August Talk: The rise & fall of John Spicer’s model bakery & shop Balbriggan (1904-1999): an overview of parts 1 & 2′ – Frank Whearity

Balbriggan & District Historical Society presents Frank Whearity-The rise & fall of John Spicer’s model bakery & shop Balbriggan (1904-1999): an overview of parts 1 & 2′ August 30th 8pm Bracken Court Hotel

Admission €5, Members free. All Welcome

Frank Whearity’s story is about the bakery branch opened by John Spicer (a Navan based miller and baker, b.1853-d.1922) in April, 1904, at Drogheda Street Balbriggan. In 1902, Spicer had two flour mills, known as the Boyne and Blackwater Mills, a bakery, and a coal-yard, all at Navan, Co. Meath. When an opportunity arose to expand into the area of north Co. Dublin, by buying out the Cumisky family’s bakery at Drogheda St. Balbriggan, he jumped at the chance. His new bakery revolutionised the breadmaking process in N. Co. Dublin, because he brought up-to-the-minute production methods to an area still making bread by the largely handmade processes of yesteryear. An example of such an establishment was the Old Mill bakery in Skerries, which was owned by Balbriggan man William Ennis of Clonard. Of the seven branch managers at Balbriggan, all came from elsewhere, though a few never left the town being interred there after their time on earth was over. One man, Richard Webster & his wife Dorothy (formerly a daughter of John Spicer), came via Milan, Italy where they had lived from 1911 to 1932. Spicers bread & confectionery were much appreciated by Balbriggan people who relished the loaves & sliced ‘Champion’ & Nutbrown’ sliced pans. When it came to pastries, the most popular was probably the ‘Chocolate eclairs’ made with fresh cream. The culinary highlight of the year was surely the Spicers Christmas cake selection with exotic sounding names like ‘Gala’ ‘Festival’ & ‘Dundee yule’ which whet the appetite simply by thinking about them even at this remove in time. When it came to home baking, the discerning housewive, in 1916, was encouraged to use Spicers flour as it was made the ‘Connoisseur’s bread’. As time went along, the bakery ceased production in 1993, while the shop carried on until 1999 when it too closed down. While it was a sad loss to Balbriggan when it went, there nevertheless remains to this day a fondness for the bakery still felt among a cohort, albeit an older one, of those halcyon days when one could splurge on an eclair and dodge the cream which inevitably came oozing out the sides when eating it. While the Balbriggan branch was the first to go, the end came in 2012 when the whole firm of Spicers in its Navan headquarters went into liquidation. Frank would like to mention his granduncle Eugene ‘Bay’ Melia who became a baker in Spicers, Balbriggan branch in the period 1934 to 1938, when his indenture document was signed by John Spicer’s daughter, Madeleine.