Did you know that Camden Town for many years was the centre for baking bread (and cakes!)
This was due to the Aerated Bread Company – the company originated as a bakery, but went on to run a large network of restaurants across London (under the ABC name), and for many years occupied a four acre site in Camden Town on Camden Road. Many people still remember the 1924 red and white tiled factory which was demolished in 1982, and in 1985 became the site of Nicholas Grimshaws (now grade II listed) Sainsbury’s supermarket.
The inventor of Aerated Bread was John Dauglish (1823-1866) – a rather eccentric Doctor and Inventor. He thought that bread (made at the time by hand using yeast) was unhygienic, and he sought to produce bread that was untouched by hand. Dauglish thought that traditional bakery processes allowed the introduction of bacteria and mould to the detriment of the consumer. So in the 1850s, he developed a method of making bread in pressurised vessels using carbonated water.
The bread could be produced without hand kneading – which mean in his view that the bread would be healthier. But this new invention had other advantages. No yeast or other additives commonly used in the day needed to used, the bread didn’t need time to rise, so you could produce a lot of loaves of bread inside two hours – as opposed to the normal eight to ten hours for traditional baking. Mechanised moulds enabled huge quantities of bread to be made – and so the Dauglish process could produce a lot of cheap bread very quickly – with no need for the night shifts that bakeries usually needed.
A patent was gained in 1856, he moved to London initially working with Carr and Co, but then establishing his own bakery in 1859 – the year he was awarded a medal for innovation from the Royal Society of Arts. The Aerated Bread Company was founded in 1862 (initially based in Islington), and by 1864 the company was opening tea rooms in town to help sell the bread and cakes and other products from the bakery. John Dauglish sadly died young in 1866, but his business lived on.
The Dauglish method was seen as the best way to economically manufacture bread until the more recent Chorleywood Bread Process was developed in 1961. Nearly all commercial bread today is manufactured using the new Chorleywood process which has the major advantage of being able to use UK grown lower-protein (and cheaper) flour.
The initial bakery was in Islington but production was centralised in Camden on Camden Road in 1891, by this time supporting lots of ABC restaurants spread through the central areas of London (numbers varied – at the peak they had over 200 outlets). Restaurant chains like the ABC (and competitors like J Lyons which opened in 1894) were revolutionary at the time as they were one of the few places that welcomed single women, and where men and women could dine together in public. ABC outlets were slightly down market from the J Lyons outlet – the waitresses were dressed in Black and White until 1926 – and were apparently poorly paid. ABC outlets appear in a lot in novels written at the time.
In 1924 a brand new five storied building, with an Art Deco tiled red and white frontage was built (architect Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners) on the corner of Camden Road and Camden Street, backing on to the Regent’s Canal at the rear. A photo is shown in the Streets of Camden Town book. Not explicitly referenced anywhere, but the pictures in references below show what was probably a second building white tiled face building. It’s also interesting to note that the new Art Deco building was built over a factory that had been used by artists as a studio – including some of the “Camden Town” artists
Merger, and closure
By 1954 competition was fierce, bread consumption was falling, and the ABC Company became one of the many bakeries in London acquired by the Canadian owned Allied Bakeries Company. Aerated Bread ceased to be made by the company about the same time. Rationalisation across the Allied Bakeries group led to the ABC name vanishing in 1976, when the production of cakes at Camden Town stopped with the loss of over 400 jobs, and the Camden Town bakery finally closed in 1982 with the loss of 200 jobs.
- The Rise and Fall of the Aerated Bread Company, Robert Leon, Camden History Review Volume 25, 2001 p47-50
- The Streets of Camden Town, Camden History Society, 2003 p42-43
- As Easy as ABC Tea shops T Farrell 2015
- Aerated Bread Company on Wikipedia
- National Archives on the ABC Company records in the LMA
- Graces Guide on the Aerated Bread Company
Images of the ABC company outlets and buildings (sadly none of them are public domain)
- Pinterest board by Jack B showing ghost ABC signs around London
- London Picture Archives shows frontage of 133-147 Camden Street
- Jack Whiteheads Local History website has a picture of the old building
- Ribapix also has some photos of the building
- This twitter thread includes a photo of the building
- Wikipedia article on Sainsbury’s with the picture used at the top of the post.