Supplying Stepney with bread and pastries for the best part of a century, local residents remember Walls’ hot cross buns, bridge rolls and marzipan fruitcakes.
Hundreds of Stepney residents have taken to social media lamenting the loss of Johnny Walls Bakery on Ben Jonson Road, which closed its doors on Sunday 16 July.
Formerly Lewis Bakers until the 1960s, the shop has passed through the hands of various owners, but the people of Stepney have counted on the smell of fresh bread wafting down Ben Jonson Road for as long as they can remember.
According to Kirsty Jones, a former Walls Bakery employee, the shop’s freehold is owned by Tower Hamlets Council, who recently put the rent up to over double its previous rate.
Coupled with the rising cost of running the bakery, owners Terence and Amanda Miles could no longer afford to keep the business going.
A spokesperson from Tower Hamlets Council said: ‘As with all our lease renewals, we are seeking to balance our obligation to get the best value for Tower Hamlets’ residents with a desire to make rents sustainable for businesses.
‘This rental increase was settled after a discussion with the tenant and is based on market evidence from the immediate vicinity.’
Jones, who worked at the bakery for the last six years, as well as formerly in 2014, said that her children who are now teenagers had been going to the bakery their whole lives and saw the owners as family.
In recent years, Terence and Amada Miles’ 28-year-old daughter had taken over the baking at Walls, which was known by locals for its old-school London cheesecakes and cream doughnuts.
As Jones describes: ‘Everything was popular. We opened every day at 5.30 am and often by 9.30 am all the bread was gone.’
‘It was a joy to be there,’ she continues: ‘I really enjoyed working there and being so busy.’
Even as Tesco raised the price of its meal deal to £3.90, you could buy a Walls’ small cheese salad roll for £1.60 and a large one for £2.10. But according to Jones, the bakery lost significant business after putting its prices up due to rising costs.
News of the bakery’s closure announced in the East London Facebook group, ‘Living in Stepney,’ attracted over 250 likes and 170 comments. Local residents expressed their dismay at the closure of one of the last ‘proper East End bakers,’ with many special mentions given to its hot cross buns.
Far from the pre-sliced loaves that line our supermarket aisles today, one Facebook user remembers when Walls Bakery installed a machine to cut fresh bread; the first time he had ever seen such a thing.
Another local resident remembers how she would scrape the marzipan off Walls’ fruit cake which she would get for her birthday every year.
The bakery’s closure will be felt particularly sorely by the cab drivers, night workers and early risers who used to come in at 5.30 am when the rest of the high street was asleep.
And yet, there is hope yet for the people of Stepney. According to the Council, the new owners will continue to run the space as a bakery. With such a show of local demand, they’d be missing a good business opportunity not to.
So next time you’re walking down Ben Jonson Road, keep a keen eye on Walls Bakery, the familiar smell of fresh bread could be back sooner than we think.
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