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Whatever happened to Carrick's?

The assistance of Colin Gregg, Walter Metcalfe, Daphne Leyburn, Cyril Rickersley and P. Chambers is gratefully acknowledged;
I would be grateful for any further contributions, and would particularly welcome a photograph of a Carrick's restuarant or shop.

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Anyone who grew up in the north-east during, or prior to, the 1960's will undoubtedly remember the chain of cafes and bakery shops bearing the name Carrick. Towards the end of that decade the company was at its peak, with 110 outlets stretching from Alnwick to Middlesbrough. The head office was at Cowgate in Newcastle, where the company's main bakery was located, and the city centre was particularly well supplied with Carrick's cafes and restaurants such as the Rookery Nook in Blackett Street, the Dickens Restaurant in Grey Street, and the Gingham Kitchen in Hood Street. The origins of the company, and its ultimate fate are less well-known, however.

Thomas Carrick, who was to give his name to this remarkably successful venture, was born at Haltwhistle in the June quarter of 1845. His parents were Matthew (b.1815) and Jane (b.1822) Carrick, who married at Haltwhistle in the December quarter of 1844. In 1851 the family were living at Low Row, near Brampton, where Matthew was described as a 'Bacon Factor.' Matthew died in the September quarter of 1860, and in the census of the following year an uncle, John (b.1788), was listed as head of the family, a farmer of 500 acres and bacon curer. Thomas, now aged 15, was working as a bookkeeper.

Thomas is not recorded in the 1871 census, nor is his mother Jane, who appears to have died in the September quarter of 1864. The rest of the family were still living at Low Row with uncle John, now aged 83.

By 1881 however Thomas had come into his inheritance. He was once again living at Low Row, and was described as a 'Merchant (Butter and Bacon)'. This is somewhat of an understatement; Thomas had learned of the trend towards the industrial-scale production of cheese, and had established a factory known as the Cumberland Dairy. It was no small enterprise; on 13 October 1882 the Newcastle Courant reported that during the previous fifteen months the Cumberland Dairy had produced 482,371 gallons of milk, 175,407 lbs of butter, and 361,779 lbs of cheese. The proximity of the dairy to the Newcastle-Carlisle railway line allowed it to supply the large markets in the growing industrial centres, Carlisle and Newcastle being the most obvious, but the Cumberland Dairy also sent produce further afield. An article in the Preston Guardian on 12 January 1884 bemoaned the fact that the high quality produce of the Cumberland Dairy could no longer be procured in the town, as it was being sent instead to Manchester where it could fetch a higher price.

Carricks cream pot

A cream pot dating from the era of the Cumberland Dairy

As the business expanded it acquired another dairy at Aspatria which had been set up in 1889 by a Mr Stephenson, formerly the manager at Low Row. The photograph above shows a cream pot dating from this era.

By 1891 Thomas had moved to 'The Nook,' Haydon Bridge, being described in the census as 'Managing Director of Dairy Company'. His first wife Margaret Elizabeth had died in 1887, but he remarried the following year. His new wife, Ann Mary Butterwith, was born at Liverpool in 1859, however the marriage was registered at Brampton. The company's trade with Newcastle was evidently very important, as it opened an office at 51 Grey Street during the 1880s. Thomas was still possessed of an entrepreneurial spirit, and his next business move was into cafes or, as they were called at the time, 'Cocoa and Coffee Rooms'.

These establishments had sprung up during the 1870s, largely sponsored by pillars of the temperance movement, and were intended to provide alternative places of refreshment to the numerous public houses. They were originally called 'British Workmen's Public Houses,' and in June 1875 a limited liability company of that name was formed in Liverpool under the Chairmanship of Robert Lockhart. He later set up his own company, which became the Starbucks of its day, opening Cocoa Rooms the length and breadth of the country. In 1890 Lockhart's was well established in the north-east, with 10 premises in Newcastle alone. As a public company its accounts were open to inspection, and the figures must have seemed attractive to Thomas Carrick, as by 1898 Carrick's Cumberland Dairy Company itself had Cocoa Rooms at 103 Elswick Road and Imperial Buildings, Westgate Road. In 1902 it opened a cafe at 2, Gallowgate, and by 1910 'Cumberland' had been dropped from the company name, and Carrick's Dairy Co. Ltd had cafes at 51 and 68 Grey Street, 5 St Nicholas's Buildings, 30 Collingwood Street, 105 Elswick Road, 290 Stanhope Street, 2 Gallowgate, 3 Ridley Place, Imperial Buildings, Westgate Road, 77 Manor House Road and 122 Heaton Park Road.

The catering and dairy businesses were not the only enterprises to occupy Thomas Carrick; for a period he was also Managing Director of Fenwick's dye works at Hexham. As one would have expected from such a successful entrepreneur, Thomas also played an active part in public life. He was the first representative for the Allendale Division on Northumberland County Council, and was eventually elected Alderman. He represented the Council on the governing bodies of Armstrong College, Hexham Higher Grade School and the Shaftoe Trust School at Haydon Bridge. He also served on Hexham Rural District Council and was the first Chairman of Haydon Bridge Parish Council. For such a distinguished personage he may have found 'The Nook' an insufficiently dignified name for his residence, changing it to 'The Park' sometime during the first decade of the twentieth century.

Early in 1911 Thomas Carrick suffered a major illness. On 1 March he travelled to Torquay to convalesce, but died there on 10 March at the age of 65. His funeral took place at Haydon Bridge on Tuesday, 14 March, and was attended by a large number of influential businessmen and local politicians.

Thomas Carrick

Thomas Carrick 1845-1911

Thomas's death spared him the pain of his daughter Winifred's very tragic death 8 years later. Winifred (b. 1900) was a V.A.D. nurse during the First World War, serving in France before being relocated to the Military Hospital in Bethnal Green. She was described as being well behaved and industrious, but of a highly-strung nature. In May 1919 she gave notice of her resignation, and expressed her fears to the Matron that she was going to suffer another nervous breakdown. In June she was admitted to the North-Eastern hospital at Tottenham suffering from measles, but appeared to have made a full recovery. On 24th of June however she went for a walk in the hospital grounds, and was later seen by two children as she threw herself under a train. Despite the stigma attached to suicide at the time, her family still exercised tremendous influence in her home town, and her name was entered on the Haydon Bridge War Memorial as a casualty of war.

Haydon Bridge War Memorial

Haydon Bridge War Memorial

The company Thomas had founded continued to grow and prosper, and, as mentioned above, it possessed more than 100 outlets in the region by the end of the 1960s. By that time however the company's business model had become outdated; waitress service restaurants were becoming the exception, and Carrick's was slow to recognise the fact. It also faced strong competition in the bakery side of its business, most notably from Greggs of Gosforth. Although Greggs was no newcomer to the bakery business, having been founded in the 1930s, its management was energetic, and very ambitious. The number of Carrick's outlets was steadily reduced, and by 1984 the company had shrunk to only 64 branches. Shortly afterwards it was acquired by Associated British Foods.

Station Road Hebburn 1958

Carrick's shop in Station Road, Hebburn - 1958
(photograph courtesy of Norman Dunn)

Initially the shops and cafes continued to operate under the Carrick's name, but ABF decided they wanted a nationwide identity for this part of their business, and introduced the Bakers Oven brand. Many of the shops still retained a cafe, but slowly these were changed to go with the then more modern image of faster food and coffee. Cafes were no longer places where people spent time, but rather places where people were fed.

The last chapter in the story (so far) commenced in 1994, when Greggs purchased the Bakers Oven business from ABF. In doing so, they effectively purchased the former Carrick's business. In the north-east Bakers Oven shops were rebranded under the Greggs name, although the Bakers Oven chain still exists today elsewhere in the country. Greggs continued to operate the former Carrick's bakery at Cowgate until 2005, when operations were transferred to its Gosforth site. Several former Carrick's shops are still operated by Greggs, including Percy House and 95 Grey Street in Newcastle, 220 Chester Road in Sunderland, and 4 Bedford Way in North Shields.

So the answer to the question posed above - "Whatever happened to Carrick's?" - can be answered. Thomas Carrick's business now forms part of Greggs plc, a successful north-east company which serves 5 million customers each week from its 1,100 outlets throughout the country.

© Patrick Brennan 2008

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