Fitzbilliies – a sweet passion

Cambridge University is renowned worldwide for it’s architecture and learning, however the town has it’s own acclaimed treasures.

Standing slightly off the beaten track is a small family run business renowned for creating structures of a different kind, with skills that have been passed down through the decades

This shop caused Stephen Fry to tweet about its demise resulting, thankfully, in its restoration as one of Cambridge’s best loved cake emporiums .

A.E. Mason established Fitzbillies, a bakery and patisserie, in 1922.  Recognizable by its distinctive art nouveau frontage, the shop has had five owners to date, all of whom have baked with a passion for traditionally made fine foods.

Mr. Mason ran the establishment until 1951, when W. G. Day took over until 1980.

The shop really took off when Clive and Julia Pledger took over in 1980.

Producing the traditional gooey delights of Chelsea buns steeped in syrup and deliciously chocolaty sachertorten, the shop had local people and undergraduates queuing up outside the shop on a daily basis.

Such an array of traditionally made cakes, breads, meringues, biscuits, and savouries provided the perfect extravagance, all carefully wrapped or boxed by one of the surliest woman I have ever met.  But still we all came back for more.

Under the Pledgers the shop grew and a sandwich shop was opened in Regent Street as well as a small stall in the newly opened food hall at Eaden Lilley in 1984. Too there was a thriving mail order business and outside catering for weddings and College functions.

During that time the Pledgers also starting making award winning chocolates.

It was recorded that in 1984 Fitzbillies were making 3,000 Chelsea buns a week.

In 1988 Fitzbillies was named best British food shop in ‘Courvoisier’s Book of the Best’.

In the same year  the mail order business extended to the Web – receiving two orders on the first day, one from Australia the other from America.

Sadly, after their marriage break up and despite Julia’s tremendous efforts the shop struggled and in 1991 there was a new owner of Fitzbillies – Penny Thompson. Penny had been working in the shop as a general assistant and one can imagine had become as passionate about the place as so many other owners and customers alike.

During her time at Fitzbillies Penny was able to rent the shop next door and turn it into a restaurant (that shop had previously been Heffers Penguin bookshop, closing in 1985 after 28 years of stocking only Penguin books,  after which it was a ladies boutique for a short while).

But the story appeared to end in 2011, when both closed.

Stephen Fry’s Twitter plea to save Fitzbillies was heard abroad. That and his wife, Alison’s fond schoolgirl memories of the delights of their sticky buns lead Tim Hayward, food writer and broadcaster to invest in 52 Trumpington Street – and so a new era began …

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About The Real Cambridge

There is more to Cambridge than Colleges. A rich and vibrant social history and one steeped in contrast, and often, conflict, with its more famous academia. View all posts by The Real Cambridge

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