Bakery closure recalls days of horse-drawn bread carts
Time of sad reflection for James McKeown
Progressing with the times -
the first electric cars purchased for delivery by James McKeown's bakery
It will be a sad day for Lisburn when the town's oldest bakery closes at the end of the month.
McKeown's bakery in Sloan Street has served generations of local families since it first opened in 1852 under the ownership of Mr. J. E. Sloan.
The unavoidable closure which marks the end of an era for the McKeown family, has been forced because the present owner, Mr. James McKeown has no son to succeed him.
Negotiations are underway at present for the sale of the shop. The only comforting factor in the giving up the family run business for Mr. McKeown is the hope that the new owners will keep the bakery on.
"I just hope it will continue to be a bakery. I hate leaving the shop but if it is kept on then at least our customers who have been with us so many years, will still be able to visit it and in a way keep one tradition alive", said Mr. McKeown.
McKeown's bakery is one of the few family run businesses still left in the town. It was first established in 1852 by Mr. J. E. Sloan who ran the shop for 58 years before the first Mr. James McKeown took over.
Described by his grandson as 'a very good businessman', Mr. James McKeown owned two other properties in the town before purchasing the bakery.
The first was the Hayloft in Bridge Street which he sold in the 1880's and bought Alexanders Bar, known then as 'The Eastern Bar'. This he also sold when he purchased the bakery in 1910.
Sadly in 1926 Mr. McKeown died and the business passed into the hands of his son, also Mr. James McKeown.
In those days the bakery thrived on its deliveries. Supermarkets and massed produced bread loaves were unheard of with the traditional family bakery playing a vital role in maintaining a healthy population
McKeown's had a grand total of 14 bread carts and were converted from stables which housed the weary 22 horses which were operational in the north west districts of the borough. The present stores at the back of the shop horses in the evenings.
In those days more skill was required of the baker who without the aid of the hi-tech equipment in the present shop relied on his own expertise to produce fresh loaves of the finest quality.
The selection, too, was more basic with plain loaves and Paris buns comprising the bulk of deliveries. Fancy cakes and buns and in particular, fruit loaves and bracks were luxuries purchased mainly at Christmas, Easter and the Twelfth of July holidays.
Gradually, like every other business, McKeown's got caught up in the changes of the times, moving to a more sophisticated process of manufacture and delivery.
In 1948 electric vans took over from horse drawn carts and finally the deliveries were conducted in petrol vans.
By this time supermarkets were beginning to spring up and the services of the old bread vans were soon no longer needed.
The present James McKeown was introduced to the 1940 and assisted by his sister Mrs. Margaret Hulatt, has been in charge ever since.
The present shop is very different to the one first opened by James' grandfather and then owned by his father.
In the 1980's every day in the bakery is like Christmas! Mrs. Hulatt explains, "Eating patterns have changed so much that the old bakery as my father and grandfather knew it is a lot different. Fancy cakes and buns, previously bought only on special occasions are now an every day buy and thus to the older baker every day is like Christmas".
Although forced to close the bakery, James will be keeping on the adjoining 'Royal' newsagency and confectionery shop.
In the meantime, McKeown's bakery will be operating as normal until the sale is completed and the new owner decides whether he is going to change the course of history or keep on a much cherished local tradition.
|Serving the public through three generations - A delivery van belonging to James McKeown Bakers.||Isaac McCarthy, a bread server with McKeown's bakery during his deliveries in 1910.|
June 20 1986