The August local history article in Lindfield Life explained that the Common and Pond uniquely defined Lindfield and challenged that similar features could not be identified elsewhere in the country.  It would be remiss not to pay tribute to another Lindfield icon, Humphrey’s Bakery, about which a similar claim could be made.  Namely, does any other community have a bakery that traded continuously from the same premises for 223 years.

At 65 High Street, Humphreys’ shop front proudly proclaims the bakery was  ‘Established 1796’.  Perhaps equally remarkable, it has been run by only three families since that date.  Having regard to the bakery’s history, it is appropriately located in one of Lindfield’s oldest medieval buildings; Humphrey’s, Bower House and Carriers were all constructed between 1300 and 1343.  Its age is evidenced by the massive arched timber framing on the building’s northern side, into which rather quirkily three tiny windows have been cut.  When viewed from the street it will be seen Humphrey’s shop is the cross wing of No 63 High Street, known as Wyncote.  This is also of medieval date, although its age is not apparent having been re-fronted.

The early history of the building is yet to be fully discovered.  However, a receipt document dated 1453, found during redecoration in the late 1940s, states the property was then occupied by ‘Thomas atte Ree’, probably a farmer.  He was paying rent of seven marks per quarter to the Dean of the College of Canons, South Malling; his Lord of the Manor. A mark was a unit of currency with a value of about 67p.

Returning to the bakery business, John Meads (1759-1826) a baker, first appeared in Lindfield parish records in December 1892, when with his wife, Ann, their daughter, Mary Ann, was baptised at the parish church.  In 1793, he took on a William Murrell as his apprentice.  John Meads appears again in the Poor Rate records as a ratepayer from 1797 at Humphrey’s, which he rented from Thomas Blaker, a cordwainer.  Accordingly, the claim that the bakery business at 65 High Street was established in 1796 is fully justified.

By the time of John Meads’ death in November 1826 he owned both Humphrey’s and Wyncote, having bought them from Thomas Blaker.  Under the terms of John Meads’ will, his wife Ann inherited all his property and goods.  She continued to run the business until about 1838, when control passed to her daughter Sarah Smith and husband Edward Smith, also a baker. Ann meads lived with Edward and Sarah Smith in the house until her death.  In 1844 Edward Smith bought the business and property from her executors for £500.

During their marriage John and Ann Meads had nine children.  together with some of their children, they are buried in All Saints’ northern church yard.  His headstone forlornly reads:

Afflictions sore long time I bore

Physicians were in vain

Till death did cease and God

Did to please to ease my pain

Their extended family became involved in many businesses up and down Lindfield High Street.

Edward and Sarah Smith and other family members ran the bakery business for some 40 years.  The property was sold around 1883 to Henry Gasston, a local miller.

It is at this time the eponymous Richard Humphrey appears.  Richard Humphrey senior was born in Brighton in 1855.  The Mid Sussex Times noted ‘as a boy he was employed on the same premises by the late Mr Smith, who was widely known for his gingerbreads and brandy snaps.  Mr Humphrey assisted in making vast quantities for the Lindfield Fairs’.  subsequently, as a Master Baker, he worked as a bread and biscuit maker in Haywards Heath.

On returning to Lindfield, in October 1883, Richard Humphrey senior entered into an agreement with Henry Gasston to rent the shop and dwelling (65 High Street) for £45 per year.  Likewise his son Richard, also working in the business, rented the adjoining Wyncote, which at that time housed the bakery.

An advertisement in Clarke’s 1884 Directory announced ‘R Humphrey, fancy bread and biscuit maker, pastry cook and confectioner, High Street, Lindfield.  Brown and home-made bread.  Families waited on daily at Haywards Heath’.

Henry Gasston, as owner of both properties, in 1896 built the first detached bakehouse replacing the bakery in Wyncote.  When Henry Gasston sold the properties to Richard Humphrey, senior, in 1912, this facility was described in the sale particulars as ‘Bakehouse and Flour Room, fitted with Webber’s 8-bushel Iron Oven, and Truck Shed, Stable for three horses, Van and Cart Shed, W.C., and Manure Pit.  Well of Water.’.

Richard Humphrey senior and junior were still listed as running the business in early 1940.  Following his father’s death in March that year, Richard junior took control but sadly died less than two years later.

Richard Humphrey senior had been well respected and active in Lindfield, having served on many local committees and as a Parish Councillor.  Like his father, Richard junior was a keen cricketer playing regularly for Lindfield Cricket club.

Consequent upon the Humphreys’ death, Clayton Wiles took over the bakery, having previously been a Master Baker and Confectioner in Guildford.  He ran the business throughout the 1940s and into the 1960s.  Following his passing in 1968, his son, David Wiles, took over the running of the bakery, having worked with his father for many years.

The name Humphrey’s has continued and the beautiful old style shop front retained, but one major change was made.  the modern bakehouse we see today replaced the old 1896 building.

Unfortunately the bakery closed this summer, it is understood, due to ill health.  The Wiles family having provided excellent service to Lindfield for the past 77 years.  there cannot be a resident, of any age, in Lindfield who had not enjoyed bread, cakes, pastries or a snack baked by David Wiles, our Master Baker.  His doughnuts are legendary – thank you.

The community can only hope a bakery of similar quality will continue the 223 years of tradition established by the Meads/Smith, Humphrey and Wiles families.


Published in Lindfield Life October 2019

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