LONG queues for bread built up outside shops in many parts of Oxfordshire when bakery workers went on strike.

There was panic buying in September 1977 as housewives battled to stock up as the supply of loaves dwindled.

The Oxford Mail reported: “All over the county, it was the same story – long early morning queues, rationing and very little bread.

Oxford Mail:

  • The story reported in the Oxford Mail

“Store managers used adjectives like ‘chaotic’, ‘hectic’, and ‘at fever pitch’ to describe the scenes outside their shops.”

As the strike began, Tesco in Cowley Road, Oxford, had just 300 loaves and a queue which stretched the whole length of its 150ft long frontage even before it opened. The bread sold out in minutes.

International Stores in High Street, Oxford, sold out in 15 minutes, with the manager predicting: “It’s going to get worse rather than better.”

Sainsbury’s in Westgate had no bread at all – and its stock of breadmix had already been snapped up.

At Witney, housewives at stores with bread were going to checkouts pushing trolleys with eight or nine loaves.

King Alfred’s Kitchen at Wantage sold out in half an hour. The manager said: “I had to ration loaves because they wanted to buy six or seven. It is ridiculous – they are just panic buying.”

Some housewives found a novel way to beat the strike – 20 signed up for a 10-week bread-baking course at West Oxfordshire Technical College. Others were equally resourceful, emptying the stores of flour and yeast and buying crisps and biscuits as standbys.

The strike also brought a silver lining to small independent bakers who were unaffected by the strike and increased production to try to meet demand.

Many, including Biggers in High Street, Eynsham, baked day and night. A breathless assistant at Berry and Sons of Headington said: “We are carrying on until we drop.”

Oxford Mail:

  • The sign at Gibbons’s family bakery in Hertford Street, East Oxford, which brought rude comments

Some people were abusive when Gibbons’s family bakery in Hertford Street, East Oxford, put up a notice restricting supplies to regular customers. “You wouldn’t think people would be so rude over a loaf of bread,” said an assistant.

The strikers had threatened to picket the mills to stop flour getting through to the small bakeries, but supplies continued to flow.

After a week of strike action, however, the independent bakers were beginning to feel the strain. Albert Braham, of Ideal Bakers, in Kingston Road, Oxford, said: “We are working right through the night and it’s taking it out of us. We can’t go on indefinitely at this pace.”

Two days later, he and his fellow bakers breathed a sigh of relief as the employers and unions settled the dispute, which had started over pay for work on August Bank Holiday.