Mann's bakery - a childhood memory

When I was a small child, my mother would often buy bread at Mann's Bakery, Bocking, Essex, a place I became very fond of. Every morning there would be a gorgeous smell of baking bread drifting across the street. One day, when I was still very young, I was allowed to wander into the bakery itself- something that would not be allowed today, but then people knew I was a cautious sensible child who would not meddle with anything. There was a beautiful traditional oven with its silver cast-iron front. In a corner sat the dough mixer, which to me as a small child looked like a big green elephant with its trunk sticking into the bowl. The top casing formed the elephant's high forehead (must have been Indian as there were no prominent ears)! I went back up to it - if I had wanted to look into the bowl I would have had to stand on tiptoe- which meant that I was about 3 and a half feet tall. In the back room stood a planetary mixer.

I assumed that Mr Mann didn't use the dough mixer any more as I didn't see it in action- although I didn't see him mixing the dough by hand either. Little did I know that he did use it, every morning, very early. I became familiar with the name "Dumbrill" at a very young age, as it was written in red letters on the top case of the machine. I sometimes got Dumbrills and dumbells mixed up, as I did Lennon and Lenin (my dad is a Beatles fan). When I was a little older I did just once see the dough mixer in action, one morning. This would have been to make up a batch that was ready in the afternoon. It is just as well that my interest in Dumbrill dough mixers is a recent one and that my fondness for this machine is "posthumous"- it was scrapped after the bakery was closed. It apparently took some breaking up, as a big bit of cast iron.
Mr Mann joined the bakery after the War, where he had served in the Army. He bought the "dough machine" (as he called it) in 1948- even though he was a journeyman baker, the senior baker being Mr Baldwin. It cost £500 and was the state of the art model. It replaced an older dough mixer, possibly an older Dumbrill; whatever it was, it had a lot of lubrication points for oiling up. Mr Mann was Mr Baldwin's journeyman for over 30 years, and Mr Baldwin retired in the early 70s.

A mix for white bread included 240lbs of flour, 16 gallons of water (or liquor in breadmaking terms) plus yeast and salt.

Nick Williamson's film

Nick Williamson was a local historian who prolifically filmed life in Braintree and Bocking on cine camera through the 60s, 70s and early 80s. He did a film about the bakery. Nick would film his footage on silent and then add his own voiceover- in this film Mr Baldwin does the commentary. It shows a youthful Mr Mann "shooting the flour" into the dough mixer, then adding buckets of water (water is "liquor" in breadmaking), salt and yeast. The water tap was next to the oven, near the fire. Mr Baldwin spent his first 10 years as a baker kneading dough by hand and was glad when he got a "dough machine" as he also called it, and didn't have to knead by hand any more. Mr Mann is then shown starting the mixer. It was made to mix for 15 minutes- although Dumbrills could mix up dough in 7 minutes, the machine appeared to be set to run at a lower speed to knead more gently. Just before the mix is finished, Mr Mann is seen greasing the inside of the bowl to stop the dough sticking. Sticking your arm into a moving mixer would be unthinkable today, but he does this to the left of the machine, where the bowl is moving away from the beater. The machine is then stopped and a couple of flour sacks are placed over the mass of dough so it can prove for 3 hours. Mr Baldwin used a "3-hour dough" recipe because he thought it made a better loaf. The flour that Marriage's the millers supplied came in 10 stone sacks, rather than the 20 stone sacks alluded to in Dumbrill literature. The size of flour sacks has gradually been reduced over the years, making them easier and safer to handle. Amazingly, Marriage's are still in business today (in 2016), still producing high-quality flour.

After proving, Mr Mann is seen hauling great armfuls of dough out of the mixer, to be moulded and divided into various sized loaves and rolls. The white bread that this bakery produced was something else. Brown bread was made in smaller batches and the dough was mixed using the planetary mixer. Myself, I much preferred the white bread- regular customers would come for miles to buy it, and the bakery also did a delivery service almost up to the end of its days.

Although there was a skilled baker, a good recipe and quality flour, I can't help wondering if the fine quality of the bread was partly due to their big green dough mixer!

The Last few Years

The Reeves had worked with the Manns since the mid/ late 70s. Mrs Reeve is Mr Baldwin's daughter. In 1984 or 5, Mr Mann took well- earned retirement at 66, and the Reeves took over the bakery. In 1987 they decided to close the business. They were still trading in July, as my appendicitis was gossip amongst the customers, but they had closed by October as the chimney blew down in the Hurricane. A new food hygiene diktat ordered that all work surfaces and loaf cooling racks had to be made of stainless steel, and financially it would have been much more trouble than worth to update the bakery. Despite these new hygiene rules, nobody ever got food poisoning from this bakery and it was kept very clean.

Also by this time, the supermarkets were starting to force small shops out of business on a large scale, consumers being seduced by the lower prices, and being able to do all their shopping in one place. A big supermarket had opened in Braintree town centre in 1982, and another had opened in around 1978.

When the bakery closed, it was completely cleared. The planetary mixer found another home elsewhere, but nobody wanted a large old fashioned dough mixer. The Reeves considered saving its bowl to use as a garden pond, but felt afraid that small children would drown in it- they had young children at the time. The one other metal item that didn't go for scrap was the front of the oven. This went to a local entrepreneur who I believe set it up in his garden as part of an outdoor oven. The wooden hand mixing troughs were set up in the garden as planters, and even after all these years, survive today.

In the 21st century, the old bakery was very briefly used as a carpet showroom by a local businessman, but he moved his shop to a place in Braintree where there is much more "footfall" to use the trendy term. It is now used for storage. It has modern hard flooring, all in one piece, so it is not possible to see where the dough mixer stood.

Mann’s Bread and Cakes

White Bread

  • Large Floor, Small Floor. Loaves shaped like these are very often nowadays called “bloomers.” Baked on the floor of the oven.
  • Large Tin, small tin
  • French Stick (baguette)
  • Cottage Loaves
  • Coburg
  • Pad - very large rolls made from a circle of dough divided into 4. Rolls like this are sometimes known in Essex as “huffers.”
  • Bap 
  • Bread Rolls made using the dough divider.
  • Bridge rolls – shaped like very small loaves but divided in 2 at 1 end.
  • All made using dough made in the Dumbrill dough mixer. 

Brown Bread, made in a tin

  • Brown bread rolls

The dough for these was made up in the planetary mixer.

They also sold a pre-packaged loaf called a “cobber” with a kangaroo on the wrapper.

Cakes and Pastries

  • Apple Puff (apple turnover) – gorgeous!
  • Jam Puff
  • Eccles Cake
  • Cream Horn 
  • Sticky Bun
  • Lardy Cake
  • Chelsea Bun
  • Iced Bun, with a cherry on top
  • Jam Doughnut

More details about Mann’s Bakery

Mr. Mann says that in a mix, there would be placed in the dough mixer 240 lbs of flour and 16 gallons of water (or liquor in baking terms) plus the yeast and salt.

Other Equipment

The Oven (of course)

This was a classic “side flue” oven, also sometimes known as a Scotch oven. A side flue oven is built from brick with a vaulted roof. To one side is the fire, or “furnace,” on the other side is the flue to the chimney, which has a handle sticking through the wall which controls a metal plate in the flue that regulates the airflow. The coal, coke or wood is burnt long before baking commences, and the bread is baked using the heat of the embers, there being no smoke by then. The Manns’ one was coal-fired, and “6- bushel” in capacity. It took about 10 minutes to load with bread.

Side flue ovens first appeared around 1830. As it happened, the windmill which used to stand up the top of the bakery garden was dismantled in 1829 and was re- erected further up the road in 1830, due to new houses robbing it of wind. Wooden windmills were considered portable at one time. A millstone is hidden under the tarmac in the bakery yard.

Despite bakeries having to modernise and move with the times, a baker would still be allowed to use a side flue oven in Britain today.

A Planetary Mixer

This mixed dough for brown bread, pastries and buns. Planetary mixers are still very common in bakeries and restaurant kitchens today, but I think they are better for making cake mix rather than bread dough.

Moulder

This machine chopped the dough into an identical loaf- sized chunks. It was one of those machines that made life a lot easier for the baker, rather than laboriously measuring out each piece of dough by hand- and also meant that loaves couldn’t be undersized. Presumably, it had large and small loaf settings.

Dough divider

I never saw this, but I knew they had one. This was a cast-iron press with a long handle, which was used to chop dough into small identical- sized chunks for making bread rolls. These often used to be found in smaller bakeries.

Bread Slicer

Mr. Baldwin had one of these; it is shown in Nick Williamson’s film. Mr. Mann got rid of it; I get the impression not many customers wanted the loaves sliced by that time.

Another item I never saw, but know they would have had, was a device with a conical hopper and syringe for injecting the “jam” into jam doughnuts.