A Brief History of Hewer's Bakery

Our Grandfather Bob Hewer worked in many bakeries in Swindon and surrounding area, including Castle Combe. In those times - the 1920s and 30s there were over 50 small bakers in Swindon. He worked hard making overnight doughs ready to bake in the early mornings, then with a horse and cart delivered door to door in Swindon. An interesting tale he often told us was when the horse and cart was replaced by the Motor van, he considered the move a backward step. He said that with a horse and cart, he could load up his bread basket and go door to door along the street, and the horse would follow him. With the van, he had to walk back to get it!

In 1938, Bob Hewer bought premises in Wanborough. The family, moved from Swindon to start a new business, and lived in the cottage by the bakery, Ivy Cottage, which still stands at the entrance to the original site at Hewers Close.
The Flour millers provided the loan to back the new venture, and Bob worked hard making overnight doughs ready to bake in the early mornings, then delivered door to door in surrounding villages. Sometimes he would still be out delivering in the late evening. He would put the blanket over himself and let the horse take him back home. He often fell asleep on the return journey. When he got back the routine continued, making overnight dough, get a few hours sleep and start over again.

After leaving school, our father Jim, joined Gramp. Bob in the business and it gradually grew. Our Grandmother Irene, had a small shop in the cottage to sell bread as well. Another interesting fact with the cottage is that many, many years previously, in the 18th Century, the cottage was a schoolroom.

The Bakery was trading for only a short time when the second world war started, which was a difficult period for a fledgling venture. Baking was a reserved industry for the continuing supply of food, and certain steps were taken by the government to ensure the production of bread was uninterrupted. To this end, during wartime, a reserved supply of flour was stored in a barn in Foxhill. When a new supply of flour was ordered, it would be delivered to the barn and the reserve would be taken to the bakery. That system worked throughout the war years.

During Wartime, Gramp. Bob and Dad Jim also served in the local Fire Service which was based at the Calley Arms. Whilst on duty they would meet in the cellar of the Calley. The vehicle they use was a 'straight eight' cylinder Buick which pulled the fire tender.

After the war, the bakery continued to thrive extending the delivery to other villages. In the late 1950s and 60s door to door deliveries were becoming unviable. More and more wives of the family were choosing to go to work, so there was no one at home to deliver to. It was at this time that the decision was taken to change the direction of the firm towards a wholesale business. To start with, in the villages where door to door was stopping, they contacted the village shop and asked if they would stock bread for the villagers that still wanted to buy the bread when delivery ceased. Fortunately, this worked very well and the bakery reputation grew and trade flourished.

In the mid 1960s Grandparents Bob and Irene retired, but the business continued. Over the coming years the number and type of wholesale customer grew, and not only village shops, but supermarkets, catering companies and hotels became clients. This meant the bakery building grew, together with the fleet of vans and, of course, staff.

In 1963, I left school and went to Cheltenham College of Technology, to Bakery School and took the HND Bakery Management course over 2 years. On the return to the bakery, I was full of ideas and ambition, and this meant the business continued to grow. The quality and quantity of customers improved and to meet demand, a night shift was needed. This eventually grew to a 24-hour operation.

It was in the mid 1980s after our parents retired and my sister Trish joined the business, that the decision to build a new bakery was made. An acre of land was purchased behind the old bakery, and a new 500 sq metre purpose build bakery was built. It had been difficult to get planning permission for the new bakery, as the planners wanted us to move to an industrial estate, but I was adamant that as our Grandfather had started the business in Wanborough, we wanted to stay in the village and keep the image of country fresh bread and cakes. Eventually permission was granted, but the specification of the building and landscaping was high, making the building higher than anticipated in cost.

To meet demand, a lot of machinery purchased to streamline production, still using traditional ovens to keep the crusty bread style. A Flour silo holding 15 tons of flour was installed, bread plant and roll machinery, temperature and humidity controlled proving cabinets etc, all improved efficiency and quality. A standby generator was installed to ensure uninterrupted production as overhead electric supply at the time was susceptible to power failures in bad weather. A flow wrapping machine and labelling with bar coding met the new customer needs. We also improved quality standards and gained accreditation to British Standards ISO 9002, quite an achievement for a Small to Medium Enterprise (SME). Oxford and Swindon Co-operative became our largest customer when we took over a bakery in Newbury, and moved all production and distribution to Wanborough. We delivered to nearly 70 Co-op stores for the Oxford and Swindon Co-op as far north as Brackley, Northamptonshire. To cope with this customer, and the many others as we even delivered a crusty bread range to Allied bakery in Reading (Sunblest), we had built a fleet of 2 x 7.5-ton lorries and five or six vans. Our delivery drivers would all leave around 4.30 in the morning to ensure the goods were in the shops and canteens early and were usually back in the yard by 10.30, all deliveries completed. It was a very slick logistical system.

This takes us up to the mid 1990s when I departed from the Bakery. The Business closed in December 1997.

Written by
John Hewer 2019