Percy Ingle might seem like a substantial bakery chain, but despite appearances, it is a local family-run bakery founded over 60 years ago in the East End by the Ingles, who still run it to this day. Everything is baked at local bakeries in Leytonstone with recipes rooted in its family tradition.
The first branch was opened by the namesake himself in 1954 on Clarence Road, Hackney, after Percy Ingle had spent his youth in the family bakers alongside his brothers. Already the third generation in a baker family, he didn’t loaf around and set up his own bakery, before the East End had even seen Herbert’s fruit and veg stand or Savvas’ Saucy Kipper.
The Roman Road branch opened in the early ‘80s after Percy Ingle’s success around other parts of East London, and occupies a special place in local hearts and childhood memories.
It was one of 40 branches Percy Ingle set up before handing over to his son Derek Ingle in 2000. The branch replaced Scott’s Bakeries, so Parnell Street corner’s bread and butter has been bread and butter since before the 70s.
Since Derek Ingle appointed his sons Paul and Michael Ingle as new directors, the business is now in its fifth generation. The expansion over the years has led to a dyadic rivalry between its dedicated regulars and those who prefer Greggs, but only in east, north-east and south-east London: the Ingles stayed loyal to their easterly roots and Percy Ingle has been thoroughly baked into multi-generational East End culture.
With supermarkets and bigger chains like Greggs to compete with, Percy Ingle might not be the ultimate breadwinner of East London bakery revenue. But lifelong East Enders remember Percy Ingle fondly and retain their loyalty now, some of it passed on through generations.
Local Libby Coates remembers Percy Ingle on Roman Road as ‘where Nanny Coates sent me to get seedy bread’ as a child. Brenda Bouvier said the bakery made her wedding cake 50 years ago, and Lou recalls her favourite teacher from Malmesbury Primary School, Mr Jones: ‘I used to take him birthday cakes from Percy Ingle’.
The baking practices the Ingles and their forefathers use have seen a lot of changes over the 20th and 21st centuries. Percy Ingle used to slice its bread for queues of people with ‘a large slicing machine that would make loads of noise. “Thick slices please!”’, Lesley Harvey often heard customers calling out.
Locals remember Percy Ingle customers preferring all sorts from their wide range. ‘My auntie would always have a cheesecake,’ said Harvey, ‘it wasn’t the type of cheesecake that you get for a dessert but was a puff pastry base, a layer of jam and then a topping of iced coconut shreds.’
Sue Young, who worked at Percy Ingle in Chrisp Street in 1979, recalls: ‘there was a little old lady who would come in every Friday and insist on a cream cake with “none of that sympathetic cream – only the real stuff”’.
It seems everyone in the east had their own relationship with Percy Ingle when they were young. George Dorman said he ‘used to go collect peanuts for the factory, travel up to Wembley Football Stadium and sell the nuts for a 2 Bob a bag!’
Through the years, people remember Percy Ingle’s place in East London, but especially as part of Roman Road. Doreen Edmonds said, on Good Friday, ‘my dad had the important part going down the Roman and getting the hot cross buns for breakfast. We would all wait at home so excited for the warm buns to arrive!’
One way the Ingles separate the wheat from the chaff at Easter is with grandfather Percy Ingle’s original recipe book, particularly their finely-tinkered hot cross bun recipe. They are made traditionally with their own blend of spices, left overnight with the currants and sultanas to infuse, and gently added to completed dough to avoid breakage. After hand-piping on the cross, the bakers send off the baked buns for East Londoners to enjoy.
Part of the joy of Percy Ingle is childhood memories relived through the generally consistent menu. Harvey remembered ‘a Danish Pastry round which is sublime with a cup of tea. I could easily eat an entire one although it is supposed to feed six! Earlier this year we went to see Leyton Orient play and bought cheese rolls to take into the match with us. I was gratified to see they still sell the Danish pastries.’
As Paul and Michael Ingle take over their father’s and grandfather’s posts, the question is whether the baking family will raise their legacy past five generations. Locals like Kimmy Duffy are concerned that the changing landscape of Bow will push out traditional family businesses, and Young hopes Percy Ingle will survive all the other bakeries cropping up; the high street economy is no cake walk.
But Percy Ingle has seen East London through a lot of change, and the traditional-style picturesque window display of sweet treats still gets fogged up by children’s faces pressed against the glass. The chain bakery industry might have a lot of competition, but East Enders still fiercely defend their local Percy Ingle over Greggs. They know which side their bread is buttered.
If you liked this, you might like to read about the other baker of Roman Road, Saint Sugar of London.
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