The Victorian Bakery at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, Shropshire, which the Bakers Company helped to fund and build, was ‘Star of the Show’ on BBC2 at prime time on Christmas Night.
The hour long programme, screened at 9.30 on Christmas Night, gave a unique insight into how the Victorians invented Christmas as we know it today - through the eyes of four professional bakers, who make favourite festive products from the most revolutionary era in British history.
The 1892 style bakery, which is fully working and produces bread and rolls daily for sale to visitors to the Museum, was the set for the filming. All parts of the building were used – outside and inside the shop, and the bakery with its authentic Thomas Chandley oven.
Featuring the long lost centrepiece of British Christmas known as twelfth cake, mince pies with actual meat in them (tripe - and roast beef), surprisingly recent innovations such as Christmas cake, cards, crackers and even Santa Claus, and the strange shapes favoured by some Victorians for their newly-named Christmas puddings.
Historians Alex Langlands and Annie Gray were on hand to fill in the fascinating facts behind the transformation of our midwinter break - from a riotous 12-day affair with clear pagan elements which climaxed in early January, to the more respectable family-based occasion centred on December 25th which we know today.
Reflecting an era when the gap between rich and poor was extreme, John Swift and Duncan Glendinning tried their hand at baking for the upper crust, going to a country house kitchen to make the giant Yorkshire Christmas pie which Queen Victoria would eat each Christmas, while their colleagues Harpreet Baura and John Foster MBE DL experienced the harsher side of a Victorian Christmas, scraping by on the street.
The team also made gingerbread decorations for the then-new custom of the Christmas tree, toast the season with a punch which included bread in the recipe, and discovered why the whole community would rely on the bakers' oven to roast their Christmas lunch.
The foundation stone of the Bakery was laid in 1986 by the then Master Hugh Joseph CBE. In October 1987 HRH The Prince of Wales performed the topping out of the building, assisted by Master Roy Tiley TD. The bakery was opened by Master Fred Bentley MBE, accompanied by over 100 Liverymen and their guests, on a wonderful sunny summer’s day in 1988.
If you missed the programme on Christmas Day, you can catch up with it on BBC iPlayer until the end of January at: www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b086kdzs/victorian-bakers-4-christmas
Our thanks to the BBC for use of the photographs and sections of this text.