Since 1817….

In a stirring tale of over 200 years of secret recipes, historic gingerbread fraternities and rival gingerbread bakeries, the rural and historic Shropshire town of Market Drayton has witnessed an unrivalled heritage associated with the celebrated and spicy gingerbread biscuit.

Market Drayton’s first contribution to gingerbread is said to be linked to the spice trade routes & Clive of India, who hails from the town, and indeed, there are records of gingerbread being made by a Roland Lateward, malster, in Shropshire Street from 1793.


However, the Billington’s Gingerbread story begins in 1817, when we first meet Mr Thomas who was baking the gingerbread in the basement of his bakery and confectionary shop. Whether already conscious of the value of his recipe or just out of family pride, in 1829 Mr Thomas passed the recipe down to his nephew W. Harper. Closely guarded for a further two generations, in 1864, Mr E. H. Harper passed the recipe to his cousin, Richard Billington, and hence the famous ‘Billington’s Gingerbread’ brand was born!

The Billingtons’ were to prove outstanding marketers. Judging from their advertising, they would have been competing with the trail blazers who were developing famous brand names at the time. The Billingtons’ enjoyed success both locally and internationally and claimed to sell to fifteen countries including Russia and Japan. However, the agricultural depression hit Market Drayton and the family hard, and it was decided to sell the Billington’s recipe. 

Two other local bakers tried to replicate the success the Billington’s family had enjoyed but both struggled and it was former apprentice Mr. S.T. Hayward-Hughes who was to rescue the gingerbread for posterity. Mr. Hayward-Hughes preserved the gingerbread from any twentieth-century changes and after his retirement in 1964 the business was passed over to his son Mr. John Hayward-Hughes, who enjoyed making the gingerbread for the local community. Subsequently he sold the rights to the product to The McCarthy Family in 1995.


The gingerbread is now manufactured under licence from T. McCarthy by local artisan baker, Mr T. Hopcroft, who wants to re-introduce Shropshire’s spicy secret to the world.