Michael Viner traces the history of The Cake Shop – a Sydenham Institution
Few things are more pleasurable, comforting and more English than a relaxing half-hour around 4.00pm with a cup of tea and a piece of cake. For years my Saturday ritual has consisted of going to The Cake Store (formerly Slatters) on the corner of Sydenham Rd and Mayow Rd, and buying one of their delicious cakes to eat with a cup of tea, with my dog curled up beside me after a day spent scouring Jumble Sales, Junk Shops, Greenwich Market, or just a walk in the park.
Not many shops in South London can boast they have followed the same trade and sold the same goods since the day they opened but The Cake Store is one of them. It has had just three changes of ownership in 110 years. Most of the shops on that side of Sydenham Rd were built after the demolition of the large Georgian house, ‘The Old House’, and the clearance of its extensive grounds in 1900. Built c1902, from the start it was a high-quality bakery, first owned by Owen & Owen, and so it remained up until the early years of WWII.
In 1943 the shop became empty, maybe due to loss of trade with rationing and general wartime austerity. Hard as it is to believe today, for a centrally located shop in such a busy shopping area, 111 Sydenham Road remained unoccupied for the next 11 years when in 1964 R.H. Aldridge & Son took over the business. Through the 50’s and 60’s they continued to provide high quality bread, cakes, light refreshments (teas and coffees were sold here until fairly recently) and friendly service to the people of Sydenham.
As well as delicious foodstuffs, Aldridge’s also employed attractive young female serving staff, especially on Saturdays, their busiest day. Whether this was by accident or design is uncertain. One young Aldridge lady whose good looks caught the eye was Christine Franks (now Griffiths), who worked at Aldridge’s from 1959 to 1961, when she left school. “It was my Saturday job – I worked from 9:00 to 2:00 and my pay was 12 shillings” (60p-12 p an hour!). Christine was by far the most famous employee at the shop – well, for a week or two in 1960 anyway – when she was featured in the, now defunct, local paper, the Lewisham Borough News. In February 1960 as part of the paper’s ‘Workaday Beauties’ series, there was a regular feature whereby LBN photographer, Tony Runacres, and reporter, W.B.Skipsey, went around the borough photographing and interviewing attractive young
women who worked in shops, offices and factories, with each ‘beauty’ getting a near–full page feature in that week’s issue. In her feature “Lovely Christine, behind the counter in her blue overall” spoke of her ambitions “to be a telephonist, to be a pop singer and to meet Cliff Richard”. Christine only realised one of those ambitions – she was a telephonist for a while!
Christine remembers a Mrs. James, the supervisor, as being in charge on the shop floor rather than Mr. Aldridge himself. She also recalls an incident one summer morning when she was stung by a wasp while busy serving a fussy lady customer and had to restrain herself from shouting out in pain until the lady had finished her long order, in case she thought she was angry with her, rather than the wasp!
In 1969 Aldridge’s changed ownership and became Slatters, the name by which it is still referred to by many Sydenham residents. The 70s was the probably the shop’s most successful period and certainly when it enjoyed its highest public profile. Slatters were featured several times on national TV; a number of times on The Generation Game with Bruce Forsyth: and once on Jim’ll Fix It with the late Jimmy Savile. Clips of these programmes, without sound, can be seen on the screen behind the counter while customers wait to be served at The Cake Store today. It was during this era when the shop really began gaining its national fame and reputation for
elaborate and ingenious party, celebration, wedding and novelty cakes, for which the shop is probably best known today.
Slatters changed its name to The Cake Store c2001 and continue the fine tradition of selling top quality bread and cakes, very friendly service and yes, they still employ some attractive female staff!
Michael Viner – with thanks to Christine Griffiths