Issue 119

February/
March
1999

The men with the muck-rakes are often indispensable to the well-being of society; but only if they know when to stop raking the muck, 

Theodore Roosevelt

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Anecdotes of an Island Baker 

Past Times Picture of St.Mary's
We have received a letter which reminds us of days gone by, when the shop with the awning (now Mr. M. Gray's) was Chirgwin's Bakers and Provisioners. The premises along side (now The Sandpiper) housed Barclay's Bank, though it was later taken over by Chirgwin's as a Bread and Cake shop with an interior door connecting the two premises. The Bakehouse was situated on the ground floor at the rear of a warehouse which Mr. R.M. Stephenson later converted into the Mermaid Pub.

JACK MATHEWS: Born: 2nd December 1913, Heamoor, Cornwall. Died: 2nd April 1998, Hayle, Cornwall

I'm writing on behalf of the Mathews family of Redruth, Cornwall, to inform you of the sad death of Mr. Jack Mathews who was your island's baker in the 1930's and 1950's. I am his grandson's girlfriend, and myself a visitor to Scilly for many years, since childhood. My parents used to subscribe to your magazine, and I am writing in the hope that you might print some of the enclosed family memories, put together by Jack's son Bob. Jack was always telling ancedotes about his time on the islands. I remember him telling me that he baked the first wedding cake on St.Mary's, and that the bride was named Karen Woodcock (he thought).

I would be interested to know if any of your readers, or any islanders remember Jack as the baker, or can contribute to/vertify any of his stories? I would happily collate any information to pass on to his family. Miss K. Teare, Oxford

MARRIED IN THE TOWN HALL
He arrived on St.Mary's in approximately 1938, when he took the job of baker for Chirgwin's, which had a bakehouse down on the quay just below the Mermaid Inn. He first lodged with the store/breadshop owner, a Mr. Guy. Mum (Ethel Pender from Mousehole) joined him in 1939 and they were married in the Town Hall, with the then Captain of the Scillonian giving the bride away.

STRAFED BY GERMAN BOMBER
One day, while digging for bait on Porthcressa Beach, a German bomber that had been arriving over the islands at around 4 o'clock every afternoon for days, finally decided to drop its load on the direction-finding station on the headland, after which it strafed the beach with its tailgun. Mum, Dad and a mate hid under a rowing boat as the plane came over the beach, and then ran around the other side as soon as it had passed, because it returned in the opposite direction. Luckily nobody was hurt, and they even found three sea-bass in a rockpool, which they had for their tea!

SENTRY DUTY
While serving in the L.T.V he had to go on sentry duty all night up on the golf course. As his mate was taking a rest in a bunker, Dad heard a movement. The wartime blackout combined with a moonless night made it impossible to see, and he froze to the spot, certain that "Gerry" had landed and was about to attack. However, just as he was about to wake his partner a horse neighed behind him. Dad breathed a huge sigh of relief!

ROUGH LANDING
The great Sunderland flying boats from Plymouth also made Scilly a stopover, landing on the roads, where one once damaged a float on a rough landing. They subsequently beached the aircraft in the small cove just below the Atlantic Inn, and when I visited St.Mary's in 1952 (during Dad's second visit as their baker) the old damaged float was still there, corroding away.

LOAVES AS BLACK AS YOUR HAT
French fishermen often visited Dad's bakery and would place an order for their large loaves: "Six loaves, Baker, and we will pick them up at 4 o'clock!" So Dad made enough dough for these six 1lb loaves plus a half lb ball on top of each, and put them into the oven until they were just a lovely brown colour, and waited for the fishermen's return. They however, were horrified, and insisted the loaves go back into the oven for another four hours! This done, the loaves were as black as your hat and the crust was about half an inch thick, but the Frenchmen were delighted and said: "Good, John, good, John!" Dad explained to me that if the crust was as we like it, it wouldn't last a day in the very wet boats, with their open tanks containing live crabs. The Frenchmen were also very short on cutlery, and only had a large penknife with which to cut their food, cut up the bait for the crab pots, and all other cutting procedures. Bob Mathews

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