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In pictures: Artworks capture the spirit of Fitzbillies, a Cambridge institution





An exhibition of paintings celebrating the customers, bakers, characters and cakes of beloved Cambridge institution Fitzbillies has launched this week at the bakery-cafe’s branch at 15 King’s Parade.

Titled ‘Life at Fitzbillies’, the artworks are by local artist Naomi Tomkys. The exhibition started on Tuesday (2 July) and will run until 7 October.

Over the summer, the newest branch of Fitzbillies will be home to the 15 large oil paintings.

At the exhibition launch are Tim Hayward and Alison Wright with their portrait. Picture: Keith Heppell
At the exhibition launch are Tim Hayward and Alison Wright with their portrait. Picture: Keith Heppell

Subjects include customers, meeting friends, members of the Fitzbillies front-of-house team, behind their counters stocked with beautiful cakes, taking orders and serving customers, and the Fitzbillies bakers making their famed Chelsea buns early in the morning.

One of the artworks. Picture: Keith Heppell
One of the artworks. Picture: Keith Heppell
One of the artworks. Picture: Keith Heppell
One of the artworks. Picture: Keith Heppell

Naomi said: “As a Cambridge artist I’d been thinking about capturing the essence of Fitzbillies in a series of drawings and paintings for ages.

“Wondering how fun it might be to immortalise Fitzbillies’ food, staff, history, patrons, vibe and even some drawings behind the scenes.

“Alison, the owner, and the whole Fitzbillies team loved the idea, so I’ve spent the last couple of months sketching, watercolouring and photographing at Fitzbillies. I didn’t realise how good I would have to get at painting cakes!”

One of the artworks. Picture: Keith Heppell
One of the artworks. Picture: Keith Heppell
How it all started, with the watercolour of a Chelsea bun. Picture: Keith Heppell
How it all started, with the watercolour of a Chelsea bun. Picture: Keith Heppell

Alison Wright, owner of Fitzbillies, added: “It’s been an absolute pleasure having Naomi painting the business.

“It is easy to stop noticing when you are in an environment everyday and she has made me see anew the beauty of what we bake and particularly appreciate the moments of simple pleasure that are shared over our coffee, buns, cakes and brunch in our branches.

“I feel very proud of our whole team for the wonderful baked goods, food and coffee that they make and the environment they create for customers.

“The exhibition will run at Fitzbillies King’s Parade until Monday, 7 October. The paintings are available for sale – but hurry, three have sold already!”

Kirsty Chapman, cake shop manager. Picture: Keith Heppell
Kirsty Chapman, cake shop manager. Picture: Keith Heppell
Naomi Tomkys at work. Picture: Keith Heppell
Naomi Tomkys at work. Picture: Keith Heppell

Fitzbillies celebrated its 100th birthday in 2020.

The business was founded in 1920 by Ernest and Arthur Mason, using their ‘demob’ money from the First World War.

They were sons of the baker and bread maker ‘Ticker’ Mason, who had a shop further up Trumpington Street. They specialised in fancy cakes and Fitzbillies’ now famous Chelsea buns.

Having become the cake shop of choice for both university and townsfolk, it developed a big reputation.

The exhibition launch. Picture: Keith Heppell
The exhibition launch. Picture: Keith Heppell
How it all started, with the watercolour of a Chelsea bun. Picture: Keith Heppell
How it all started, with the watercolour of a Chelsea bun. Picture: Keith Heppell

But tougher times were ahead and in 1991, Fitzbillies went bankrupt for the first time. It was brought out of receivership and relaunched, only for its premises to be devastated by fire in 1998.

It took nearly two years to rebuild, but the business was saved by baking offsite and the selling of Chelsea buns in the shop next door to the original, on the corner of Pembroke Street.

Tough trading conditions that affected bakeries across the country meant the business went bankrupt again in 2011.

But when Stephen Fry, a Cambridge alumnus, posted his lament to the Chelsea Buns on Twitter, it was spotted by Alison Wright and Tim Hayward.

Alison had fond childhood memories of Fitzbillies, and left her career in London to rescue and relaunch the business, which has grown from strength to strength since.

It now has three branches in the city – on King’s Parade, Trumpington Street and Bridge Street.

Naomi grew up in London where she attended Central St Martins School of Art. She now lives and works in Cambridgeshire and her inspiration comes from the day-to-day moments that make her smile.

The exhibition launch. Picture: Keith Heppell
The exhibition launch. Picture: Keith Heppell

Recent paintings including scenes from the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge food trucks, punting, tourists, Lammas Land pool and Strawberry Fair.

She exhibits regularly with the Cambridge Drawing Society and Open Studios and recently received an Arts Council Award to develop her practice.

For more on Naomi, visit tomkys.com. For more on Fitzbillies, visit fitzbillies.com.



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