Toastrack Museum

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Sylvia Dow (nee Thorpe) contacted Manchester Modernist Society after seeing our Toastrack residency featured in the Manchester Evening News online. Now living in Margate, northwest of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Sylvia has shared some memories of her time at Hollings College between 1961-63.

“I was a student in the early 1960s in the Catering department. The building was brand new at the time, and far beyond its time in being modern. Princess Margaret officially opened the college, although it was already in operation and had been for a while. I was at that ceremony. I remember the excitement and I believe her speech was in the lecture hall, and there was a plaque to commemorate the occasion.

In the round part of the college (the Poached Egg) was a lovely restaurant where students would serve meals to the general public. A class of students cooked the meal and another class served in the restaurant. It was all very elegant with French service, and our instructor would ‘observe’ us through the mirror that covered one of the walls. There was always a waiting list for a table. 

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos that I recall of me or the Toastrack. Somewhere I did have one of some of the girls that were in my catering class. We all wore traditional ‘chef’ wear – white coats and white aprons. The boys wore chef’s hats but the girls had to wear turbans.

Mr Norman Davis was the head of the catering department and everyone was scared to death of him. He was a force to be reckoned with. When I went for my interview in order to secure a place at the college he asked me how badly I wanted a place. I wanted one pretty badly at the time. He told me to go and work in a hospital kitchen under a chef and if I survived it then come back and he would consider my application. I did just that, he gave me a place and I was never happier.

I loved the 2 years I spent there for numerous reasons. I also remember the names of some of the instructors although I don’t have all their first names. George Toplis was one of the instructors; he was young and most of the girls had crushes on him. He taught practical cookery. Miss Brownhill taught the pastry classes. Mr Ellis was the very elegant, suave  ‘Service of Food’ instructor, meaning he was in charge of the service in the restaurant. We had to learn how to do ‘French Service’ meaning serving from the correct side of the customer with a spoon and fork. I had to serve beignets one time which had stuck to the doily, and I flipped it onto the customers lap. He quickly picked it up and put it on his plate before Mr Ellis saw what happened.

One class would be in the kitchen cooking the meal and another class would serve it. We dreaded Mr Davis being the aboyer (the caller). I have seen him fling containers of food across the kitchen when he wasn’t satisfied with how they looked. He would also pile up the waiter or waitress with the containers of food to be served in the restaurant and place a gravy boat on the top, testing us. We had to carry that into the restaurant and place it on a sideboard without anything spilling.

There was a Miss Treadwell that taught Nutrition and Housekeeping. We had a good all-round education in the catering industry. During my years at the college I had worked at banquets and weddings serving meals along with other students. I am still very good friends with a woman I met my first year at the college, and when I am in England we always visit together.

After leaving I had several different jobs in the food industry and didn’t really settle until I was made assistant cook with the school meals service. I was then promoted to Cook-Supervisor at a school in Brinnington. While I was working I went to night school to learn to type and obtained a ULCI in Office Skills. Not long after that I went to work at McVitie’s (United Biscuits) as a Telex Operator, earning as much as I did working as a Cook-Supervisor with a lot of responsibility. Here endeth my Catering Career. After 18 months at McVitie’s I secured a job in the USA and here I am now after more than 40 years.”


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