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Crash cannot crush old bakery

When a logging truck accidentally ripped off the veranda of a Victorian building on Carterton’s High St earlier this month, it closed the state highway for several hours and caused major damage to the structure. But it also revealed just how robust and well-made this old girl was. Momentarily patched up and made safe, tenants upstairs and in the store below have been able to return. Marlene Ditchfield has the tale of “the bakery building”, which opened in 1884 when Carterton was booming.

The small yet perfectly formed two-storey building began as Laurence’s Bakery. There were several other bakeries in Carterton, but none quite so pretty. Upstairs, it had side-by-side matching windows and double doors onto an ornate balcony reaching out over the street. Decoration around the windows and gables was fitting for a building of its time.

Little is known of the first owners – but, in 1905, Arthur Charles Feast, a “baker and stock agent”, took over the bakery and advertised liberally. In 1923, William Ellis purchased the building, but died in November 1924. A couple of years later, brothers George and William Stevens established Steven’s Bakery and Tearooms, which successfully ran through to 1948.

Along came Bill and Nancy Ballinger, and the Premier Bakery and Tearooms was born. For the next 23 years, like the Stevens, they baked up a storm of fresh bread and buns. Bill’s nephew, John Bridge, remembers working at the bakery during school holidays, after school, and on weekends since age 10. John, whose grandfather had set up another bakery [Dawson’s] in early Carterton, lived upstairs at Premier Bakery with his father, aunt and uncle, where there were four bedrooms and a bathroom. Their kitchen and dining room was downstairs as part of the business.

“The veranda was a solid balcony. I spent many times out there watching the parades, Friday night shoppers, and just watching the traffic go by,” recalls John, who still lives in Carterton.

“All our furniture was lifted over the balcony and through the double doors into the lounge, as the stairway was too narrow and steep. At one stage, Uncle Bill fell down these steps and broke his leg – leaving me and Dad to do all the work with other bakers. It was a very busy place.”

John recalls coming home from school and helping make the dough, which was left to prove overnight. The bakers would arrive at about 3am to knead and then bake the bread. All the baking was done in the brick bakehouse at the building’s rear, and loaves wheeled into the bakery on large trolleys. Between 5 and 6am, the first loaves were ready, and the early morning regulars would appear – although the bakery didn’t officially open until 7am. “I think the smell was too tempting for some,” John says.

An account for a bakery purchase signed off by Arthur Feast – one of the bakery’s earliest owners – made in 1908. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Pies, cream buns, doughnuts, raspberry buns, and centennial loaves are among favourites remembered by locals. When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, Premier Bakery did the catering for a huge coronation ball in Carterton. The Ballingers supported community groups, and fresh baking always made its way to the Home of Compassion nuns and residents.

When Bill retired in 1971, John took over the business for a couple of years. Again, bakery life was busy. Easter had the staff mass-baking hot cross buns – John had learned to pipe the crosses on the buns as a young boy. People would order six hot cross buns and often find a seventh had been added for good measure. The bakery also had a van for country deliveries. School lunch orders were prepared for children who got a pie and two doughnuts for 15 cents. The bakery was described as “a kids’ paradise”.

After John moved on in 1973, Premier Bakery was purchased by Bruce Campbell and, in 1978, it became the Moonshiner Take Away and later a fish and chip shop owned by Ioannis Kouklakis.

Diane Simpson turned it into Simmos Snack Bar in 1991 for the next four years. There were several other owners before business activity eventually ceased in 2013. A Wellington plumber, Ross Black, who had a hankering to move to Wairarapa, spied the empty bakery building and purchased it. It was in a sorry state, and Ross began the important task of earthquake strengthening – one of the first business owners in Carterton to do so. For the past decade, it has been Ross’ passion to restore the building, find tenants for an upstairs flat, and a business down below. Downstairs tenants have included a pole dancing studio, winter markets, and the Electorate Office for New Zealand First MP Ron Mark. These days, Desley Rekke runs a craft co-operative. The upstairs area has been a popular residence for many.

Julian Tyerman says it was “a quirky flat’” with its small tight staircase.

“When I tried to get my queen-sized bed in, there was no way it would fit around the landing turn – where it got jammed for several days. We had to cut out a piece of gib to move it,” he says.

“The veranda was great. Sometimes, after a night at the Marquis, we’d open the lounge windows and sit there watching Carterton go by. It had the feeling it was a strongly built building.”

Back in 1884, the veranda was constructed as part of the upper floor and not attached like modern verandas. Hence, the damage by the truck has been excessive. The Black family are considering their options once insurance assessors have done their work. We must thank people like Ross for saving our heritage buildings and their fascinating stories.

So, hopefully, it will take more than the veranda ripping off to topple this 139-year-old building.

The cordon outside the old bakery building after it was damaged by a logging truck earlier this month. PHOTO/MARLENE DITCHFIELD

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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