Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tom Bradbury and Bradbury's Bakery

When he died in August 1972 at the comparatively young age of 59 years Tom Bradbury passed to his family a business which was known the length and breadth of Leinster, if not further afield, for unique ‘fancies’ commonly called ‘Bradburys Cakes’.  The fondant dips, almond fingers, japs, almond macaroons and franzipans were but some of the colourful tasteful ‘fancies’ which graced the Bradbury premises and brought visitors and locals alike to what was once Hamilton’s Hibernian Hotel in Leinster Street.  This year Bradburys celebrate 80 years in business and the story of how it all started commenced with an advertisement in the British Baker, a newspaper for the industry which is still being published today. 

Young Tom Bradbury, a native of Elworth near Crewe in England, was the son of a bicycle repair man.  In the inter war years young Tom worked part time for an Elworth baker and confectioner and there learned the skills which would later bring him to Ireland.  He enlisted in the Grenadier Guards, hopeful that it would eventually facilitate his desire to join Scotland Yard which had been his early ambition in life.  It was not to be however as it soon became apparent that the big young Englishman had blood circulation problems which militated against his continuing army career and he eventually had to leave the Grenadier Guards.

It was an advertisement in the British Baker placed by O’Leary’s Bakery in Bray, Co. Wicklow seeking a baker/confectioner which caught Tom Bradbury’s attention and resulted in his travelling to Ireland where he would live for the rest of his life.  He moved from O’Leary’s Bakery to other jobs before eventually joining Egans Bakery in Portlaoise.  There Tom, a Methodist, met and subsequently married Margaret Marsh, a Catholic from Portlaoise.  The religious background of both is important in order to appreciate the relevance of the information given to me by their son Johnny who described his parents as having married ‘in the porch in Carlow’.  In response to my obvious question Johnny, two years my junior and who has recently handed over the running of Bradburys to his own sons John and Tom, explained that Tom and Margaret, who was known as Peg, were only allowed to use the porch of Carlow Cathedral for their wedding ceremony.  This was in the mid 1930s, a time within living memory, when the intolerance of another age had yet to be discarded.

The young couple fortified by a loan from the groom’s father in England, purchased in 1938 a premises in Stanhope Street, Athy where the name Bradbury went over the front door for the first time.  The bakery and small bread shop was located next to Carolans Corner shop and between it and O’Rourkes saddlers was another small premises which Tom Bradbury would eventually purchase.  Bradburys Bakery business prospered in the town which up to then had boosted bakeries operated by Bradleys in Duke Street and Cawleys in William Street.  Paddy Hayden of St. Patrick’s Avenue who had worked in Bradleys Bakery now came to work for Tom Bradbury and Paddy would remain with the firm until he retired.  Paddy, a member of the Carlow/Kildare Brigade of the I.R.A. during the Irish War of Independence ran the bakery end of the business for many years for the former English Grenadier Guardsman Tom Bradbury.

Bradburys did so well in Stanhope Street that Tom was able to buy the small premises next door which he subsequently leased to Claire Behan of Leinster Lodge who used it as an outlet for selling milk from her farm.  Does anyone remember Bradburys when it was located in Stanhope Street and the next door premises where milk brought each morning from Leinster Lodge by Mick Leahy was sold?

The premises soon proved too small and when Hutchinsons in Leinster Street, formerly the Hibernian Hotel, came on the market Tom Bradbury bought it and moved his business to its current location.  From the extended premises Tom was able to expand the bakery business, opening a restaurant and wholesaling bread and confectionery.  Paddy Murphy, Plewman’s Terrace, was the first bread delivery man employed by Bradburys and he had a horse and a dray with which he made deliveries to other shops in Athy such as Lily Kanes, Munsie Purcells and many more, all of which with the sole exception of O’Brien’s of Emily Square are now closed or have changed hands.  The horse used on the Bradbury’s bread van run was called ‘Dolly’ and she was stabled at the back of Noonans in Stanhope Street.  The  normally placid ‘Dolly’  on one occasion acted out of character when frightened by something or other careered out of Bradbury’s yard straight across Leinster Street and through Jim Nelson’s pub door, only coming to a halt when the shafts of the dray stuck in the windows on either side of the pub door.  The same Jim Nelson had a lucky escape that day for it was usual for him at different times of the day to stand at his pub door with his arm extended above his head on the door jamb observing traffic and locals passing by.

‘Dolly’ and the dray were eventually replaced by Ford vans, four or five of which were used for bread deliveries in counties Laois, Wicklow and Kildare.  Ownie Pender of Milltown was another of the bread delivery men, while his sons Paddy, Damien, Denis and Eugene and daughter Rose were also working in the Leinster Street bakery.

The war years posed difficulties for Irish bakeries and one of the more frustrating problems was the embargo on the use of white flour.  On many an occasion the enterprising bakers in Leinster Street sieved the brown flour so as to obtain an acceptable form of white flour to satisfy the requirements of ‘special customers’.  Equally enterprising was the exploits of many other businessmen during the war years and later as attempts were made to overcome the food shortages which curtailed businesses so much.  Johnny tells the story of how his father Tom, through a colleague in the business in Kilmacthomas, County Waterford, obtained a large quantity of sugar which of course was rationed during the emergency years.  Anxious to get currants and raisins which were also in short supply he contacted what he believed was a Dublin based baker who was prepared to trade some fruit for sugar.  Borrowing Mick Rowan’s truck Tom motored to Dublin with the sugar only to find himself confronted by the Customs and Excise men who had entrapped him and no doubt many others in a sting operation designed to cut down on the black market.

Many men and women worked in the bakery, in the shop and in the restaurant operated by Bradburys over the years.  In the early years sisters Mary and Nancy O’Rourke of Stanhope Street were confectioners, while Nan Breen of Offaly Street worked in the shop and Paddy Murphy’s wife Lil worked in the restaurant.  Mick Lawler ran the office and his impeccably maintained office journals are still retained as records of the business operated by Bradburys over the last 80 years.  Some others recalled included Tommy Deering, George Robinson, Margo Higginson, Mrs. McConville, Brigid McHugh, Mag Chanders, Joan Walsh, John Mealy, Bridie Shortt, Bridie Connell, Kathleen Mahon, Ger Mulhall, Kathleen Keating, sisters Linda and Nuala Hayden and brothers P.J. and Leo Delaney and Tom and John Brennan.  Many members of the same family worked for Bradburys including Christy, Martin, Tony and Cora Eaton, while the Walsh family of John, Eddie, Michael, Joseph and Gerard probably provided the largest family grouping to work there. 

Tom Bradbury died on 19th August 1972, survived by his wife Peg, five sons and one daughter.  His young son Leslie died approximately 18 years earlier at a young age.  The bakery and confectionery business was subsequently operated by his sons Jimmy and Johnny and is now currently run by his grandsons John and Tom. 

Bradburys has been part of the commercial life of Athy for the last 80 years and in that time has become a well known and treasured establishment on Leinster Street.

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