Annex to Chapter 12

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The first part details bread rationing, the second the rationing of other foods.

The shortage of labour had threatened the gathering of the nation's harvest of 1945, but this had been saved by allowing servicemen 28 days' "agricultural leave" and by utilising 30,000 German and Italian prisoners of war. In July 1946 the government introduced a new (and unnecessary) plan to ration bread in a bid to conserve grain supplies. As the allowance of 9 ounces a day was more than most people ate anyway, it merely caused more frustration and paperwork. Bread Unit Coupons allowed the ration to be taken as bread, flour, cakes, buns or scones and there were seven different categories of consumer ; agriculture workers and those in heavy manual jobs were entitled to an increased ration, and there were special arrangements for industrial canteens. The purpose of the scheme was to make supplies last until the next harvest, but in the event bread rationing lasted until July 1948.
Points rationing for many food items finally ended in May 1950, but meat and bacon rationing lasted until June 1954.
In 1948, for example, bacon and ham were rationed to 2 ounces per person per fortnight; cheese - 1 ½ ounces per week; sugar - 8 ounces a week; tea - 2 ounces per week; milk - 3 pints per week (there were extra rations for young children, pregnant women etc).

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The harsh winter of 1947 - from the week-end of January 24th to the middle of March, temperatures plummeted and snow fell every day with the result that major roads became impassable and coal could not easily be moved to the power stations or to domestic suppliers (most families depended on coal fires for heating). Householders were told to switch off power from 9am - midday, and from 2-4 pm to conserve energy for industry, and anything made of wood which was not needed was burned as fuel.

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An example of equipment needed for a local bakery in 1947 - Webbs paid £1,600 for the goodwill and two delivery vans from a business in Oldbury; and £400 for machinery, plant and utensils to include :Bun divider, pie machine, small Hobart machine, cake machine and motor, moulder and motor, bread wrapper, dough machine and motor, Ferns Emulsifier, dough brakes, tack scales along with racks, boards, tins and sheets.

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Mr Watkins sold his family business to Webbs, and was re employed by them. His family had at one time also owned Watkins Tea Rooms on The Parade and, according to The Redditch Commercial Directory (1935), a second-floor café at number 13 Evesham Street. In present day Redditch, an advertisement can still just be made out on the side of a building in Alcester Street.

Mr Watkins' family had acquired The Mount Pleasant Bakery in 1915, and the owner described himself as "an artistic confectioner". He reputedly excelled at making wedding cakes and all his confectionery and pastries were "artistically designed, pure and palatable, and very enticing, even before tasting"!
Mr Watkins became a personal friend of the Webb family. He was a Quaker, and when he died the Webbs were privileged to attend their first Quaker funeral, an experience which they found very memorable.

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The "Travelling Oven", which was said to have cost £10,000 in the 1950s, was 45 feet in length. It took in the dough (after weighing, moulding and proving) at one end, and delivered the loaves at the other end at the rate of about 1,000 per hour.

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Return to bakehouse 1963

The Redditch Commercial Directory for 1935 describes production methods at Webbs bakery :The flour is shot down from an upper storey through a sieve. It then passes to a mixing machine where the necessary amount of water, yeast and other ingredients are added, and, in a short time, is dropped out, thoroughly kneaded and mixed, into troughs, which are covered over and left to rise. It is then fed into an automatic machine which cuts it up into accurately weighed lumps, which drop onto a travelling belt. It then passes through moulding and shaping machines, and then into tins, or formed into ordinary cottage loaves. The loaves are run onto provers and into the ovens.

20 Church Green East and the bakehouse in 1933

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Wilfred was a popular manager of the bakehouse, and was sorely missed by the staff. In his will Wilfred left money to his brothers, to each of the women in the family, and to his nephews and nieces. There were also bequests to several of his key workers, Foley Field, Fred Cale, Horace Austin and Luke Giles, for his housekeeper, and for the upkeep of St Stephen's church.

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Making use of the rooms at 20 Church Green East in the 1960s / 70s : at first the room to the left of the front door was Ted's office, while across the hall was the shop with its large stove on the far wall. The entrance to the shop from the street was through the distinctive glass fronted door with the latch that clicked on opening, and the bell to alert the staff. Later, John and Gordon had their office on the first floor, in the room where for years Catharine had watched Redditch carnival procession every September. The room opposite, which had been her bedroom, became the cash office, where the delivery men brought in the takings from their rounds. Some years later the downstairs office became the biscuit room, while next to it, down the passage, was the flour room.

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Return to text (Seed Shop)

Redditch Telephone Exchange : According to BT archives, the first telephone exchange was opened in Redditch around 1896/7, and the earliest telephone directory which mentions the town was issued in 1898. Some of the early subscribers had a shared line, for example in 1905 J&A Millward had the number 1Y 5 and the other subscriber had the number 1 X 5.

The National Telephone Company was taken over by the Post Office in 1912, and at this time Redditch district was served by a small magneto switchboard which had two operating positions and could cater for about 100 subscribers. In 1917 this was increased to a five position switchboard serving up to 300 subscribers. When this too became inadequate for the needs of the town it was replaced by a central battery type switchboard which could cater for 800 lines.
In the first type (magneto) the subscriber would turn a handle to generate his own ringing current to call the exchange, and needed a battery to provide the speech current. It was this switchboard which was installed at 21 Church Green East.
With the new (central battery) system the power was derived from a centralised plant at the exchange, and all the subscriber had to do was to lift the "receiver" and wait for the operator to answer and connect the call. This system was installed at the Head Post Office in Church Road, and was later expanded to have 15 operating positions which served 1,900 lines.
In December 1959 an automatic exchange was established in a new building off Birmingham Road with equipment for 2,500 lines. By then subscribers could dial local calls, and soon would also be able to dial "trunk calls" (long distance). The document shows the "Sites and Buildings" list for The National Telephone Company in 1908 detailing the rent payable for housing the exchange in Redditch (£33 per year).

I am indebted to Alan Foxall for this information.

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Webbs Seed Trade
As early as 1907 Webbs had been advertising a special catalogue for garden and agricultural seeds. The main focus of the year was "Seed Time" when the seeds had to be taken from the containers supplied by the growers, and weighed out into their individual packets which had been pre printed with the Webbs logo (though some packets were labelled by hand). As garden seeds vary in size, from those which can be picked up individually to those which resemble dust, very accurate small scales with a wide range of brass weights had to be used - a tedious job requiring concentration and accuracy.
Before seed time there was a flurry of activity to produce the catalogue itself, and to get sufficient copies printed. The catalogue contained not only lists of the seeds available, but detailed notes on sowing and cultivation plus recommendations for new varieties. This information was based on detailed conversations with the commercial travellers who came each year to offer their companies' products. They became personal friends, as did the "Dutch bulb men" who had such unpronounceable names that John called them all "skipper" to avoid embarrassment. He was a familiar figure dashing out of the door of the seedshop at number 21, crossing Peakman Street and in through the door by the bakehouse to get to the office at number 20 Church Green East. Everyone worked long hours, only having Wednesday afternoon (early closing) and Sundays for time with their families. Saturdays were especially tiring - a busy day in the shop followed by "cashing up" and doing the books, but this was typical of most of the family-run businesses in Redditch at the time. A report on the firm of Webb and Sons states that : "A further important department is that of Seeds, for which they hold a justly enviable reputation throughout the district."

bulb catalogue 1935