Bakehouse history



The bakehouse is an extension added on the north side of the farmhouse c.1800-1842 about the time that the house was ‘georgianised’ and provided with sash windows and a neo-classical door case.  A long stone sink beneath the window on the east side of the room is probably an original feature and may have been used for preparing dough.  Water was brought into the room from a pump outside the house just to the north-east.  A plan of the house made for the owner Frank Cullen in 1914 describes the room as a scullery and shows a copper against the north wall.  By this time, the oven was probably little used, probably superseded by a range in the kitchen next door, and the bakehouse had become a washroom.  A brick flue which runs over the top of the oven served a copper in the brewhouse which had been built on to the back of the farmhouse.


The oven is a brick dome oval in plan, measuring 1.6m x 1.1m, and ).4m high.  It has a floor of square clay tiles or pammets.  It is sealed with a metal door.  In front of and above the door, there is a brick flue which turns through a right angle to join the chimney of the former farmhouse kitchen in the adjoining room.   An arched cavity below the oven is for hot ashes raked out from it.

Bundles of wood or faggots were burnt with the oven door open until they were reduced to charcoal.  The door was then closed to allow total heat absorption by the brick walls.  The ashes were then raked out and the bread and cakes put in to cook, using a long-handled ‘peel’.  This was traditionally made of wood, but the Cressing Temple one has a circular beaten metal end.


Bread making was a skill handed down from mother to daughter, but was also the subject of scientific inquiry and observation.  Flour would come from the local mill.  The closest to Cressing Temple is Bulford Mill, a water mill on the river Brain, about a mile away.  The flour was mixed with water, or sometimes whey left over from the dairy, and then yeast, a by-product of brewing beer, was added.  The mixing was done in a large trough called a keeler which had a flat hinged lid on which to knead the dough. Salt and various ‘secret’ ingredients were added and the dough then put into the keeler and the lid closed and insulated with sacking to aid fermentation.  At Cressing Temple, the stone sink may have been used to knead the dough.  When the dough was ready, it was moulded into shape or later put into tins which prevented it getting covered with charcoal and gave a more thorough bake.


In her book, A new system of Domestic Cookery published in 1806, Maria Eliza Rundell wrote: ‘The oven should be round, not long; the roof from twenty to twenty-four inches high, the mouth small, and the door of iron, to shut close.’

Normally two faggots were used per firing.  Hand bellows might be used to raise the temperature. The temperature was estimated in a number of ways, including tell-tale stones which change colour with heat, striking sparks on the hot bricks with a wooden stick, or throwing in flour and observing it singe on the bricks.  Later thermometers were used, which showed the ovens to operate at up to 500 oF (260 oC), dropping to about 200 oF (94 oC) during the baking process.  When the correct temperature was reached, usually after at least two hours, the embers were raked out with a garden hoe or a specially made rake and the dough placed in the oven.  It was customary to swab the oven floor with water to create steam to improve the consistency of the bread.

Baking times depended on the size of the oven and what was being baked, but a loaf might take about an hour.  Bread could go straight in, but pies, fancy cakes and meringues needed to go in long after the heat had subsided.  In this lay the skill of the baker.


The items on display have come from a variety of sources, but significant donations have been made by June Beardsley (formerly of Essex Record Office, e.g. scales), and Peter Ratcliffe of Ashes Farm, Cressing.  The Atlas Grinding Mill by Hunts of Earls Colne was given by Brian Alderman of the Atlas Works Museum at Earls Colne in 2005.

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