Interviewer: Steve Cooling
Permission given to use interview for website, exhibition and Staffordshire archive: YES
Question asked “What do you remember about bread or bread baking”.
Mow Cop - Wayside Ovens.
Paul Pursglove 16/04/2014
During the last 200 years, wayside ovens were a public service facility in many villages. They were usually built as simple structures within easy reach if groups of dwellings which would not have had ovens, relying on open fire cooking. Wayside ovens could be used to bake bread on a daily basis. They were fired up with wood and heated for an hour or more to warm them up to baking temperature. The embers would be scraped out and the risen bread dough would be placed in the oven to bake. A door plate would be closed and sealed with clay during the cooking to conserve the heat. This was an all-weather, all year round task.
There are a number of reports for such wayside ovens in Mow Cop, a village high on a hill to the north of the Potteries. J. W. Harper writes:
“The last surviving oven on the slopes of Mow Cop was situated in the wall next to the Wesleyan Chapel at The Bank, a hamlet on the Cheshire Dip of the North Staffordshire Coalfield.”
The Primitive Wesleyan Chapel was refurbished late last century and the bread oven was completely demolished. The stone has been disposed of and the wall and tarmac surfaces re-built. The only evidence of the nature of this oven comes from a washed sketch in Harpers original text.
The size of the oven suggests that a single bake would produce perhaps 20 round loaves or 30 tin baked loaves. This would have been an ample size for the surrounding households at the time.
I other documents, a supposedly different wayside oven was recorded on an alleyway adjacent to Westfield Road, which is itself more of a farm track at the back of a run of terraced houses. This record is actually the same oven that was at the back of the Wesleyan Chapel as the pathway runs along the front of the same terraced houses.
The new build of the Mow Cop Primitive Methodist Church on Bank was in 1903 and the wayside oven was there at that time. It may well have pre-dated the church construction, but there is no discernable documentation at present.
It is clear that the oven was not used in living memory and I have been unable to find any photographic evidence.
John Holland is a local man whose family has lived in Mow Cop for generations. Now living at the end of Westfield Road, he has a good recollection of local knowledge and he does not remember the oven in use. He does know that Well Street, nearby, is locally known as Bakehus Lane (Bakehouse Lane), as the old cottage halfway up the lane had a bake house built onto the side. The locals would go and buy or bake bread there. Known in the past as Lovatts Bakehouse, it may well have been supported by Joseph Lovatt, the baker from Rookery near the bottom of the Hill upon which Mow Cop stands. The house is now a private home and there is no evidence of an oven. Like many of the properties in Mow Cop, it has been extensively refurbished in modern times.
J. W. Harper – 1907, A Short History of Mow Cop
Philip R Leese – 2010, Mow Cop; A Working Village, Churnet Valley Books