Spark’s Daylight Bakery, Bishopton Avenue, Stockton (Historic England Listing Grade II)
Spark’s Daylight Bakery, now redeveloped as apartments, was designed in 1938 by local Middlesbrough and Darlington architect Robert Ridley Kitching, and officially opened in May 1940. Kitching was very much a ‘modern’ architect, often (but not always) working in a style that has come to be recognised as Art Deco.
Kitching’s modern aesthetic was very well suited to the vision Ralph Spark had for his new bakery complex. It was also reflective of changing attitudes to industrial production – streamlined in nature and streamlined in expression. This popular modernism promoted contemporary style to the general public, and by the late 1930s spoke a language that Spark’s customers thought stylish and ‘state-of-the-art’.
Ralph Spark established his small original bakery on Bishopton Lane in 1881; in 1900 he opened a shop on Yarm Lane, and by 1914 had another four branches in Stockton and Middlesbrough. ‘After the war branches were initiated in Darlington, West Hartlepool, Thornaby, South Bank and further branches at Stockton and Middlesbrough.’
Ralph Spark obviously kept an eye on modern technology and took advantage of current trends in automation and labour-saving devices as early as 1919, when his Marton Road bakery incorporated much up-to-the-minute machinery. By 1940 he had taken this even further and could produce bread, cakes, pastries and chocolates quickly, efficiently and in very large quantities. Spark employed 380 staff across his enterprise, in the bakery and in his fifteen shops and four cafes. The ‘Daylight Bakery’ with its implied emphasis on health and efficiency, was geared up to meet an obviously growing market, providing everything Spark’s shops and cafes required. Harold Hood was certainly impressed:
‘In this brilliantly lighted factory there are chopping machines, dough-mixing machines, and indeed, mixing machines of all sorts, which do their chopping and assembling on a grand scale. . . (and) here for the first time in my experience I found an automatic covering machine for chocolates and other coverings to confectionary – a very impressive machine indeed, of considerable length, do the work of a dozen people or more, and probably doing it a great deal quicker.’
‘But the most impressive features of the whole building are the automatic ovens, which deal in turn . . . both with bread and cakes or pastries and biscuits.’
‘Truly enormous areas of space are occupied by the preparation for the vast output of white and brown bread necessary in an industrial district like ours.’
What remains of the original bakery was the office block with its eye-catching street façade. The building’s flat roof, its horizontal emphasis, cream and green glazed tiles and recessed entrance tower all denote a moderne style, not unlike that of the Hoover Building in Perivale, west London. The whole building was originally heated by ducted hot air produced by the bakery. There are also four semi-detached houses to the northwest of the main building, which were probably built for employees with some responsibility, and which are now part of the residential redevelopment scheme.
Interestingly, the complex also included a laundry for all the linen used in the cafes, a joinery department to create and maintain shop counters and fittings, and a large garage to house the vans and lorries supplying Spark’s outlets.
Sadly, Ralph Spark (by then Alderman Spark) didn’t live to see the opening of the ‘Daylight Bakery’ – he died shortly before the ceremony – but he was certainly the driving force behind this ambitious project. At the opening ceremony his son John said
‘I remember . . . looking at the front elevation drawings of this building with my father a little over a year ago, and he remarked humorously, ‘Well, we’ve had a few different kinds of bakeries – but I never dreamt that we would ever have a building like this. It looks more like a new Town Hall for Stockton.’ It would have been a proud day for him . . . ‘
Spark’s ‘Daylight Bakery’ closed in 1985.
 His other buildings include Cargo Fleet Iron Company offices (1914-18), his own practice offices at 21 Albert Road (1920s), the Westminster Hotel (1937), Linthorpe Assembly Rooms and the Bluebell Hotel, Acklam (1939).
 Harold Hood, ‘Ralph Spark & Sons, Ltd., ‘The Daylight Bakery’, North-Eastern Gazette, 17.05.1940
 Harold Hood, ibid.
 Harold Hood, ibid.