There are many wonderful things about living in London, but possibly the best is its continual ability to surprise – and inform. I’d never heard of the Antique Breadboard Museum until a couple of weeks ago, when I signed up for Blue Badge guide Diane Burstein’s Fulham Walking Tour.
After a fascinating morning discovering All Saints Church, Fulham Palace and the former alms houses and prisons of Fulham, we crossed over Putney Bridge and arrived at The Antique Breadboard Museum, a short distance from Putney High Street. It’s based in the former home of Rosslyn Neave, an antiques dealer who spent forty years collecting breadboards, originally as part of her work – and then as her own passion.
Sadly, Rosslyn, who sounds like a delightful lady, passed away in 2017. However, her daughter Madeleine, who now lives in the house with her family and was our hostess today, inherited her mother’s research (all 20 boxes of it) and is keeping Rosslyn’s legacy alive in the loveliest way. She has published a book, ‘Vintage Breadboards: Makers, designs and recipes’ (a collection of stories, recipes and anecdotes) and hosts Rosslyn’s eclectic collection in the family’s dining room where we sat, chatting to Madeleine.
To the uninitiated, breadboards might not seem the most appealing objects to collect. And yet, they are rich in history, each unique in its workmanship. The oldest existing breadboards in this country date back to the early 19th century – and it’s unlikely that this is a coincidence. The Corn Laws (1815-46) imposed tariffs on foreign wheat, causing British wheat producers to drive up prices – making bread unaffordable for all but the rich. Suddenly, bread was a status symbol, explaining why the earliest breadboards were platters, rather than cutting boards, designed to show off the bread.
The best way to clean a breadboard is by briskly rubbing a slightly wet sponge across it, then leaving it out to dry. Don’t make the mistake I made of vigorously washing your parents’ wooden breadboard, gifted to them as a wedding present, in hot soapy water.
Madeleine explained all this while we were tucking into a delicious afternoon tea, piping hot scones presented on our breadboard of choice. She’s a wonderful storyteller and it was a delight to be surrounded by so much history; the breadboards are joined by old knife sharpeners, bread rasps, butter dishes and rolling pins acquired by Rosslyn on her travels. We were encouraged to pick up and look at as many items as we liked – adding to the afternoon’s charm.
The oldest breadboard in Madeleine’s collection was made by William Gibbs Rogers, who carved considerable quantities of breadboards and whose clients included the Duke of Richmond. Pictured below, it was made for the Countess of Jersey and features her heraldry. The great and the good, needless to say, had their breadboards custom-made for them.
Rogers, who was based in Soho Square, was among the first tranche of innovators who designed and carved breadboards – as was an intriguing character called William Wing, a carver and chair-maker from London. William had a tough start to life: having married twice, both his wives died during childbirth.
In 1841, William moved to Sheffield, where he married a Yorkshire woman and set up a carving business with his eldest son, George. They made breadboards to suit all budgets and believed in plenty of decoration, with simple carvings. To this day, the Wing family is fondly remembered in Sheffield and one wall of the Antique Breadboard Museum is dedicated to breadboards made in the town.
This was such an enjoyable outing. Madeleine is the consummate hostess and made us laugh and cry as she reminisced about her mother and the legacy that Rosslyn left behind. If you’re looking for a quirky and educational afternoon out, you cannot do better than visit the Antique Breadboard Museum, which is open on weekends, by appointment, to small/larger groups.