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Taste of tradition as 200-year-old Market Drayton gingerbread bakery site opens doors again

By Rob Smith | Market Drayton | Business | Published:

A piece of history has come back to life, as a 200-year-old Market Drayton gingerbread bakery reopens for business.

Business partners Tracey Edwards, left, and Sue Lea pictured outside The Field’s Kitchen, the former site of the gingerbread bakery

Billington's Gingerbread has been baked in Market Drayton since 1817, when a Mr Thomas made biscuits at a building on the High Street. The biscuit's recipe has been a closely-guarded secret among the town's bakers ever since Mr Thomas' nephew W. Harper took over.

It is believed to be the oldest gingerbread in the country still being produced – and the original bakery where Mr Thomas started out has reopened as a deli which stocks the famous gingerbread once more.

The Field's Kitchen sits on the site of the Old Billington's Bakery on the corner of Church Street, with the building also previously housing Shropshire Gas.

Tracey Edwards at The Field’s Kitchen in Market Drayton

Tracey and Richard Edwards opened the deli with a successful launch event, with the historic gingerbread proving particularly popular. It is baked by the current licensed holder of the Billington's recipe, artisan baker Tim Hopcroft.

In 1937 the original Billington Family sold the rights to produce Billington's Gingerbread and trade under the name R. Billington & Sons to a Mr S.T. Hayward Hughes. Mr Hayward Hughes had once worked as an apprentice for Billington’s, and continued the old tradition of making the now celebrated gingerbread in his bakery just outside Market Drayton.

Mr Hayward Hughes retired in 1964 and the business was passed over to his son Mr John Hayward Hughes, who subsequently sold the rights to the product to the McCarthy family – who still own the gingerbread today. Billington’s Gingerbread is now being made under licence by Tim Hopcroft, of Image on Food.

Billingtons gingerbread on sale at the Ginger and Spice Festival

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Market Drayton has always been proud of its baking heritage, with the town's people historically eating their gingerbread after dunking it into a glass of port or tea, a tradition dating back to the farmer’s wives of the surrounding areas of the town.

Sales and marketing director of Billington’s Gingerbread Sarah Hopcroft said: "We are delighted to see the celebrated gingerbread back on sale in its place of origin – the Old Billington’s Bakery. We like to think that Mr Thomas - the original baker - would be very proud.

"We wish Tracey and Richard all the best for their fantastic new business and would like to raise a glass of port to their continued success."

The Field's Kitchen also stocks other local produce, including chutneys by Heather’s Harvest.

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Passionate

Tracey and Richard Edwards keep their own herd of Angus Aberdeen cattle and sell meat from the premises. They are also stocking home-baked goodies such as cakes, brownies, biscuits, fruit pies, meringues and much more.

Tracey said: "We are passionate about high quality, home cooked food and making the best possible use of local produce. We offer home reared Aberdeen Angus beef, ready-made meals and carefully selected local produce."

Image on Food, which produces Billington’s Gingerbread, has been producing gingerbread for more than 30 years after gaining the licence to use the recipe, making over 83 tonnes of the biscuits a year. Based in Market Drayton, it employs more than 55 local staff and provide novelties for companies such as Waitrose, John Lewis, The National Trust as well as coffee shops, farm shops, delicatessens and tourist attractions.

Image on Food and Billington's Gingerbread will also be involved in the town's Ginger and Spice Festival, which attracts people from all over the UK to 'the home of gingerbread' to celebrate the town's culinary heritage. The inaugural festival was last year, and the success encouraged organisers to expand further for the second iteration.

Rob Smith

By Rob Smith
Reporter

Reporter for the Shropshire Star based at Ketley in Telford.

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