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A family of Black Country Bakers through the years

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: November 20, 2008

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BREAD is the staff of life, as the saying goes, and readers will remember the many bakehouses and bakers' shops that graced the high streets and busy thoroughfares of Black Country towns in days gone by. Kelly's Directory of Staffordshire lists 597 bakers in 1900, 338 of them in Black Country towns. The majority of these bakers are long gone but readers may remember the name of Clews, a family of bakers in Wednesbury and Walsall.

Stan Baggott of Bloxwich has kindly supplied these photographs to the Bugle. The Clews are ancestors of his wife Ann, and this pictures show the branch of the family that set up business in Caldmore Green, Walsall.

Stan writes: "When my wife, Ann, began researching her family tree she remembered that as a child, while travelling in her father's car, her father would point to a shop in Union Street, Wednesbury, and say that it had once been their family bakery. The shop in question was the last on the left as you came from the town centre.

"Seeking information about this bakery, Ann visited Wednesbury library and was shown a Bakehouse Register, dated 1900. I later went back and studied the register in more detail.

"The property that we were interested in was number 33 Union Street and the register read as follows:- Situated at 33 Union Street, owned and occupied by Eliza Clews; Date of Establishment: 1845; Above or below ground level: above; ceiling above or below footpath: above; dimensions, excluding ovens etc., length: 16' 2", width: 15' 10", height: 11' 4", cubic capacity: 2,646.

"The register also gives details as to the type of oven, ventilation and lighting. Two adults and a boy of 15 were listed as employed there. The walls of the bakery were limewashed, the water closets were listed as good as was the general condition and cleanliness.

"There were three other bakehouse also in Union Street. Arthur Pitt was at 57 Union Street. His bakery, established in 1892, was 13' x 11' x 7' 6" and he employed one adult. The Co-Op was listed at the corner of Union Street, established in 1898, it employed one adult and one boy and was 11' 6" x 16' 6" x 8". The third bakery, at 8 Union Street, was that of William Hinton, listed as being 'old' he employed three adults and the shop dimensions were 11' 6" x 16' 6" x 8'.

"Also listed was Samuel Hickinbottom at 59 Lower High Street, established in 1899. There were another six bakehouses in Holyhead Road and in total there were 26 bakehouses listed in the register.

"The register appeared to be a local census of bakehouses but there was no explanation for its compilation. I have enquired at other local archive centres but have been unable to find a similar register for any other of the local boroughs.

"What has all this to do with my wife's family tree? Eliza Clews, n e Archer, was the widow of William Clews, my wife's great-great-grandfather. William was born in Coughton, Warwickshire, in 1827, the son of George Clews and Abigail Hinton. George was apprenticed as a ribbon weaver at the age of 11 but in the 1841 census he was listed as a needle maker in Studley.

"The 1851 census shows William Clews, aged 23, as a baker at 137 Union Street, Wednesbury, and the 1861 census shows him as a baker at 149 Union Street. By the 1871 he had moved to 33 Union Street and there he remained until his death in 1899.

"The Wednesbury Red Book for 1900 shows William was the baker at 33 Union Street, but Eliza is listed as the baker from 1900 to 1904, even though she died in October 1900.

"From 1904 to 1910 Rhoda Clews appears as the baker at 33 Union Street. She was the wife of William's brother Austin, who was a baker at 127 Kings Hill, Wednesbury.

"We have found no information about the Clews family in Union Street after 1904. William and Eliza had 11 children, among whom was Harry Clews, my wife's great-grandfather. He is listed at various times as a journeyman confectioner, bicycle maker, pawnbroker and cycle machinist. He was lost in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

"The 1901 census lists Herbert Clews, another son, a commercial clerk, as head of the family at 33 Union Street, with two of his siblings, Clara and Arthur, listed as self employed bakers. However, Herbert died in 1905 so it is possible that the Clews family left the shop at that time as his brother Arthur and sister Clara are found living with another brother. Frederick William, in Spout Lane, Walsall, until their respective deaths.

"Frederick William Clews appears in the 1871 census as an assistant baker, working with his uncle Austin Clews at 128 Darlaston Road. By 1881 he is shown as a master baker at 36 Bescot Street, Walsall, and by 1891 he was at 42 Spout Lane, Walsall, where he remained until his death in 1922.

"He later had a shop in Caldmore Green, Walsall, as well as the bakehouse and at one time he supplied bread to the Walsall workhouse. He had nine daughters (and three wives!) so on his death the business was taken over by his son-in-law, Benjamin Arnold Horton, who ran the business until about 1939, although he still traded as F. W. Clews."

The photograph of the man with the white beard is Frederick William Clews. A younger Frederick can be seen in the picture with the horse drawn delivery van. This photograph was taken outside one of his shops; his premises are listed in the 1900 Kelly Directory as 45, 46 and 58 Spout Lane and 8 and 9 Caldmore, Walsall. A second picture of the shop front seems to have been taken around the same time and presumably the girls in the shop doorway are two of Frederick's nine daughters. The sign above the door reads, "Baker, confectioner, dealer in horse corn, pig feed etc." The last photograph is from much later, when horses had been replaced by the petrol engine. This shows a van in the days when Benjamin Horton ran the business.

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