Chapelfields Family Bakery, Coventry

The building and its history

The exterior of the bakers. | Image supplied by Doris Pails
The exterior of the bakers.
Image supplied by Doris Pails
The oven within the bakery. | Image supplied by Doris Pails
The oven within the bakery.
Image supplied by Doris Pails

The bakery closed on August 1st 2008 after trading for 110 years, and had been run by four generations of the Pails family. It was established in 1898 when Alfred Hugh Pails, aged 27 years, took over the business in Thomas Street from James Gupwell.

In 1909 the business moved to Craven Street, Chapelfields. The land belonged to the trustees of the Sir Thomas Whites Charity (the trustees of the time being John Bill, William Hillman, Arthur Edward Jagger and Richard Botham Caldicott) and was conveyed to Thomas Henry Box. It stood on the corner of Craven Street and Sir Thomas Whites Road. On July 10th 1909 an agreement was drawn up for sale of all that messuage or tenement with the stabling, bakehouse and other outbuildings erected now, or in the course of erection. It was  purchased for £155 2 shillings and stamp duty was paid to Seymours, solicitors in the sum of £2 on July 12th 1909.

Doubling the size of the bakery

In 1920 a large oven was built behind the bakery, doubling the size of the original bakery. The two tier steam tube brick ovens were fired originally by coke before becoming oil fired later, and then eventually by gas. There are very few, if any, of this type of bread ovens still existing in this country. The ovens are notable for needing specialist oven builders to maintain them.

In 1939 major alterations were made, by putting an extension on the side of the bakery and building over the stables. A new dough plant was installed upstairs, the work just being completed as the Second World War started. The stables were eventually converted into a garage for two motor vans and then in 1979 this was converted into a shop.

Interesting features

Interesting features in the historic premises are two openings in the bakery ceiling. The smaller one is where the dough was dropped from the machinery above onto the table below ready for hand moulding. The other large trap door in the centre of the bakery housed a flight of wooden stairs, which were lowered by a rope pulley to gain access to the upper storey during the ‘Black Out’ in the war. As with most old bakeries, the stairs to the upper storey were on the outside and this caused a problem as no lights could be shown that might attract enemy aircraft. We were told by a surveyor that the Lancashire Sash Windows1 in the side of the bakery (behind the shutter) were also an historic feature.

This gives a brief introduction to the building itself. In the next article, I discuss the early history of the people who ran the bakery.

1 Windows that slide sideways rather than up and down.

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