Chamberlain's Bakery, A Short History


As with many of the interesting old buildings in Epsom, Chamberlains, at 45 High Street, was demolished. This happened in 1936 and gave to the town a building utterly devoid of architectural merit or character - the Odeon Cinema. This incarnation of the Odeon did not last all that long and was itself pulled down in 1972. (I cannot quite bring myself to include a picture of the Odeon in this article for architectural comparison purposes but there is one on this website.)

Chamberlain's bakery and confectionery shop, 1930s.
Chamberlain's bakery and confectionery shop, 1930s.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.

You may well look at the photograph above, which was taken just a few years before the demolition, and think that there was nothing particularly remarkable about Chamberlains as a building; certainly the exterior is not much to behold and, had you wandered round to the rear of the premises, that opinion would have been reinforced.

Rear of Chamberlain's bakery 1930s.
Rear of Chamberlain's bakery 1930s.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

However, the interior was very different and in 1936 parts of the panelling were photographed for posterity. This panelling has been dated as early 17th century and is thought to have come from an earlier building than the main baker's shop, which was probably built around the end of the 17th century or the beginning of the 18th. I cannot tell you who ran it in those days, but we can, I hope (bearing in mind that most censuses gave no numbers for premises in the High Street), track its ownership from 1841 onwards. Unfortunately, we do not have any images of the building's external appearance in earlier times but here are two pictures of the old interior panelling.

Panelling and doorways from Chamberlain's bakery 1936.Panelling and doorways from Chamberlain's bakery 1936.
Panelling and doorways from Chamberlain's bakery 1936.
Images courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.

The incumbents of the bakery in 1841 were Charles Wood Senior (born in Epsom in 1779) and his wife, Matilda (nèe Clowser), with Charles Junior (born 1818) and family and younger son, Robert Steward (1822-76), also in residence. Another assistant was Richard Spikesman, who later had his own shop dealing in grocery, china and glass, went bankrupt and became a school attendance officer. In 1851 Charles Junior seems to have had separate baking premises in Church Street, Epsom.

Charles Wood Senior died in 1854 and Charles Junior then took over the High Street shop. He may well have retired during the 1870s but, in any event, he died in 1880. Robert Steward Wood had had male descendants, but none of them were ultimately bakers, and Charles Junior had no surviving children at all.

It seems that the bakery was then sold to Edward Barrett from London, but he died fairly soon afterwards and in 1881 his widow, Mary, was in charge, helped by her son, Alfred. Mary died in 1885 and Alfred continued to bake for a time, but by 1901 he had become an auctioneer's porter in Camberwell.

This is where Robert Edward Chamberlain entered the picture. He was born in Basingstoke in about 1859, son of a plumber and glazier. By 1881 he was baking in Dogmersfield (a village between Fleet and Hartley Wintney). By 1891 he had his own premises in Norwood, London and was married. His wife was Fanny Lock, born in 1862 in Burghfield, Berkshire (near Reading). They had just one child, who was Robert Reginald (born 1890, Berkshire). Fanny's nine year old sister, Edith Lock, was also with them at this time.

It seems likely that Alfred Barrett remained in Epsom High Street for several years after his mother's death and that Robert Chamberlain took over during the 1890s. In the 1901 census Robert was there with his wife, son and Edith Lock (who was helping in the shop), plus his niece, Cecily. Robert Reginald became a baker and I would guess that he stayed in the business until his father died on 24 April 1934, by which time the latter lived in West Hill Avenue, Epsom and had probably retired. Fanny survived him until 1946. I imagine that Robert Senior's death was the catalyst that caused the sale of the shop for development in 1936 and it probably produced a tidy sum. I cannot find that Robert Junior ever married and he died in 1959.

Linda Jackson © March 2012




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