. (Telephone, Guildford 61333), 12c Worplesdon rd. (T N 4883) & 145 Worplesdon rd. (T N 3192).

Our family was rather loyal to Ayers, using the shops in North Street and the two in Worplesdon Road. At 145 Woprplesdon Road one of the shop assistants was a Miss T. Sparks (according to what my aunt told me). She once pointed out to me that the said Miss Sparks didn’t really have much conversation with customers, and all she said in a rather clipped and high voice after you gave your order was: “anything else?”

Back to Brian and his memories…. strictly off the record, he told me about what went into the fillings for the pasties and eccles cakes when he worked there. Not wanting to state in detail how the fillings for the pasties were arrived at, the story is linked to the food sold at the restaurant behind the shop at the foot of the High Street. We’ll leave it to your imagination to work that one out!

Share This Post

Responses to Bread, Cakes and Pasties: Memories of Ayers’ Bakers

  1. Peter Bullen Reply

    June 18, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    What fascinating details of a good old Guildford business that provided treats for hundreds and thousands of us over the years.

    When Teresa and I were married at St Nicolas’ Church in January, 1960, our reception was held in Ayers, literally only a few feet away from the church door. Just as well. It began to snow as we left the church. Brian probably made our wedding cake!

    And while mentioning bakers, I have always maintained that the jam doughnuts – bought at our little tuck shop behind the gym at the Royal Grammar School in the late 1940s, which were still warm from the ovens of Grimmond’s bakery only yards away along the road, were the best in the world!

    • Chris Townsend Reply

      June 19, 2013 at 6:46 pm

      I remember Grimmond’s (then numbered 171 High Street) for their cream-filled choux pastry swans. A real treat.

      Next door, at 172, was the Pilgrims’ Bookshop, which also accommodated a small post office. At one time, possibly late 50s or early 60s, there was a text in the window, “Man shall not live by bread alone”. The local rag was quick to report it.

  2. Brian Park Reply

    June 23, 2013 at 5:28 am

    Many thanks to David Rose for the article on Ayers’ bakery which bought back wonderful memories as I was an apprentice under Mr “Bill” Hambrook in the late seventies. In common with another reader/ former employee, Brian Holt. I am also a Brian but it was not compulsory!

    Mr Hambrook was a wonderful mentor and he was responsible along with John Stock of Brooklands Bakery College Weybridge for setting me on the wonderful road of baking.

    Memories… yes: the mad rush for hot cross buns with queues around the corner; the traditional fermentation; Mr Bill coming down on a Friday afternoon to produce all the whole meal and brown breads, and always being very particular about doing it the correct way; early starts doing the brioche first and then scones with a big enamel tea pot stewing nicely on the side of the ovens; pumping doughnuts so full of jam so that they would burst as soon as someone took a bite. How many tops got covered?

    Wally the foreman kept us all on our toes, along with Vince who worked the bread and the wonderful Vienna bread and rolls baked by (grumpy) John who loved a bet and a drink. But…I can confirm that the filling for the Eccles and Bambury pastries was totally clean and hygienic when I was trained. Edna was on cake decorations and George on Danish.

    There were also at one time five apprentices, Barry, Peter, Phillip plus one other. Mr Bill was very keen to see youngsters progress.

    Mr Bill was in fact a nationally recognised competition winner and judged for Vitbe at the National and Regional competitions and was kind enough to train me so that I could also compete, with some limited success.

    And finally we were all “honoured” once a year at Christmas to get a visit from Mr Ayers himself where we were given a Christmas box in the form of a brown envelope (with holes). I cannot remember how much, but not a great deal, but still wonderful days which stood me in good stead as I now work in bakery consultancy worldwide.

    As an aside, on Saturdays we had a very early start at three o’clock and when we finished I used to dash straight back to my lodgings with Mrs Dahl in York Road (wonderful cook and her son used to do theatre reviews for the Surrey Ad) and then start work at the men’s “boutique” called Mr Howard, selling tank tops, round collar shirts and Sta Press Tonic [two-toned] trousers and velvet trousers to girls.

    Keep up the good work and many thanks for the article.

  3. Aubrey Leahy Reply

    July 16, 2013 at 2:07 am

    One thing readers neglected to mention was the early morning hunger-inducing aromas to be had. An inhaled breakfast for free. I had a paper round at Mussels at top of High Street and planned my early morning route to take advantage of the nasal delights in store.
    First the baking from Ayers where, if the wind was right, you first got to taste just past the sports ground.
    Then fresh yeasts and hops from the mash tuns at the Friary Brewery. Then up to North Street for bacon and egg smells at the greasy spoon (where the library now stands), then cycle up the alleyway where where was a coffee roasters/tea importers on the corner of High Street, to inhale a morning java, and then out into High Street where Fullers ovens were working making pastries and such, and then up to the newsagents.
    Just writing this evokes the early morning fragrances and now I am hungry again!

  4. Roger Edwards Reply

    July 26, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    I remember Ayres’s Shop on Worplesdon Road between Byrefield Road (where I lived) and Sheepfold Road. In the war years we would go into the shop and ask how much the penny buns were! Miss Sparkes, who worked there for years, told us she would tell her relation a policeman called Sgt Sparkes. We were cheeky little boys!

  5. Genny Haines Reply

    December 5, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    I was so interested to read all the above.

    The original baker who started all these shops was my ancestor James Ayers. I believe he moved to Guildford around 1880s with his wife and young family. He had become a master baker in London.

    The bakeries were taken over by his eldest son Frank Ayers and then his eldest Laurence Ayers. Presumably it is Laurence who distributed Xmas box in the form of a brown envelope with holes and not much inside, as indicated above.

    At last I have found pictures and the addresses of some of these bakeries, so a big thank you.

    I have a picture of the Ayers family taken in 1914 in my studio so if anyone wants a picture of the bakers I’d be only too happy to show it. When I was at school in the 1960s I remember my ‘Uncle Laury’ taking my sister and I to one of his shops, where in the back sausage rolls were being made.

    I really enjoyed the visit. He was a lovely man (a cousin to my father) and he used to spoil us rotten when we went to stay. He never had children but would have been a great father had he done so.

    I love the picture of the fire bucket!

  6. Julie Goucher Reply

    December 6, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    I enjoyed reading this. It rekindled those lovely memories of the gingerbread squares that used to sit tantalisingly on a tray in the window. For the sum of 12 pence.

    In the days before health and safety went mad, the small slope at the front of the North Street store required navigational skills. Many times I almost lost my gingerbread square to the floor through slipping.

    If I was with my mum I always had to remember to check she was still with me if it was wet. As one day I came out the shop keen to get home, talking merrily away when a elderly lady stopped me and said that someone was calling me. I looked around and saw Mum frozen to the spot on the slippery slope at the front of Ayers. I must have looked quite a sight, talking to myself!

  7. John Franklin Reply

    July 11, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    I started work as an apprentice early in 1952 and carried on until I was called up for national service.

    One memory I have is of Henry and I scrubbing down when everyone had finished work on a Saturday lunchtime, it consisted of scraping and scrubbing the bakery floor for which we were paid 2/6d (old money) it was hard work.

    Mr Hambrook was a renowned champion bread baker and I had the privilege of going with him to various colleges etc giving demonstrations of which I was chief assistant, a very proud one at that. Happy days.

  8. Giles Lock Reply

    February 3, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    In the early 1980s my dad, Lawrence Lock, bought this building at auction…by mistake!

    My brother and I were in our teens and cleared much of the site. We still have all the wooden letters from the front signage.

    I remember the bike shop next door. As a family we ran Top Print at 32, Chertsey Street between 1980 and 2010, this has now relocated to Alton where I still run the company with my older brother.

  9. Sue Crook ( previously Murphy) Reply

    June 3, 2019 at 9:06 pm

    Only just saw this when I was searching for the history of Ayers.

    I was a Saturday girl there from 1964 until 1968, originally doing mornings at North Street, then all day Saturday.

    As I got more experienced I did holiday cover there and in the other shops, even lacking hot cross buns once in the bakery at Woodbridge Road.

    Sally was our manager and I remember My Hambrook visiting the shop periodically. He was always very patient when I asked questions.

    There was a restaurant in the shop at the base of the High Street and we could buy lunch there at a special discount. Employees paid one shilling and sixpence.

    • Linda Pegden Reply

      June 17, 2020 at 8:05 pm

      Linda Pegden (nee Aspin). I was also a Saturday girl mainly at North Street branch with Sally the manageress. I was paid 8 shillings for four hours work or 16 shillings all day.

      I worked there from 1963 to September 1964, covering all the holidays at the other branches. My sister Elaine worked there after me so she might remember Sue. Great times.

  10. Steven Oliver Reply

    March 5, 2020 at 2:28 am

    Anyone remember Stan Walker at Ayers Bakery? I remember his daughter Shirley.

    • Nichola Waghorn Reply

      November 2, 2021 at 8:45 am

      Stan Walker was my grandad, Shirley his younger daughter is my mum. They moved to Fairlands. He later moved to Bournemouth when he retired but came back to Guildford, in his later years. My mum Shirley married my dad, and moved to Alton, where I grew up.

  11. Brian Holt Reply

    June 18, 2020 at 7:37 pm

    I remember Stan Walker, I was already an apprentice there when Stan started there and he took charge when Wally the foreman was not there.

    He lived in the flat above Ayers shop at the bottom of Worplesdon Road, with his wife and two daughters.

    Which daughter was Shirley the older one or younger one?

    I do not know what happened to him when Ayers closed down. Many years later I heard he was living in Farncombe.

  12. Shirley Tidy Reply

    November 2, 2021 at 9:42 am

    I am Shirley Tidy (nee Walker), Stan Walker’s younger daughter. Wendy my elder sister passed away several years ago . As teenagers, we both worked in Ayres shop and we lived over the shop at 12c Worplesdon Road.

    Wendy worked in the high street shop and I worked mostly at the shop up the Worplesdon Road with Miss Sparks, a lovely lady. I also helped in the bakery, jamming doughnuts and helping Edna upstairs in the decorating room.

    Mum and dad moved to Bournemouth in the early 70s but move back to Guildford as their health deteriorated. They both passed away within six months of each other in 2006. I went on to Brooklands College and went into the catering trade, as did my eldest daughter who make wonderful cakes, as my dad did. His father was a master baker and entered many competitions all over Europe. I have many happy memories of Ayres.

    • Steven Oliver Reply

      March 17, 2023 at 12:05 am

      Hallo Shirley, l hope you remember me as l have very fond memories from our time together at Brooklands college as well as your family over the shop in Worplesdon Road.

      I have lived in USA for many years and will never forget the times we had as teens so many years ago. So sorry your sister Wendy passed – obviously way before her time.

      • Shirley Tidy Reply

        May 5, 2023 at 12:00 pm

        Yes, I have many happy memories of Brooklands and the flat over Ayres Worplesdon Road. I am still making cakes etc, including for the King’s Coronation, using dad’s tools, his rolling pin etc.

        • Steven Oliver Reply

          May 19, 2023 at 9:19 pm

          I am so impressed with your cake making, l became a corporate financial controller in the hospitality industry as l cook never cook.

    • John Lomas Reply

      May 21, 2023 at 9:47 am

      Apart from 12c, which I believe was the one near the Woodbridge Hill junction, were you also referring to the shop between Sheepfold Road and Byrefield Road, near Perrins Fish Shop?

      If so, we lived on Byrefield Road until 1960 and Ayres was our normal bakers shop with the occasional foray, when going to Sparrow’s butchers, to an on-site bakery (can’t remember its name) on Barrack Road just above the haberdashery/wool shop.

  13. Shirley Tidy Reply

    May 22, 2023 at 12:01 pm

    Yes, the shop was, I think, next door to the fish shop. The bakers in Barrack Road was Butlers.

    Further along the parade of shops was Bicknells, the fruit and veg shop. I went to school with Julie the daughter.

    Also in Byrefield Road was Jago car hire family, I went to school with Barbara the daughter and used them for our wedding in 1970.

  14. John Lomas Reply

    May 22, 2023 at 5:59 pm

    If Mr Jago was also the proprietor of the garage opposite the shops, the one thing I remember was that he would drive down Byrefield Road in the morning and back up in the evening in his Series 1 Standard Vanguard without everchanging gear and he wasn’t particularly slow, certainly well over tick-over engine speed.

  15. Steven Oliver Reply

    May 31, 2023 at 1:23 am

    Hi Shirley,

    As you were my first true love which l don’t think anyone forgets l will sign off from this website glad to know you are well and happy. Only sorry you don’t remember me.

    Best wishes.

  16. Sheila Atkinson Reply

    October 24, 2023 at 10:41 am

    I remember my mum telling me that on Saturday afternoons she and her three siblings would wait by the shop in the above photo for their dad to come home from work, hoping he would get there before the shop closed and buy them cream cakes for their tea.

    My own memory is of the shop in Woodbridge Road near the old cinema. Whilst waiting in the queue outside, a friend of mum’s gave me a sixpence and I dropped it down the grating, so no cream cake for me.

    Guildford used to have several bakeries, Boyce’s, La Boulangerie and the Corona were my favourites. Instead of yet more coffee shops we could do with a decent bakery in the town centre.

  17. Carol Norris Reply

    October 24, 2023 at 11:00 am

    I lived in Bury Street as a child. It was probably in the 1950s that Mr Ayres drove a Rolls Royce – known to us as the Bread Rolls.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *