How Ellen the baker brought in the bread

My beautiful picture
My beautiful picture

JOHN Robinson may be far removed from Hartlepool these days. But he has plenty to tell about his former home town. He has researched his family tree from his new home in Canada and shared his history with Family Roots. This week, he recalls the relative who used baking to make ends meet.

WHEN times were tough, Ellen Kell knew exactly how to cope.

For decades, the widow supported her young family by becoming an innovative business boss.

At times, she tried baking from the kitchen of her two-roomed rent house in Commercial Street in Trimdon Colliery, and then selling the produce from the living room.

But her woes did not end there.

Her grandson John said: “ A bigamous marriage and more children did not help her financially. To provide for her family, she kept the confectionary and in hard times, she scrubbed floors and took in washing to make ends meet.

“She also opened a tea shop (hut) in the summer months in the Dene at Hart.”

They’re the sort of memories which bring family trees to life and John also recalled his earliest recollections of Hartlepool.

He said:“My first memories of Hartlepool are from the 1940’s. We visited our grandmother Ellen Kell who ran a boarding house in South Road, near the Cenotaph.

“Ellen’s husband died in 1908 leaving her with three young children. To support her family, she had started to sell baked goods from the kitchen/living room of her rented two room house on Commercial Street in Trimdon Colliery.

“Her rental agreement for both ended in 1935 and she moved with two of her sons to Hartlepool.”

John had complete admiration for Ellen.

He said: “Throughout her life, she was very independent, a fine lady who always put her children’s needs ahead of her own.”

But it seemed that the clan’s skills did not end at Ellen.

Ellen’s sister Minnie Craggs lived in Hartlepool near the Middleton Ferry on the sea wall.

John said: “We often went to the Fish and Block Sands during the war years. It was quite a thrill to take the “Trackless” from Church Street to St Hilda’s to play on the beach.

“For a treat, we would go to The Haven, a British restaurant for dinner. A visit was also made to aunt Minnie’s for a cup of tea and a chat, added John”

During the hard times, Minnie had taken one of Ellen’s children, Fred, and raised him as one of her own. Minnie was also a baker and Fred would sell her teacakes from a wicker basket around the Croft.

John said: “Locally he was known as “Teacake Freddie”. Fred eventually was a vagrant in London.

Anton Wallich-Clifford, founder of the Simon Community, dedicated his book No Fixed Abode to: “Fred Kell, wherever he may be, on behalf of the homeless and rootless everywhere.”

As for John himself, he lived in Seaton Carew for four years, before leaving the area for “economic reasons”.

But there’s still more to this story for us to tell.