Farewell to Percy Ingle, the East End family bakery

As Percy Ingle Bakeries, the 66-year-old East End baking empire, closes its doors, we look back over the company’s history. 

Percy Ingle, the local family-run bakery founded in the East End, has been passed down five generations. At present, grandsons Michael and Paul Ingle are the bakery’s directors. 

Deeply rooted in the East End tradition, this bakery has imprinted itself on the East End community. Fondly remembered by many, its history is nevertheless entangled with a darker story of discrimination. 

As the last few Percy Ingle shops shut their doors, we sift through locals’ memories of the bakery, balancing them against its legal battle with the Commission for Racial Equality during the 1980s.

Since 1954, their products have been rooted in family traditions from grandfather Percy Ingle’s recipe book, which featured a variety of treats from sausage rolls to Tottenham cakes. Locals favoured their Hot Cross Buns, traditionally made with their own blend of spices, raisins and sultanas, left overnight to infuse before being added to the dough. 

At its height, there was a Percy Ingle on most corners in East London, visited by local residents and customers for their traditional treats and recipes. 

For 66 years they have provided cakes for birthday parties and weddings, as well as playing a part in those smaller moments in life – a doughnut on the way home from school.

Shirini Ali recalls how Ingle’s Belgian buns were a prominent staple in her childhood: ‘they were always my treat for a job well done since my school days.’ Continuing the tradition, Ali rewards her girls with Ingle’s chocolate flake cake. Frequenting the branch in Watney Market, Ali appreciates the friendly staff who always ‘loved having a good laugh’. 

Wendy Dempsey had a similar experience while growing up in the 80s. ‘I lived on Bethnal Green Road and we used to pass Ingle’s on the way to school each day. For us, treats were cream horns, bread and butter pudding and doughnuts – the best doughnuts in town! If we were really lucky, we sometimes got Kaiser Rolls for lunch during the holidays.’ 

Now, Dempsey has carried on this tradition with her own daughters, who are treated to Ingle’s ‘excellent bread and delicious sausage rolls that beat anything you’d find in other bakeries; the East End high street won’t be the same without them’. 

Like the family-run bakery itself, visiting Percy Ingle became a family activity too, and was passed down the generations. Sammie Brooks remembers: ‘my mum used to send me to their Broadway Market branch to get a loaf of poppy seed bloomer. Then she’d moan at me because I’d start eating it on the way home – one of my fondest memories as a child!’ 

Christine Golding, too, recalls how working at the Broadway Market branch in 1975 was her first-ever job. ‘My mum already worked there so she got me a job and pretended I was 13-years-old when really I was only 12-and-a-half! I loved it; the staff were lovely and the customers were great too.’ 

One memory stands out for Golding in particular – when a bread shortage struck the bakery. ‘My dad had to stand at the door to make sure that there was only one loaf per person. He didn’t work there though, Mum just employed him as the stand-in bread minder!’ 

During the 90s, Emma Inwood visited her grandma’s house every Saturday. ‘The whole family got together and we’d buy Percy Ingles rolls and fish and chips from Savvas on Roman Road. This went on for a good 10 years; my Saturday was never complete without this.’

Throughout the same decade, Tina Brown recalls how important Percy Ingle’s was for her father. 

‘My dad suffered from a brain injury. He used to walk the same circuit every day – a couple of miles around the East End – to try to recover. He would stop off halfway at Percy Ingle for a tea and one of their cheesecakes, the dry, ‘hairy’ type, not the ones topped with fruit. It was a place of safety for him and an incentive to fight to regain his former self after the devastation of his brain injury. Every day, I would ask the same question: “Did you go to Percy Ingle?” and he always replied, “Yes, I had tea and a cheesecake” and I would say “Was it nice?” and he would say “Cor yeah, it was lovely”. That is how I remember Percy Ingle’.

Sharon Burns was also a big fan of Ingle’s famous ‘hairy’ cheesecakes. ‘They had the best cheesecake, although my aunt called them “hairy Mary’s” because of the coconut on top. The first time I went alone as a child when I was 11, I asked for a hairy mary and the lady looked so confused. I was so embarrassed but she just started laughing. I still call them hairy Mary’s.’

Joyce Rose remembers how much her dad also adored Percy Ingle, frequently visiting the one in Barking. ‘He would spend hours in there, and even got himself a date once, in 2005, with someone who was working there. She was a lovely lady called Margaret.’ 

‘My poor dad, for years he called them Percy Ingrams and I always corrected him but gave up in the end’. 

Linda Holmes, who is originally from Bethnal Green, remembers going to Ingle’s after school. ‘It was the perfect Friday treat, picking up a strawberry tart on the way home’. Later on in life, she chose Percy Ingle to make her wedding cake in 1975.  

‘It was three horseshoe tiers, all fruit and I loved it. Everyone else loved it too. I saved the top tier for my daughter’s christening and put it with another cake.’ Now living in Holland-on-Sea in Essex, she says ‘our roots will always be Bethnal Green. We always say that’s where we’re from’. 

Jacqueline Stromberg was also a regular at the Bethnal Green Road branch in the 70s – it was the first shop she ever went to. ‘I loved their Eccles cakes. When I moved to Devon in 2007, I got my sister to send them to me through the post! I sure will miss them’. 

For others, the memories aren’t so positive. While Percy Ingle Ltd. is remembered fondly by many, rose-tinted spectacles can occlude important details in the historical record. Lesser known is the bakery’s troubled relationship with racial diversity, which in the late 1970s invited an investigation by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE).

The Commission got involved following a complaint by a former Percy Ingle manager, who alleged a supervisor had told her ‘not to employ black people in her shop’. Upon further investigation, the CRE came across two Percy Ingle “manageresses” with extremely divisive views. 

One manageress ‘had to admit that she was prejudiced against Pakistanis’. The other told the Commission ‘that there were certain circumstances in which she felt it would be justifiable for a manageress to discriminate on racial grounds’. 

The two manageresses later denied making these statements, but the CRE still issued the bakery with a non-discrimination notice. This notice required the company to respect Section 28 of the Race Relations Act and ensure their recruitment procedures were fair. The notice also asked the bakery to ‘inform their employees about the Race Relations Act’, and to ‘change their procedures’ in order to ‘encourage black applicants’.

Instead of accepting the findings of the Commission, in August 1980, Percy Ingle Ltd. appealed against the notice at a Tribunal. Among other things, they argued that even if discriminatory practices were in place, no victim could be found. Although the CRE dismissed this argument as ‘manifest nonsense’, the judges on the Tribunal ‘considered themselves bound’ by a precedent set in an earlier case.

It is safe to say that reactions will be mixed as the final few Percy Ingle branches shut their doors. Good and bad, this business had a lasting impact on the East End community and will remain in our memories for a long time to come.

Wedding cake from Percy Ingle
The horseshoe-shaped, three tier wedding cake baked by Percy Ingle for the wedding of Linda and Steve Holmes, October 1975
Two children outside of Percy Ingles Bakery holding boxed goods.
A treat for two children during the coronavirus lockdown

A very special thanks to Edna Bannor for her words and research.

Hungry for more? Read our interview with David Miller – the man behind Breid Bakery.

 


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9 thoughts on “Farewell to Percy Ingle, the East End family bakery

  • Such a lovely article on a much loved East End bakery, especially my Daughter Emma Inwood’s memory! Lovely! Percy Ingle bakery will be sorely missed on Roman Road, by our family and many others

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  • My heart sinks, I was the receptionist in the latter half of the eighties/early nineties, one of the best jobs I had, I had contact with most everyone who worked there, good times

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  • Really sad to see the reflection of Gregg’s in the window

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  • Very sad that they are closing and Greggs remains open. Really like their brown seeded loaf and their trad cakes. Also the staff are much pleasanter and politer than the more hipster purveyor of bread in this area that I could name but won’t…I have boycotted this hipster purveyor on several occasions because they staff are so rude. The product is good altho expensive but seriously – ok I’m talking about the Pavilion – get some nicer staff…ones that don’t act like they are too cool to be working there…Ingles will be missed by many people in the East End…

    Reply
  • My first sat job was at the Percy Ingles Bakery in Ilford.. It has a place in my heart as it was great to be part of an East London ting… I was also sent to other Percy Ingles stores to help out with busy periods and staff shortages… Of which are… EastHam, ForestGate, Wanstead and also Walthamstow.
    It is very sad to hear that Percy Ingles is closing down. It will be very much missed.

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  • I cried my eyes out for this sad news, my loaf of poppy seeds bread I bought for ages miss also my pies and my fav sweets so sad 😓😓😓

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  • So sad to hear Percy Ingle’s has closed it’s doors. Even though I have been in Somerset for over 30 years, but on going back home to London, would always do the rounds in Walthamstow market to get ‘cheesecakes’ & ‘custard slices’, also ‘pie & mash from opposite. Was a treat for all my children hood growing up around Walthamstow, Chingford,Leyton & Leytonstone. Not how to cope with the thought of not having another Percy Ingle’s ever again. Sad,sad times:-/

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  • Hi I worked at the bakery in Lammas Rd Leyton off of Leabridge Rd, in 1966 when I went for the job the Foreman wanted me to start straight away, I said I will start tomorrrow. I worked on the puff pastry and the Danish,At breaktime he supplied us with tea and rolls and butter. On a friday evening if we wanted overtime we could do fresh cream filling on the cakes when we finished work you could have a shower, thats the only bakery I’ve worked in where you could have a shower when you finish work, it was a good place to work as Percy was a very fair to work for. Percys shops were a cut above most bakeries. My sister also worked at The Bakers Arms shop, I have good memories of working at the bakery, I’m sorry to hear Percy Ingles are closing. Tom

    Reply
  • So sad to hear this- good memories growing up getting delicious cakes as a treat, from the one at Watney Market ❤️

    Reply

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