Showing posts with label Blatchford's Bakery Hamilton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blatchford's Bakery Hamilton. Show all posts

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Blatchford's Bakery

It had begun in the kitchen and lounge room of Eric Blatchford’s parents’ home. Eric was just 20, and unable to afford his own place, had brought his young wife Doris to live there. In this tiny space, a mouth watering variety of cakes, shortbread, sponges, and tarts were produced.

The next step was in 1931-32, when the  Blatchford bakery opened  behind their shop at 145 Beaumont Street, Hamilton, opposite the Wesley Church.

Advertisement for Blatchford’s Pastrycook and Delicatessen (1956)
Newcastle Sun, Monday 6 February, 1956 
clipping courtesy of Doug Saxon

The family business gradually expanded, catering to the population of Hamilton throughout the Great Depression and World War II.

During the Depression, Blatchford’s began a new line - meat pies. Costing one shilling and three pence, Doris and Eric were anxious about whether their customers would find them too expensive. They needn’t have worried – pies took off, customers loved them and pies have been a staple bakery item ever since.

Hungry BHP workers, patrons of the races and many Newcastle clubs, enjoyed Blatchford’s pies, sausage rolls and cakes. Grandson Chris Blatchford tells how each year before Easter, Eric invited the Catholic priests and other church ministers in to bless the dough for the Easter buns – a sure way to increase their saleability!

Eric ordered Newcastle’s first automatic doughnut machine from the USA - a source of fascination for passers-by in Beaumont Street.

The wholesale side of the business grew from horse and cart to bakers’ vans, with deliveries to the many small towns throughout the Hunter.

Doris and Eric had three sons - Don, Ross and Bruce. Don and Ross became apprentice bakers and fine pastrycooks. Bruce preferred office work, and the family bakery provided this opportunity for him.

Blatchford’s Bakehouse expanded to the building that had been Cherry’s Terrace, 102 Denison Street, Hamilton (n.d.)
Photograph courtesy of Newcastle Region Library

Sometime after Eric died, and the business was restructured, Doris was interviewed for an oral history project. The interview was conducted in 1989. [1]

I listened to the tape in the University of Newcastle’s Archives. What will the future hold for Blatchfords, Doris was asked.

‘It will always include pies and sausage rolls’, she responds with confidence.

Doris believed that Bruce’s son Chris would be the one most likely to keep the Blatchford baking passion alive. At the time of her interview, Chris had just become apprenticed in the family business, at age 17.

‘He wants to be the best pastry cook in Newcastle’, she says. I hear pride and affection trembling in her voice.

At school Chris had been introduced to new tastes and textures. He had plenty to trade – pies and custard tarts for exotic sweets brought for play lunch by the sons of Greek migrants. For the first time in his life, he experienced delicate flaky pastry drenched in sweet syrup, crunchy nuts and crumbly fillings, the exotic flavours of orange and lemon zest....

Chris was not far into his apprenticeship when the 1989 earthquake struck.

‘We thought BHP had blown up’, he recalls.

The main bakehouse in Denison Street was badly damaged. Despite warnings not to enter the building, Chris ran upstairs to retrieve the takings. Money was counted in the front room and kept upstairs in Eric’s apartment. The Army was on the spot, quickly, wanting to demolish the building, but it survived. The business didn’t.

Still standing - Blatchford’s Bakehouse after the 1989 Newcastle earthquake
Photograph by Medical Communications Unit, courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

Bruce and Ross dissolved their partnership, with Bruce going his own way to re-establish himself at Warners Bay. Chris continued his training at Edgeworth.

Chris Blatchford’s journey was to take a few twists and turns before he found his real passion, food. Today, he is Executive Chef at boutique coffee roaster Belaroma Coffee, in Manly Vale, Sydney. He runs the kitchen for a 90 seat cafe, with a sous chef and apprentices, creating elegant dishes such one I found on the March menu - a light grilled nectarine salad with buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomato, basil and grilled sourdough. Not quite pies and sausage rolls... yet Chris is vehement in honouring the family tradition that nurtured him.

All I have comes from Dad, and Grandpa. Dad was a great teacher. He was a hard taskmaster, and he taught me to work hard’.

 The last visit Chris made to see his grandmother Doris in a nursing home is seared in his memory. She’d been unable to speak for some time. Rushing there straight from work, he’d not been able to change his clothes as usual. He stood before her, his work boots covered in flour. Doris looked down at them.

The Bakehouse,’ she said, clearly. Her last words.


Thank you to Chris Blatchford for updating his family story, and to the University of Newcastle Archives for access to the oral history recording with Doris Blatchford. If you have additional photos or information to share about this story, please email

Since this story was posted, the University of Newcastle has digitised the interview with Doris Blatchford which is referenced here. The interview was part of a wider project of some 200 oral history interviews conducted by Open Foundation students under the guidance of lecturer the late Margaret Henry. It can be heard on

[1] History of E.H. Blatchford, Wholesale Pastrycook and Caterer, University of Newcastle Community Programmes Department. Interviewee Doris Blatchford.  Interviewer Mladen Lazic. 10 September 1989. Lecturer Margaret Henry. Held in University of Newcastle Archives and quoted from with the permission of Chris Blatchford.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Who’s Been Sleeping in My House?

The popularity of the television series of this name shows how keen many of us are discover the human dramas that might have played out in the house we now occupy.

One of the quests of this blog is to find out much more about the history and the secrets of the land, the buildings and the people around my home in Hamilton.

The front page article in The Post  about this blog resulted in a surprising flurry of emails and phone calls. One day, as I was enjoying the afternoon sun warming my office, I opened one of those emails. It was quite long, and to be honest, I was a bit drowsy. I began to learn about my correspondent, who had grown up in a house on Denison Street, between Webster and Crompton Streets.

As I read on, an address leapt off the screen. It was mine!

The writer of the email, Brian Agland, was describing how his aunt and uncle, Syd and Val Taylor, had lived “just around the corner” from where he had lived as a young boy from 1952 to 1965. They had become his much loved de facto grandparents, and their place his second home.

Now, it was ours.

I met up with Brian, and his wife Anita, to learn more.

Brian had left Newcastle as a young man, to pursue a career in the Air Force. As he and Anita planned their retirement, Newcastle kept up its persistent call. Irresistibly, they were drawn back. “If we couldn’t live in Hamilton, we weren’t going to come back”, Brian told me.

Brian’s aunt and uncle and their three sons never actually slept in our house. Their two bedroom weatherboard home was demolished in 2006 and the following year, the house that was eventually to become ours, was built.

Front of Val and Syd's home, Crompton Street, Hamilton
Photograph from personal collection of Brian Agland

The only trace of past occupants is a sun-seeking olive tree, squeezed into the tiny back courtyard of the modern house that now stands here.

I fantasised that the tree had been planted by a long gone Greek or Italian resident, yearning for the scrabbly limestone hills where olives flourish in Mediterranean Europe.

Brian tells me his relatives would have owned the block probably from the 1940s, so perhaps it was Val and Syd (as they were known) who planted our solitary tree.

I’m happy to replace my little fantasy with Brian’s memories as a kid, racing down the narrow alley at the side of the house to visit Aunty Val (“we never used the front door”). As soon as she heard their footsteps, she’d put the kettle on and he’d hear its familiar hiss.

This simple home was the family hub on special occasions such as Christmas, with everyone welcome to pack into the lounge room and spill out the back. Although the weatherboards, the cockatoo in its cage and the front brick pillars have all gone, I hope we continue to be blessed by the spirit of those happy times.

Uncle Syd’s claim to fame, says Brian, was his risky sideline as an SP bookie, illegal at that time. He would occupy the same spot in the Hamilton Hotel, and Brian remembers the thrill of being sent to call him for the evening meal – surreptitiously catching his eye from the door, as children were not allowed inside.

For his day job, Uncle Syd worked for Dark’s Ice Works, delivering ice to BHP very early in the morning, and in the afternoon. He must have been a strong, fit man, hefting the huge blocks on his shoulder. Brian remembers the intense excitement of occasionally, being allowed to go with Uncle Syd on his afternoon delivery.

Unloading ice From Dark’s Ice Works
 Maritime Newcastle collection of Ralph Snowball images, courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

Syd and Val Taylor owned a vacant block of land across the street from their Crompton Street home. Fronted by a long brick wall (loved by the boys to practice balancing), the block was known as “The Stables”. An old horse stable at the back was a favorite play area, no doubt dark and musty. Val grew vegetables on the spare land and Brian’s father used it as a car park. Villas were built there in the 1980s – and so the built landscape changes.

Streetscape Crompton Street, showing villas
that replaced "The Stables"

On the corner of Crompton and Denison Streets, at 102 Denison Street, was Blatchford’s Bakery. We know this sturdy building today as Denison Street Automotive Services. It was badly damaged in the 1989 earthquake.

The warm, yeasty smell of freshly baked bread is apparently one of the most universally loved aromas in the world. Recent research has found it even makes us kinder to strangers! [1] I love the idea that over time, there have been two bakeries so close to where I live.

The mother of Brian’s school friend worked at Blatchford’s. “It was a real treat to have a free cream horn after school”, Brian recalls.

Who else remembers cream horns?

Photograph courtesy

Years later, Susan Henderson remembers Blatchford’s mouth watering pies, bought from this shop.

Brian believes that Susan’s great grandfather’s bakery in Webster Street,  Pearce's Bakery  was sold to Allen’s Sweets (“I can still smell the peppermint!”). Around the corner on Tudor Street, Jim’s Dairy Delites produced HOT milkshakes!

The land on which Brian’s childhood home used to be the grounds of the Sportsman's Arms Hotel .

108 Denison Street, Hamilton (centre)
Photograph from personal collection of Brian Agland

 In the family for over 100 years, the house was finally sold, then demolished in 2006.

Demolition of 108 Denison Street, Hamilton (2006)
Photograph from personal collection of Brian Agland

As shown on the streetscape below, it was replaced with a modern, two story structure.

There are many more fascinating threads to Brian and Anita’s story, which is theirs to tell. But for now, they have helped people the spaces and streets around my home.

I see two little mates, leaving Blatchford’s Bakery, luscious cream horns cradled in hands grubby from a day at school. Later, I hear their voices, taunting each other as, step by careful step, they inch along the high brick wall fencing off “The Stables”.  Then, I imagine Aunty Val, listening for the dash of boyish feet down the side of the house, their small owner bursting in breathless, with his news of the day.

Unattributed photographs by Ruth Cotton.

Updated 8 June 2018.

[2] Early last century, the house numbers were changed – originally it was 100 Denison Street.