The Story Of Fitzbillies
There are two branches of Fitzbillies, one at each end of town,
the original in Trumpington Street, and the new branch in Bridge Street.
The Founding of Fitzbillies
Fitzbillies was founded in 1920 by Ernest and Arthur Mason, using their ‘demob’ money from the First World War. Their initials are still visible in worn-out gold letters on the shop front.
They were the sons of local baker ‘Ticker’ Mason, who had a shop further up Trumpington St, where the newsagents is now. Ticker was a bread maker, so his boys specialised in fancy cakes, and of course, Chelsea buns.
The Early Years
Fitzbillies quickly became the cake-shop of choice for the university and townsfolk. Initially it was famous for its special Fitzbillies sponge cake. A local historian told us...
‘I was born in Cambridge in 1926, in a don's family. Before WW2, no don's family tea table would have been complete without a Fitzbillies Sponge Cake, it was the thing for which Fitzbillies was famous. Chelsea buns were on offer, but it was the cake that carried the flag. And it was very good, and it was often preceded at the tea table by cucumber sandwiches on brown bread with the crusts cut off.
After the War
Fitzbillies kept baking during and after the Second World War. The Chelsea buns were a rare treat in the days of rationing. In the Observer Guide to British Cookery Jane Grigson wrote...
‘When the war was over, everyone thought food queues would be over, too. In fact, everything continued as greyly as before, and the most anxious queues I had ever joined were outside Fitzbillies in Cambridge. No undergraduate tea party was complete without their Chelsea buns, syrupy, well spiced, licentious and exceptional during the years of ersatz cakes and shortages. I still think they are the best Chelsea buns I have ever eaten.’
Tough Times for Fitzbillies
After the boom of the post war years, the 1980s and 90s were a much tougher time for small bakeries. They faced growing competition from supermarkets and takeaways, and Fitzbillies was no exception. In 1991, Fitzbillies went bankrupt for the first time, but was bought out of receivership and relaunched.
Then in 1998 the premises were devastated by fire. It took nearly two years to rebuild, however the business kept going, baking offsite and selling Chelsea buns in the shop next door to the original, on the corner of Pembroke Street, where our Coffee Shop is now.
The Relaunch of Fitzbillies
In 2011, like many bakeries on high streets all over the UK, Fitzbillies succumbed to difficult trading conditions and closed due to bankruptcy for the second time. Stephen Fry posted a lament to the Chelsea Buns on twitter and that was seen by current owners Alison Wright and Tim Hayward.
A Cambridge girl, with fond childhood memories of Fitzbillies, Alison left her career in London to rescue and relaunch the ailing business. 9 years on the business is thriving with a new café behind the cake shop in Trumpington St and a coffee shop on the corner, a second branch in Bridge St and a larger bakery making artisan bread as well as the cakes and Chelsea buns.
The 100th Birthday
This year Fitzbillies is celebrating its 100th birthday. Tim and Alison have written a book to celebrate: Fitzbillies - The Stories & Recipes of a 100 Year Old Cambridge Bakery.
Throughout the year they will be speaking at a series of events including the Cambridge Literary Festival and the Cambridge Food Festival, telling the story of the first 100 years of Fitzbillies. Signed copies of the book are available in our branches and online.
Careers at Fitzbillies
We are always looking for talented people to join our growing company, offering exciting opportunities for bakers, chefs, baristas, managers, waiters and customer service team members.LEARN MORE
Latest News and Recipes
Chelsea Bun Facts
We've been baking our famous Fitzbillies Chelsea buns since 1920
The ultra-sticky Chelsea buns are Fitzbillies most famous and most popular product since 1920.
We bake them by hand 362 days a year (Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day are our only days off), starting at 4 in the morning, so the buns are ready when we open at 8am.
There are 40 buns in a tray of Chelseas
On a busy day we make 20 trays - that’s 800 buns
In Easter week, we made 100 trays - that’s 4000 buns
Last year we made around 160,000 Chelsea buns
Head Baker, Gill Abbs joined the business in 1971, 50 years ago, and we estimate that in that time she has made 5 million buns - enough to stretch from Cambridge to the International Space Station.