The Bakery That Became a Theatre
Growing up in the Cliff Family Williamstown bakery, 1941-1954
By Peter Cliff
Reprinted with permission from Around Williamstown Community Newspaper, Issue 11
Behind the house and shop at 157 Douglas Parade Williamstown is the bakery established by my Grandfather, Emanuel Cliff, in the late 1920’s. Today the modified bakery, No 2 Albert Street, is the celebrated home of the Williamstown Little Theatre, established since the mid 1960’s.
My grandparents Emanuel and Anne Cliff occupied the house with their two children, Stanley and Marjory. Emanuel replaced the original dilapidated wooden bakery with the brick structure that now serves as the theatre. Stanley, on leaving school in Williamstown, worked for a time as a solicitor’s clerk in the city before returning home to become his father’s apprentice and a baker. In 1939 Stanley married Jean Graham and they had a son Peter born in 1941. During 1940 Stanley joined the army where, apart from periods of leave, he served until returning home in 1944 to take over the business he bought from his father. Bruce, my brother, had been born in 1942 while Stan was still in the army.
In late 1944, Stan, Jean and the two boys moved into 157 Douglas Parade and the Grandparents moved to their retirement home in Upwey Tecoma. The bakery immediately took a new direction which saw the deletion of pastry and cake making in favour of increased bread production and its delivery to all parts of Williamstown and Newport.
For an impressionable child of three, my new environment was always interesting in that there was ceaseless activity all around me, even the air carried the sweet smell of baking bread. Mrs Prolleos, our immediate neighbour on the south side, kept a fruit and vegetable shop with a cockatoo in the yard that when it heard someone, whistled a tune I can repeat to this day. Her neighbour on the corner of Albert Street was the Higham family butcher shop, notable for its produce and friendly service.
The original single horse drawn cart carrying the Cliff Quality Bread sign increased to six as the business grew. The horses were kept in the 2.5 acre horse paddock complex my Grandfather owned between Dover Road and the Stand. Today it is the ageing Bronte High Rise Estate.
On the production side of the business, the dough for the next day’s bread was made late each night and allowed to rise in the wooden troughs of the warm bakehouse. Around 3.30 am other bakers would join my father to work the dough, after which it was baked in one of two wood fired ovens or the new coke fired double deck oven.
The bread carters were the distribution arm of the business and their day started by collecting their horse from the stables. After grooming, the horse was harnessed and placed in the cart to wait while the wagon was loaded with fresh bread, to leave around 7.00 am. As well, a steady stream of customers came to our home throughout the day to buy fresh bread.
I loved it all. The sound of crashing bread trays, the loading and unloading of the ovens, the banter and teasing of the staff, and of course the horses, who were all named and were as individual as their drivers. From the outset I was given tasks that grew in complexity. My friends from Albert Street were always hanging about because they too found the activity fascinating. By 4.00pm each day the carts would return and the work day wound down, but there was always something that had to be done, like sweep the yard, stack wood or run errands, perhaps to Mr Weber the Harness maker who had a shop in Douglas Parade near the corner of Ferguson Street.