Sunday, October 23, 2022

The hard life of bakers in Victorian London

Starting at 11pm to make the dough, nap on flour sack over the kneading board (on the trough). wake at 2am, start kneeding and forming the dough then bake loaves in oven. When all that was done (in extreme heat), the bakers had to change clothes and go out on the street to sell the bread.

This week's talks including several on Halloween foods.

Hard work in the Bakehouse. 1863 article:
"Hard work Baking certainly is, if long hours constitute hard work. We have amongst us fourteen thousand journeymen bakers in the metropolis, applying so many hours out of the twenty-four to this service, and under such circumstances of heat, dirt, and discomfort as to be absolutely intolerable. The men themselves have for years complained of the system... brought their plaint before the House of Commons so far back as the year 1848... in 1861... Secretary of State for the Home Department commissioned Mr Seymour Tremenheere to inquire fully into the particulars...

What a life it is that the baker leads! At eleven o’clock at night, when other workmen are retiring to rest, he enters the bakehouse and makes the dough, taking from half to three-quarters of an hour, according to the size of the batch—not a long spell, but hard work as long as it lasts. He then throws himself down upon the kneadingboard, which is also the cover of the kneadingtrough; and with a flour-sack under him, and another rolled up as a pillow, he snatches a couple of hours’ sleep, in the close, unwholesome atmosphere of the bakehouse.
He rises wearily again about two o'clock, and is then employed for five or six hours—throwing out the dough, scaling it off, moulding it, and putting it into the oven; together with preparing and baking rolls and fancy bread, and taking the bread up into the shop as fast as it is baked. The temperature of the bakehouse is all this while never under seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit, and sometimes rises to ninety degrees. The hot work is then over, but only to be succeeded by another routine of service;
for the same men don their jackets and caps, and begin the distribution at the houses of the customers. A considerable portion of the men, after the night-work, are upon their legs for many hours, carrying baskets or wheeling hand-carts. ... Many of the persons thus employed are boys or youths, to whom such strangely apportioned days are more injurious than to men.

There are nearly two thousand bakehouses in the metropolis where this unwholesome night-labour is carried on. ... if families will abjure stale bread, and will have hot rolls for breakfast, the men must work during the night, seeing that the whole process occupies eight or nine hours. ... Mr Tremenheere found that large numbers of the bakehouses are extremely dirty, hung with cobwebs, and tenanted very objectionably in other ways. The poor fellows become much heated at their work; they perspire... the unpleasant consequences which hence result to the article [bread] under manufacture. The kneading of the dough, except in some bakehouses where better arrangements are made, is done in a way at once uncouth and laborious, and certainly unfitted for the strength of growing youths.

Why do the Scotch come to London to make and bake our bread? ... Until the year 1846, bakers’ wages were higher in London than in Edinburgh, but since that time the balance, if any, is said to be in the opposite direction; while the bakehouses of Edinburgh and Glasgow are in most instances larger, lighter, and better ventilated than those of London.... First, the desire to see a little more of the world... Secondly, having served an apprenticeship in Scotland, they are better qualified, after a short time, to do general work as bread and biscuit bakers. Thirdly, they have a wider field, and a better chance of becoming foremen and ultimately employers.

Let the ratio of English, Scotch, and Germans in the baking-trade be what it may in London, the system pursued by all is pretty much the same. [1] Many of the processes are easily learned, and easily performed by young persons. Moreover, the workman is [2] not asked to provide any tools, the few required being supplied by the master-baker. As a third [3] reason why young persons with no money and very little skill are tempted into this trade, it may be mentioned that the demand for the commodity made is remarkably equable. A London family eats pretty nearly the same amount of bread at all seasons... The bread-maker is free from all interruptions of his trade through accidents of weather; his earnings are the same all the year round, and are not small in relation to the kind of skill required from the worker, however inadequate they may be to the lengthened term of hours through which the labour is continued. Hence, for all these reasons, boys are tempted into the baking-trade, on much the same ground as girls into the sewing-trade; and we suspect that the reasons employed will on this account continue to be rather powerless in working out any reform for themselves. The master-bakers are not more unkind than other men; they compete closely for trade; the economise in various ways; and they buy in the labour-market at the cheapest rate they can.

Mr Stevens's Dough-making machine 1858 and others described in detail last part of article.
... the saving of labour ...from one to two sacks of flour is mixed up at once; Stevens’s large machine will mix five or six sacks. The process is cleanly; for... the hand does not once touch the dough. The process prevents waste; for all the flour is kept enclosed while being operated on; whereas every ordinary bakehouse affords much sweepings of good flour, that can only be sold as pigs’ food. The process is less hurtful to the bakers; or there is no severe muscular labour in the kneading, and no atmosphere of flour-particles to get into the lungs. And lastly, the process saves time; for two men can make a batch of bread in little more than half the usual time. ..."

Chamber's Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts. Jan. 17, 1863 HERE

Halloween blog posts including “Snap-apple Night,” Soul Cakes, Turnip jack o’lanterns, Colcannon, and more. HERE


Oc 24 Mon 6 Cooking with the First Ladies: Abigail Adams and Revolutionary Era Cooking. Sarah Morgan. National First Ladies' Library HERE

Oct 24 Mon 6-7:30 Japanese Bento. “Japanese boxed lunch or dinner where small portions of well-balanced prepared foods are beautifully arranged in wooden and lacquered boxes.” Koshiki Smith. Seward Community Co-op HERE

Oct 25 Tue 1:30 Guns, Money and Lawyers: The English Chartered Trading Companies 1688-1763. Mike Wagner author. The British in India Historical Trust £5 HERE

Oct 25 Tue 6:45 The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze. Van Cortlandt Manor museum, Lower Hudson Valley NY. “7,000 illuminated pumpkins creating sculptures and dioramas...all hand-carved and designed on-site.” Heygo HERE

Oct 25 Tue 8 Savoring Appalachia. Susi Gott S├ęguret. Culinary Historians of Chicago HERE

Oct 25 Tue 8-9:30 Cult Food. “agrarian cults of the 19th century… Oneida Community or … Fruitlands… to the Hippie cults of the 20th century.” Sarah Lohman. Brooklyn Brainery. Tape 1 week $10 HERE

Oct 26 Wed 12 Sifter: The Ask, Let's Get Started. Kates Saines & Joe Wheaton, hosted by Cathy Kaufman. Oxford Food Symposium. HERE. About ‘The Sifter’ HERE

Oc 26 Wed 2 Turner's House: Eels, Pies, Picnics and Banquets. Consumption. Food and Drink. London Luminaries. £5 all 14 talks £45 HERE General: HERE

Oct 26 Wed 2:30 The Witch's Feast : A History of Kitchen Witchcraft from ancient to modern. Melissa Madara. The Viktor Wynd Museum £5.82 HERE

Oct 26 Wed 6 Feeding Fascism: The Politics of Women's Food Work. Diana Garvin. Pepin Lecture series. Boston University Gastronomy Program. Hybrid HERE

Oct 26 Wed 8-9:30 There will be BLOOD – and it will be tasty! blood sausage, haggis and morcilla. Yrchins (stomach in a blood sauce dressed up to look like a hedgehog), mixed-organ stew and duck press. Masters of Social Gastronomy. Brooklyn Brainery $9 HERE

Oct 27 Thu 12-1:30 American Bread, 1620-2022. Rubel's Bread History Seminar #36. William Rubel. HERE. Facebook group HERE

Oc 27 Thu 2 Pope's Grotto: Wining and Dining with Alexander Pope. (1688-1744) Produce. Food and Drink. London Luminaries. £5 all 14 talks £45 HERE General: HERE

Oct 27 Thu 5 Dutch archaeological research on shipwrecks of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). 1602 to 1795. Dr. M.R. (Martijn) Manders. UWA Institute of Advanced Studies HERE

Oct 27 Thu 6 Family Legacy on the Lower East Side. Isaac Gellis (1849-1906), “legendary Kosher Sausage King opened up one of Lower East Side’s first kosher butcher shops … forming a kosher family hot dog business.” Isaac Gellis (b. 1985) descendant is speaker. Museum at Eldridge Street. Donation HERE

Oct 27 Thu 6:30 A Taste of Old Colony History. Celebrate Polish Heritage Month with a recipe from our exhibit "We Are What We Eat." Old Colony History Museum HERE

Oct 28 Fri 12-1:30 Dining on the Rails: A Moveable Feast. Joe Nevin Smithsonian Associates. $30 HERE

Oct 28 Fri 9PM Festival of Diwali. India. “festival of lights and one of the most important celebrations in the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain calendars, welcomes the New Year… bustling bazaar and authentic Indian food stalls.” Heygo HERE

Oct 30 Sun 12 Things that go BUMP in the night: A Halloween Happening. “… make and taste spooky historical food. Paul Couchman. The Regency Cook. £12.50 HERE


©2022 Patricia Bixler Reber
Researching Food History HOME

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