Retro: Bakery for ‘red bread’

Bakers, Sheffield 'Fletchers bakery at Cklaywheels Lane, Wadsley, Sheffield who went back to work tonight. Picture shows Mr Ken Long and Mr Frank Jorda (right) watching the first of the bread to come off the machine. 16 September 1977
Bakers, Sheffield 'Fletchers bakery at Cklaywheels Lane, Wadsley, Sheffield who went back to work tonight. Picture shows Mr Ken Long and Mr Frank Jorda (right) watching the first of the bread to come off the machine. 16 September 1977
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Fletchers Bakeries, which was in the news this week as the company was sold off for £56 million to Cardiff-based firm Finsbury Food, was set up by a red bread maker.

George Henry Fletcher, who was a well-known socialist and Bakers’ Union activist, opened his first bakery in Sheffield in 1895.

He was well known as an activist in several early socialist organisations and was jailed for his radicalism.

Later he was chair of the first Sheffield branch of the Communist Party and was prominent in a national bakers’ strike in 1919, when a wave of radical strike action swept the country in the wake of the first World War.

As a delegate to a conference of the Communist International in 1922, George Fletcher was said to have met Russian revolutionary leader Lenin while in Moscow.

In the 1926 General Strike, George Fletcher junior was said to have moved strike bulletins under cover in the family business’s bread van.

Fletchers Bakeries Ltd was founded by George senior in 1930 and the Claywheels Lane site opened in 1950. Its advertising slogan was ‘Better fetch a Fletcher’s loaf’.

The company’s burgundy and cream mobile shop vans were once a familiar sight, selling the company’s products and groceries.

Youngsters used to chant: “Fletchers Bread, tastes like lead, if you eat it you drop dead!” but the vans were still very popular. The elephant’s foot bun was a treat much favoured by city children.

The Wadsley Bridge factory was devastated by a fire in 2006 and lost 40 per cent of its production capacity.

The company was sold by then chairman Paul Fletcher to Northern Foods in 1999 and Vision Capital took it over in 2007.

Northern Foods also sold off Sheffield food company Binghams Cooked Meats, Barnsley-based La Baguette Doree and Smiths Flour Mills in Worksop to Vision.

Last March, recently-retired Fletcher’s worker Gordon Maclean and Sheffield MP David Blunkett officially opened a new £7 million plant at Wadsley Bridge.

The investment was funded by the controversial sale of land to Sainsbury’s.

Mr Maclean, who had retired after 49 years, started work at 15. He said: “This new plant is extraordinary when I think back to my early years. Everything we produced then was dispatched on wooden trays which you wouldn’t be able to use in a modern facility.

“We also made more confectionery, cakes and custards, most of it hand-made, or at least hand-finished.”