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12 January 2016

Forfars

Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2016)

copyright © J.Middleton
Forfars shop sign and street number can be seen clearly in this delightful old view posted in the summer of 1905. Note how incredibly wide the road seemed in those days.

There has been a baker’s shop at 123 Church Road, Hove since 1852. The 1861 census recorded Chiddingly-born John Funnell, baker, aged 34, living on the premises and he employed two men. In January 1961 workmen were engaged in renovating Forfars shop-front when they uncovered four previous fascias; the oldest bore the name ‘J. Funnell, baker’. Unfortunately, when the workmen lifted up the old sign as gently as possible, it crumbled away before a photograph could be taken.

At the time of the 1861 census the shop was numbered at 20 Church Street, Cliftonville, then it became 27 Church Street and lastly in 1885 the whole road was re-numbered and it became 123 Church Road, Hove.

In the 1880s George Forfar took over the business. One of the early films shot by pioneer James Williamson in Hove was a drama entitled The Volunteer. It depicts a soldier returning from the wars to find his hungry family practically destitute. He leaves his home and steals a loaf of bread from a Forfars baker’s van with the legend ‘established 1852’ in large letters on the side.

In The Keep there is a leather-bound order book dating from 1902 and gold-stamped on the cover appears ‘Forfars, Pastrycook and Confectioner’. Mrs Woods of 2 Ventnor Villas used the book to place her orders. Inside the book a double-page coloured illustration itemised the different types of bread and rolls Forfars could provide, including the following:-

 copyright © J.Middleton
In this nostalgic shot, people are getting on the horse bus right outside Forfars.

In an advertisement from 1905 it was claimed that a special feature of Forfars bread was the quality because only high-class ingredients were used. Added to this there was the ‘flavour and a nice golden bloom on the crust’. The bakery was ‘clean and healthy, being lined with white glazed bricks, the fire being in separate compartments outside the bake-house’. The bake-house was actually situated in Hova Villas.

Advert from the 1907  Brighton Season Magazine showing Forfars Restaurant at 72 Western Road, Brighton.

In 1907 it was claimed that Forfars bread was ‘manufactured under the most perfect hygienic conditions’. In the same year G.R. Forfar, the ‘celebrated caterer and confectioner of Hove’ acquired the fashionable restaurant known for many years as Sayer’s at 72 Western Road, Brighton, not far from Preston Street.

Photograph from the 1910  Brighton Season Magazine showing Forfars Confectionary Department in Hova Villas

Advert from the 1911  Brighton Season Magazine 
The writer Margaret Powell who was born in 1908 came from a family living in poor circumstances. Her mother used to wake Margaret and her brother at 6 a.m., give them sixpence and a clean pillowcase and send them off to get a good place in the queue outside Forfars. Although the shop did not open until 8 a.m. those first in the queue got the best choice of yesterday’s bread. It took the children some twenty minutes to walk from their home to Forfars but it was worthwhile because they received a pillowcase full of goods for their sixpence, usually brown loaves but occasionally a currant loaf and sometimes rolls.

In 1910 George Forfar opened a tea-room upstairs at Forfars at 123 Church Road, Hove; this became a well-known meeting place and continued to flourish for many years.

It seems the horses for Forfars delivery vans were stabled elsewhere and in 1914 W.H. Overton submitted plans to Hove Council on behalf of George Forfar for proposed stabling at the rear of 2 Goldstone Street.

copyright © D.Sharp
This pre-1936 Forfar shop sign at 25 Western Road, Hove came to light in August 2016 when renovations were being carried out.

In 1936 the Cutress family took over Forfars.

The Cutress Family

The Cutress family maintain that their business was established in 1818 and it is thought they worked as millers dating back to Stuart times.

In around 1842 Edward Cutress took over Vine’s Mill, Brighton and he also had a baker’s shop in London Road, Brighton in the 1870s.

Charles Cutress was born at Patcham and his connection with milling went back to 1845. In 1874 Charles Cutress purchased Port Hall Mill and five years later he bought Round Hill Mill. He only worked Port Hall Mill for around eight years, preferring to concentrate his efforts on Round Hill Mill, which had cost him £1,810 in an auction at the Old Ship Hotel. This mill then became known as Tower Mill or Cutress’s Mill and it was situated in Ditchling Road. There is a wonderful old photograph showing Charles Cutress standing in the doorway of his shop with the windmill dominating the landscape. The sign reads ‘C. Cutress & Son, Millers, Corn and Seed Merchants’.

For a while Charles Cutress was in business with his son John but for some reason John left in 1890 and Charles’s grandson, another Charles, came to help out. Charles Cutress, senior, died aged 83 in 1912 and John Cutress died aged 89 on 12 July 1945.

Meanwhile, Charles Cutress, junior, continued to run the family business in Ditchling and Brighton. The Cutress family lived at Ditchling and Charles’s sons John and Tony were born there. Then in 1936 the Cutress family moved to 12 Bishop’s Road, Hove and took over the long-established Forfars.

John Stephen Cutress was born on 9 September 1920. John Cutress enlisted as a gunner in the Royal Artillery as a young man and he subsequently received commissioned rank in the 11th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. During the Second World War Captain Cutress was awarded the Military Medal for single-handedly recapturing an observation post (vital to the overall operation) and capturing some 40 German soldiers.

From Hove’s Coronation Souvenir Book (1953)
In 1948 at All Saints Church, Hove, John Cutress married June Esme Lois Ring, daughter of Councillor W.J. Ring of Gables, Tongdean Road, owner of Ring’s furnishers of Western Road, Hove. The couple went on to have four daughters and three grandchildren.

In 1953 John Cutress was appointed a magistrate and retained the position for 24 years, for eight of which he also chaired the Juvenile Panel at Brighton. He was a member of the Government’s Hotel and Industry Board and of the British Hotels Association.

Charles Anthony (Tony) Cutress was the younger son of Charles Cutress, junior. Like his brother he too was awarded the Military Cross during the Second World War after heroic action in the famous battle of Monte Cassino. Tony Cutress served first with the Grenadier Guards, then with the Royal Hampshire Regiment and afterwards he transferred to the Royal Army Catering Corps. Also, like his brother, he became a director of Forfars Ltd. When John retired in 1987, Tony continued running the Forfars shop in Ditchling.

In December 1981 it was stated that John and Tony Cutress were selling off their outside catering subsidiary to Letheby & Christopher Ltd. John Cutress said he had served Forfars as managing director and in other capacities for some 43 years and now wanted to reduce his working responsibilities. The well-known Pump House Restaurant in Brighton would close. Later on in the 1980s two establishments in Hove were disposed of; they were Eaton Gardens Restaurant (acquired in 1962) and their shares in Courtlands Hotel in The Drive (acquired in 1966). But the Cutress brothers continued to run their bakery and bakery shops.

In December 1987 John Cutress retired at the age of 68 after 50 years in the catering business. 

By the 1980s the latest members of the Cutress family to be involved in the catering trade were brothers Tim Cutress and Matthew Cutress, both master bakers. In August 1981 Tim Cutress, managing director of Forfars, won a £20,000 classic van (a customized Ford transit) in a competition organised by Rank Hovis for granary bakers. It had the number plate H12 RHM and Tim said it would be used for daytime deliveries.

In August 1990 Forfars were among three companies short-listed for the Independent Baker of the Year Award. Managing Director Tim Cutress stated they made 130 different kinds of product and baked 50,000 items daily. A large new bakery was planned for Moulescoomb.

Custard Tart Battle

On 8 November 1990 under the heading ‘Custard’s Last Stand’ the local Press carried a story about new food regulations that could mean the end of the freshly baked custard tart. The regulation stated that a custard tart must be kept at a temperature of 8 centigrade, prior to sale, and this figure would drop to 5 centigrade in 1993.

But Tim Cutress claimed that if custard tarts were frozen, the filling would start to separate from the pastry. Forfars baked 5,000 custard tarts a week; they were in the oven between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. and in the shops by 9 a.m. Any tarts left unsold at the end of the day were discarded.

In March 1991 Tim Cutress was delighted when the Government backed down over the legislation to refrigerate custard tarts four hours after baking. There had been a petition signed by 300,000 people, a national demonstration, and new laboratory tests – all of which contributed to a change of heart.

Veteran Chef

George Griffiths was once head chef at Forfars. In 1949 he served as a cook aboard HMS Amethyst, the warship famous for her dramatic escape down 140 miles of the Yangste River after a clash with Chinese communists. In 1956 a film was made of the episode called The Yangste Incident. George Griffith died in December 1995 at the age of 74.

End of the Line

Tim Cutress and Matthew Cutress continued to run Forfars until March 2015 and then Dale Pritchard and Dean Evans took over the directorships. Around this time shops in Horsham and Burgess Hill closed down.

In October 2015 there came the melancholy news that Forfars Bakers Ltd went into liquidation on 26 October 2015. David Osprey and Elias Paourou of restructuring and insolvency experts CVR Global were appointed joint liquidators. A meeting for creditors was to be held in the first week of November.

Forty workers lost their jobs, the bakery headquarters in Newhaven closed down and shops shut including ones at 123 Church Road, Hove, St James’s Street, Brighton, High Street, Rustington and Orion Parade, Hassocks. Other shops that were once part of Forfars firm had already been sold off to new owners and continued to trade.

It seems that although the firm seemed in good health in October 2011 and was worth more than £1.3 million, by the close of 2013 the profits had descended into a loss of more than £670,000.

The liquidation is poignant because he firm was just three years off celebrating its 200thanniversary.

People who have grown up with a Forfars shop nearby are amazed that such a successful firm should suddenly vanish in a puff of smoke. It may be that because it was run as a traditional English bakery selling former staples such as cheese straws, sausage rolls and sticky buns, it became out of tune with the times. People wanted something different, a more continental choice and new ventures were quick to cash in on this demand.

Tim Cutress, aged 83, commented. ‘After nearly 80 years under family ownership it is a very sad day that the company has now gone into voluntary liquidation.’  

 copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph was taken on 2 November 2015. The company only went into liquidation seven days previously and the Forfars identity was removed remarkably swiftly.

Grammar and the Apostrophe

The apostrophe posed something of a problem in this article. While it might be grammatically correct to write Forfar's, the firm's registered name was Forfars. Then there is the difficulty that pre-1936 the firm called itself Forfar. For the sake of consistency and to avoid confusion, it was decided to use Forfars throughout.

Sources

Argus
Census Returns
Dawes (H.J.) Windmills and Millers of Brighton (1988)
Directories
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Powell, Margaret Below Stairs (1968 and still in print today)

The Keep
HOW 42/14-15 – Order and Account Books 1893-1907 for Forfars, Stenning & Walker, and Hunter’s, all Hove businesses

Copyright © J.Middleton 2015
page layout by D.Sharp