A History of Quality Baking

family run bakery, artisan bakery Hale, Knutsford, Altrincham, CheshireThe Hill Family originated in Derbyshire, in an area known as the Peak Forest. James Hill, Geoff Hill’s great, great Grandfather sought work in the cotton industry and by 1825 was living in Dukinfield, Cheshire, married to Mary with a young family. In 1831 their second son, John was born (Geoff Hill’s Great Grandfather).

By 1855 James was now married to Sarah and realised the prospect of a new challenge away from the cotton industry. Following the example of one of his cousins (a man named Joseph Hill), he moved to Ashton-Under-Lyne and opened a shop, trading under the name of John Hill Grocer and Provision Merchant.

In 1861 their second son was born, George Thomas (Geoff Hill’s Grandfather). By this time John Hill was listed in the census as a Master Grocer; his name and his products becoming familiar with the area.

The business expanded  …….

During the next decade, whilst he was fully occupied in the growth of the business, his wife Sarah took an interest in the confectioner’s shop next door.

By 1880 all the family, including four children, were employed in the family business. The Hill family had been making biscuits and cakes for 30 years and in 1889 began to manufacture them at a much larger scale at Pyecroft factory, a five-story building with two shops in Ashton.

The manufacturing business flourished under the guidance of his two sons, George Thomas and John Albert. An indication of the prosperity of the Hill family at that time is that they had two ‘live in’ female servants at their home.

A significant date took place on Saturday, November 4th, 1893 when Mrs Sarah Hill (wife of John Hill, the founder of the business) laid the foundation stone for Tudno Mill. This building still stands and operates as Hills biscuits today on the outskirts of Ashton-Under-Lyne.

The Tudno factory in Smith Street specialised in the manufacture of bridal and other speciality cakes.

It seems that George Thomas travelled extensively selling the Hills products. An indication of the growth of the company is that by the early 20th century they had a depot in London, at Boston Place, Dorset Square. He is believed to have met his future wife (Mary Helen), and founder of Hills Bakery Hale, on a business trip to Scotland. Mary Helen’s father, John Caunt (a hatter by profession), travelled from Stockport to Glasgow to train and teach people his profession and he settled and married a Scottish lady and Mary Helen was born in Glasgow in 1873.

It is believed that Mary Helen married George Thomas in 1896 and moved back to Ashton-Under-Lyne where the Hills business was.

In 1906 the business was formed into a limited company and the Hill family were not represented on the board. It seems that George Thomas left the business and worked for Jacobs biscuits. He and his wife now had six children, George, Molly, Sarah, John, Francis and Margaret.

The move to Hale….

In September 1912, George Thomas died from pneumonia and Mary Helen with the help and support of a family friend decided to leave Ashton-Under-Lyne and move to Hale.

Hills’ Bakery was started in 1912 by Mary Helen. By 1916 she had opened a café on the first floor of the premises, naming it the Kiro Café. Her late husband had visited Egypt on his travels and the family sill have artefacts that he brought back with him.

By the end of the First World War, George her eldest son, and Geoff’s father was working in the business. In the 1920’s her elder daughters, Molly and Sarah (called Joan) moved to North Manchester to start their own bakery. They never married and lived together, retiring to Clitheroe, Lancashire in the 1960’s.

Mary’s youngest daughter, Margaret (Peggy) opened a women’s. clothing shop in Hale, selling separates. She married locally and on being widowed, moved to spend her retirement in Clitheroe with her sisters. None of the three sisters had children.

Mary’s two younger sons both left the bakery, Francis married into the Moore family (Pools Empire) and worked for them, John was a newsagent in Sale.

In 1937 Geoff Hill was born to George Hill and his wife Evelyn. Mary Helen retired in xxx and left the running of the business to them.

Geoff Hill had an elder sister (Sheila who left Hale and married an army officer. They live in Winchester. George Hill died in 1962 and Geoff having trained at Hollings College, Manchester, in baking and confectionery, took over the running of the business. Mary Helen outlived George, her son, and died at 91 in 1964.

Evelyn Hill continued to work with her son Geoff until her retirement in the late 1960’s. Geoff by this time married a local girl called Sheila Robinson and they had two children, Janet and Ian.

Shelia began to take an interest in the business and having a natural flair for business and management took over the running of the shop. Sheila and Geoff built the business up through the 1970’s and 1980’s, diversifying into the take-away market and developing new products alongside the existing lines introduced and developed by Mary Helen. Some of these products are still made and in great demand today.

In 1987 their son Ian decided to join the business and work alongside his father, Geoff. Their daughter, Janet made a similar move in 1993, having worked for the large manufacturing company, Rank Hovis McDougall, as Marketing manager for their Retail division.

The fifth generation of Hills include four great great grandchildren, Ben, Henry, Rory and Lydia and hopefully one or all of them will continue the traditions and see Hills’ bakery achieve one hundred and fifty years of trading!