Ormskirk's Famous Gingerbread
Whilst it is certain that the Ormskirk Gingerbread recipe was unique to the town, the origin of Gingerbread goes back to Medieval times in England, when it was given out at festivities by the Lords of the Manor.
Certainly in Ormskirk there was a claim by the Fyles family of having sold the ‘Celebrated old Original Gingerbread’ since 1732. In their advert the business address is given as the Railway Station and 26, Derby Street West. A previous address had been 74, Burscough Street. It was reputedly Sarah Fyles herself who sold the gingerbread to the Prince of Wales on his visit to Lathom House via Ormskirk Railway Station in 1884 and this is why the Fyles wrapper used the Royal Seal cipher on their gingerbread packets. Sarah Fyles also sold her Gingerbread on Moor Street on Market Days.
Sally Woods is also a name well known as a Gingerbread Seller in the town. Sally lived in Mill Street where she made the mix for her gingerbread but she then carried it through the town to Burscough Street to be baked in oven’s situated down a passage way known as Monkey’s Nest. A beerhouse of that name had stood on Burscough Street at number 19, now Newlands, the Monkey’s Nest lost its license in 1909. Sally’s pitch was outside Abletts shoe shop on Moor Street. Sally made Gingerbread in a variety of different shapes, she sold gingerbread men and gingerbread donkeys, using currants for eyes.
During National Week at Aintree, or the hare coursing events at Altcar, Sally would take her produce to sell to the large crowds. She also went to the Sefton Meadows in the winter months when hundreds gathered to skate when the River Alt burst its’ banks and flooded the huge fields there.
Sally was a woman who liked a social evening in the Windmill, her local pub. According to her grandson John Neville of Scott Estate, interviewed in 1979, she was quite often wheeled up to her house in Mill Street in a wheelbarrow at closing time as she would have struggled to stagger there on her own!
Sally had a companion whilst she stood the market, her pet gander, which apparently followed her everywhere and was no trouble.
The Burscough Street bake house used by Sally Woods went on to be also used by the Mawdesley bakery when it relocated to 23 Burscough Street from its original position at No 1 Aughton Street.
A Royal Connection
The story of how a simple homemade bakery product found its way into the hands of Royalty has been recounted many times over the years. It is no less fascinating and always worthy of a re-telling.
HRH The Prince of Wales, eldest son of Queen Victoria and her Consort Prince Albert Edward of Saxe Coburg -Gotha, counted amongst his most trusted friends and colleagues The 1st Earl of Lathom, the Hon. Edward Bootle-Wilbraham of Lathom House, Lathom nr. Ormskirk.
The Prince of Wales had been born in 1841 and Lord Lathom in 1837. From an early age they will have been acquainted through family and politics, they both attended Christ Church Oxford. Whilst still Lord Skelmersdale, Edward Bootle-Wilbraham sat in the House of Lords, his father Richard had been the Conservative MP for South-West Lancashire. Richard resided at Blythe and after his death in 1844 his son Edward moved into Lathom House and was raised as the next in line to be Baron Skelmersdale,
The connection between the Prince and the Earl is also found in their roles as Freemasons. Whilst at Oxford, Lord Skelmersdale was initiated into the Freemasons and this led to a life-long role along with The Prince of Wales who was the Grand Master from 1871 to 1901 and Lord Lathom was the Pro. Grand Master 1891-1898.
Lord Lathom held the role of Lord Chamberlain for three terms between 1885 and 1898. This put him within the Royal Household. Sharing an interest in shooting there were many occasions when The Prince of Wales and Lord Lathom were guests at shooting weekends and in 1885, the shooting weekend was held at Lathom House.
This brought a host of distinguished guests to Lathom House via Ormskirk Railway Station. In the summer of 1885, The Prince and Princess of Wales travelled to Ormskirk by train.
To mark the occasion, as was the trend at the time, a commemorative medal was struck and made available as a souvenir of the visit. The townsfolk and dignitaries met the Prince’s train at Ormskirk Station, which had been newly painted, making the Royal party welcome with declarations of the support of the town for the Queen and the Royal Family. Around £350 was raised through subscription for the staging of an elaborate reception. At the Railway Station a 40ft x 30ft awning ‘upon polished pillars’ was erected and the Station approach right up to Derby Street was festooned with garlands and flowers, at the expense of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company. Almost 3000 local school children were to be gathered in a suitable part of the town to collectively sing ‘God Bless The Prince Of Wales’ and in the evening the whole town was to be ‘illuminated’ at the expense of the local gas company. On his return to the station after his short stay at Lathom House, the main thoroughfare through the town, Moor Street, was thronged with well wishers.
The Gingerbread sellers of Ormskirk had been allowed to board the train carriages as they arrived at Ormskirk and they would travel between Ormskirk and Burscough Junction selling their home made gingerbread to passengers.
On their visit to Ormskirk in 1885, The Prince & Princess of Wales were presented with a small package of the Gingerbread and this led to a regular request from the Royal couple for a supply of Ormskirk Gingerbread.