Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Brackley, Northamptonshire

A nice slice

A nice slice of brown bread and honey always seems to conjure up for me images of pleasant winter evenings in front of the fire. Comfort food, and, if the bread is wholemeal, nutritious too. In my childhood, Hovis, popular bread that was widely advertised on green and gold signs, seemed to fit the bill.*

The Hovis Bread Flour Company was founded in 1898 to make wholemeal flour, and their name, a shortened form of hominis vis (Latin for 'strength of man') was chosen after a national competition. The company expanded rapidly during the early years of the 20th century and again in the 1920s after the vitamin content of wheatgerm was discovered and publicized. The expansion came in the wake of clever marketing, too. Hovis produced special tins, embossed with the company name, with which bakers could bake loaves made with their flour. They provided branded bags, boxes, and even kitchen bread bins. Wherever they went, British people were reminded of Hovis wholemeal flour.

And then there were the shop signs, green, with gold letters standing out in relief. Their ingenious design ensured that they could be seen and read by passers-by coming from any direction, making them more effective than either a flat sign screwed to the wall or a hanging sign sticking out at right-angles like a pub sign. There are not so many of these signs around now, so I was pleased to find this one, attached to a building in Brackley. Hovis bread is still available and the sign is still doing its job, standing out and doing its bit to convince us that bread made with Hovis flour is outstanding.

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*The virtues of Hovis were imprinted on me well before the famous Ridley Scott commercial, first aired in 1973, another effective piece of marketing. In this curious confection, cobbled steep implausibly picturesque Gold Hill in Shaftesbury stands for a kind of eternal England, curiously underpinned by a speeded up brass-band arrangement ('Hurry up lads, commercial only lasts 40 seconds') of Dvořák's 9th symphony, with its Native American-influenced theme.


DG said...

Philip when did you take the photo of the Hovis sign - is it recent as I can't place it in Brackley ?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Sparrow: We've cleared this up by email, but for anyone reading this who has any doubts, the photograph is recent and the sign is over the bakery, which I think is in the Market Place.

aw said...

I've taken photos of quite a few of these around the country over the years including this one at Brackley. The baker's shop was still open when I took it in 2007.
Some of the photos I have are red and gold or even black and gold examples. Besides this shape they were sometimes long banner shape signs against the building.
It is good to find out from this post the history behind the name and time scale these must fit into.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Ann: Thanks for your comment. I remember the red and gold signs now you mention them. If you are interested in the history of bread, there's a good book called Bread: A Slice of History (2009) by John Marchant, Bryan Reuben and Joan Alcock.

aw said...

Thanks for the info about the book, Philip. I'll look it up.

Anonymous said...

Google Street View shows that in October 2008 the Brackley Bakery (at 38 Market Place) was boarded up.

The present occupant of the shop is Lindy Bakeries.

Gerty Shipmaker said...

I have a set of Hovis bread pans from my grandfather's bakery in Holland. Does anyone know what year they would be from?