East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food

The life of a baker…

Many families still made their own bread in the earlier 20th century, but an item in the Leicester Pioneer (30 January 1904) gives an interesting insight into issues raised by the Amalgamated Union of Bakers around the introduction of new machinery into the trade at that time, and the threat it was seen as posing to the livlihood of its members. 

It was said that some of this machinery – moulding machines for making confectionery, for instance - ’would enable one man to do the work of two’. Other concerns centred around the insanitary condition of some bakeries, some of them underground with little in the way of ventilation. Workers commonly suffered from such illnesses as pneumonia, tuberculosis and other diseases of the throat and lungs; or ‘excessive use of intoxicants’ due to the ‘demoralisation’ (literally, a lowering of moral standards) to which their poor working conditions contributed.

The union had clearly made some progress in securing shorter hours and higher wages, however. The Pioneer cited an article from the Morning Advertiser in 1859 describing the life of a baker as ‘a degraded toil with which the life of an American slave if a mere holiday’, involving a working day of 18 – 20 hours in ‘inhumane’ conditions. However, it was also said that the master bakers now made more money from speculating in the price of flour rather than selling the bread itself, and in an interesting ehco of the 21st century, the newspaper’s readers were urged to buy bread only from ‘fair’ bakery shops.


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About this Sponsor

A research project that looked at various aspects of food in the East Midlands, linking them with museum displays and objects in the region, and making the results available to as many people as possible in different formats.