Lichfield bakery Hindley’s is celebrating an impressive 125 years in business this month. Amy Norbury chats to owners Duncan Hindley and Jackie Beaumont about their milestone
From buttalumps to bloomers, sourdough to spelt bread, there’s a hive of activity day and night which results in some of the tastiest baked products you can find for miles around. In making all of the bread, pastries, cakes and other goodies which adorn their shelves on site, Lichfield bakery owner Duncan Hindley and his team are carrying on a family tradition which stretches back some 125 years.
In 1893, Duncan’s great-grandfather Joseph Hindley purchased a bakery in Upper Brook Street, Rugeley, with records showing he parted with the princely sum of £45 for ‘goodwill, utensils and stock’. His first days takings, on April 6 of that year, show as £1 8s 6d. And from that modest start, Hindley’s grew to become one of the most recognised bakery names in the Midlands.
In the early 1960s, the main operation moved to a new purpose-built bakery site in Rugeley, on Wharf Road. A programme of expansion over the years saw the operation reach its peak with some 230 people employed across 18 shops, as well as at Wharf Road, which underwent an extension in 1990.
Duncan and his sister Jackie Beaumont are the fourth generation of the family to helm the business. After training at bakery college in the mid-Eighties Duncan developed his skills at a bakery in Bolton before returning home to join the family business in 1990, at the age of 23. He took over the reins from their father Graham when the senior Hindley retired three years later. After a successful career in marketing, Jackie came on board in 2002.
“Our father ran the business from 1958 and retired just after our centenary in 1993,” says Duncan. “Previous to that our grandfather and great-grandfather ran the business, and our uncle was involved for many years too.”
Jackie’s introduction came at a critical time for the business. As well as supplying their own shops, Hindley’s produced a full range of bread for 16 Somerfield stores. But as a mid-sized bakery unable to produce the vast quantities needed to reach the next level, economies of scale just didn’t add up.
“I decided we had three options,” says Duncan candidly. “We needed to double in size, half in size or sell the business. I just knew we couldn’t carry on doing what we were doing and we needed a radical change.”
“Duncan was looking for new ways forward and fresh ideas, and I worked at a marketing agency and we thought it would work well with me coming in from a completely non-food related perspective,” says Jackie.
“Previously it was all about what we could make, whereas we needed to look at it differently and discover what it was our customers really wanted.”
With the high street already in decline Duncan and Jackie opted to downsize, shifting their focus to a more artisan way of working. Over their illustrious 125-year baking history, the Hindley’s have now come full circle. Proud of their roots as a truly family-run business, today the business operates on a much more modest scale, with the flagship bakery and cafe in the heart of Lichfield, as well as a small second shop in Birmingham.
Hindley’s products are truly crafted in-house; when you talk about food miles, the Hindleys proudly boast mere metres from oven to shelf. Pop in early enough, and the bread you pick up will more than likely still be warm.
“Our food miles are very small,” says Duncan. “Flour comes in the back door, gets converted to bread or pastries right there in the bakery and then much of it makes its way to the shop front and goes straight on the shelves while the rest goes out of the front door, onto our van and off it goes.”
Their handcrafted baked goodies go down a storm at farmers’ markets around the Midlands, while Duncan has also turned his hand to sharing the tricks of the trade with his hugely popular bread-making courses.
“The farmers’ markets allow us to reach foodies quickly and on a regular basis,” says Duncan. “Because we’re only at each market once a month we have people coming along and stocking up with a month’s worth of bread to store in the freezer.”
“It’s taken a number of years to get where we are now,” says Jackie. “Over time we’ve changed our outlook and now we’ve found a niche which works for us.”
“We haven’t gone completely down the artisan route because that’s not what we’re about,” adds Duncan. “Anyone can walk into our shop and feel comfortable, and they can buy what they want; if they want a white sliced tin loaf, they can get a white sliced tin loaf.
“It’s about offering the widest range of products we can to cater for the most tastes, but making everything in the same sort of way, with the correct values and using the right ingredients. We make sure we do everything properly.
“At one end of the scale we have the tin loaf, while at the other end we have our sourdoughs; one loaf takes three hours to make while the other takes 24 hours. So we’re using the full range of baking craft. We’re also playing around with our pastries and bringing in the ‘yummy’ factor more and more; we find our cakes are going very well at the moment.”
Hindley’s sourdoughs are proving to be immensely popular, both with the foodies at the farmers’ markets and with customers at the bakery itself.
“The sourdoughs for Saturday are made on a Thursday night and then slowly reproved in the fridge until Friday evening, and then baked during Friday night, so it’s a long process,” says Duncan.
But that effort is worth every moment; in fact, the sourdoughs are so good that last year Hindley’s scooped a Great Taste Award for their roasted red onion and mature cheddar cheese variation.
“We’re putting our mince pies in for the award this year,” says Duncan. “We do have a bit of a reputation for our mince pies; we produced 30,000 of them during November and December last year. People really love them and we’re very proud of them. We have people coming from far and wide, making their annual pilgrimage for our mince pies!”
The Hindley’s staff are another integral part of the family story; one member of staff, Chris, is now in his 49th year working for the business, while others have clocked up a quarter of a century or more. Several generations of the same families have also worked for the bakery, and continue to do so.
“The staff are very much part of the family,” says Duncan. “We like to think we look after people properly.”
Hindley’s has been at its present site in the centre of Lichfield since 2007, when the company renovated a three storey historic building in Tamworth Street into a self-contained working bakery. To complement the bakery, the on-site cafe has also recently had an overhaul to create a comfortable, convivial area in which to enjoy a cuppa and a baked treat. Along the back wall is a large picture window which gives guests an insight into the bakery’s workings, where you can watch the Hindley’s team hard at work creating delicious cakes and pastries. Quirky touches like the feature balloon-whisk lights emphasise the setting.
And when night falls, the cafe area goes back to being a functional part of the bakery, transformed into a busy dispatch area.
“All of the tables and chairs get moved out of the way, and it’s where our loaves are stacked ready to be sent out,” says Duncan. “Overnight on a Saturday we have some 2,000 loaves here ready for the shop, cafe and various farmers’ markets and events.”
Food festivals and shows are now a huge part of the Hindley’s operation, and they find that the different audiences favour different kinds of bread. And then there’s also the need to keep coming up with new and exciting products to entice customers – and to keep things interesting for the bakery team.
“Every so often we try to get out for the day,” says Jackie. “A few weeks ago the whole team went down to London visiting other bakeries, eating lots of stuff and discovering what new things are going on and what ideas are trending. You do want to move your products on the whole time, evolving and keeping things interesting.”
“Usually we end up making a bit of a hybrid of some the things we’ve seen,” adds Duncan.
One product currently in development is a baked doughnut – and the whole team pitches in when it comes to taste-testing new ideas.
After a rather eventful 125 years, Duncan and Jackie are now happy to be steering the Hindley’s ship into a successful new era; an era which focuses on hard work, quality products and doing things “the right way”.
“With each loaf we make and each product we sell, you’re putting something of yourself out there,” says Duncan. “And it’s a very personal thing.”
For more details pop into the Tamworth Street bakery or visit www.hindleys-bakers.co.uk