Secrets of the Secret Bakery 

Tucked away at the intersection of lanes in the triangle formed by Arran Place, Roath Court Road and Roath Court Place, a small bakery has been turning out fresh bread for 110 years. It is very much off the beaten track, and many Roath residents are unaware of its existence. Signs at either end of the lane serving the bakery were put up when the lane was gated in 2013, but these have now faded into illegibility, maintaining the anonymity of the premises. Despite the lack of advertising or “high street presence”, the bakery has flourished, and the Saturday morning queues speak to its popularity.  But on Friday 9th September, the roller shutters will descend, possibly for the last time, when the current owner, John Allen, retires. 

The bakery was established in 1912/1913 as a purpose-built bakehouse, around the time that the houses on Arran Place and Roath Court Road were being constructed. The developer was the 39 year-old Arthur John Brewer, a master baker, who lived at 135 Monthermer Road in Cathays.  The architects were William Ware and Williams, who had been engaged by the Roath Court Estate to design many of the houses in the area. 

The 1912 plans for the bakehouse

The design incorporated a patent steam oven at the rear, and the front of the bakery comprised stabling for 3 horses, with a manure store on what is now an open triangle of land where the wheelie bin is sited. Horse-drawn deliveries were made from the premises for many years, until the 1930s. The steam over is still there, visible as you enter the shop. It was converted to diesel fuel by John Allen but was replaced by electric ovens in about 2000. 

At some time prior to 1939, William H Adams and his two sons, Douglas (Dougie) and Leslie (Les) Adams took over the running of the bakery, at which time they lived in the adjacent house at 11 Arran Place. The two brothers were involved in running the bakery over the next 40 or so years, Dougie having moved to Cosmeston Street and Les to Blenheim Road.  The Adams van was a common sight in Roath as it delivered bread to retail customers. After Les retired, Dougie continued to run the bakery along with his wife, until he retired in 1984 and sold it to John Allen, who then lived with his parents at 39 Roath Court Road, just a stone’s throw away from the bakery. John had studied food technology at college and had worked in Bruton’s Bakery in Grangetown, and was able to buy the business with a loan from Midland Bank, guaranteed by his parents. 

John Allen in 2018

The bakery features (briefly) in the 2001 film “Very Annie Mary” starring Rachel Griffiths, Jonathan Pryce, Ioan Gruffudd and Matthew Rhys. 

Sir Jonathan Pryce as  Jack Pugh, the opera-singing baker

The bakery has kept customers in Roath and further afield well-supplied with bread, cakes, pastries and pizza dough, although the main part of the business has been the wholesale supply of bread and pizza dough to cafes and restaurants in the city centre and as far away as Pendine in Carmarthenshire. Famous customers have included the former First Minister of Wales, the late Rt Hon Rhodri Morgan, who used to call in when visiting family in the area. The business has also employed numerous people over the years, not least local youngsters for whom a Saturday job was almost a rite of passage. 

John and his bakery will be much missed, but we wish him all the best in his retirement, and fervently hope that the ovens may once again waft out those mouth-watering smells so enjoyed by neighbours.         

Jon Roberts

2 thoughts on “Secrets of the Secret Bakery 

  1. I lived in next door in 9 Arran Place for 30 years until the early 1980s and have many happy memories of Adam’s bakery. Waking up in the morning to the smell of fresh bread was fantastic and the ready availability of bread during bad weather was a bonus. The only downside was the clouds of black dust that came out of the building when they had a delivery of coke. The coke was in those days the fuel used to fire the bread ovens.

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