The ceramic bakers of Spitalfields on Widegate Street
The history behind a 1920s shop building and its artistic decorations.
Spitalfields is full of fascinating buildings, with Georgian, Victorian and early 20th century well represented. Many businesses are moving into the area, with some redeveloping or demolishing older buildings. While some historic architecture has been restored and changed for the better, there are others which meet a sorry fate (see my post on a crime against architecture in Artillery Lane). One of the things I love about the Spitalfields area is its many old lanes and alleys. Although many were destroyed during the Blitz, some still remain despite the encroaching modernity and skyscrapers of the City. As businesses come and go from the area, it’s interesting to see which ones embrace the history and heritage of the buildings they occupy… or completely annihilate any original features.
This post focuses on one particular street and one of its buildings. Widegate Street is just 200ft long and connects Middlesex Street and Sandy’s Row. The name Widegate comes from the former ‘white gate’ entrance into the Old Artillery Ground, which was established in the 16th century. Areas of the ground were sold off for housing and shops in subsequent centuries, with its legacy living on today in names such as Fort Street, Gun Street, Artillery Passage and Artillery Lane. Widegate Street used to be longer than what you see today, but some of it was absorbed by Middlesex Street in the 1890s. Today, Widegate Street features a mix of narrow historic buildings, including two listed houses at No.24 and 25 dating back to 1720. Over the years, the site of 12-13 Widegate Street was often home to pastry chefs. including Alexander Kennedy in the 1780s, and John King in 1790, and bakers Joseph Hawkes in the 1820s, and Edward Roll in 1834-37.
No.12-13 is currently home to Honest Burgers, who have branches across London in a variety of historic premises. However, before burger buns were being served, more traditional buns were being baked on site up until the late 20th century. The current building was designed in the 1920s by architect George Val Myer as a bakery, in a neo-Georgian style to complement neighbouring buildings. The ground floor features glazed white bricks, giving a clean, clinical look. The two upper stories are made of red brick, Crittal windows and a strong cornice projecting above. The most striking part of the building are four ceramic panels, giving a permanent reminder of its origins as bakery. ‘Bakers Relief’ were created by Brixton-born sculptor Philip Lindsey Clark (1899-1977) in 1926 and were fired by Carters of Poole. The white and blue glazes are 1.2metres by 50 centimetres and depict the baking process. The panels start with a man carrying a sack of flour; a baker kneading the dough, baking the loaf in the oven and a baker carrying a tray of loaves. The original business itself was called the Nordheim Model Bakery and was opened by Charles Naphtali Nordheim (1864-1941). It carried on trading for several decades after Charles’ death (see a 1973 photo of the bakery). In the 1970s, the words ‘French Vienna and Rye Breads’ had been fixed to the façade in between the 1st and 2nd floors. Although the bakery moved on in recent decades, today customers are still their getting their carb fixes thanks to buns with their burgers.
- 12-13 Widegate Street, Spitalfields, E1 7HP. Nearest station: Liverpool Street.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.