Shrimp delicacy was always in safe hands

A TRUE gentleman and a Lancashire traditionalist who produced one of the finest delicacies anywhere in the world – that is how everyone who knew Bob Baxter remembers him.

Bob, who passed away on March 8, was the sixth generation of the famous Baxter family who have caught, potted and sold shrimps from Morecambe Bay since the 19th Century.

The reputation of James Baxter and Son's shrimps is such that they were a favourite of The Queen and the Queen Mother and were ordered by Buckingham Palace two years ago on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth's 80th birthday.

And as head of the business for over 40 years, Bob himself had much to do with maintaining that hard-earned reputation.

A true sand grown'un, Robert Mansergh Baxter was born on April 13, 1930 in Morecambe to parents Harry and Dorothy.

He attended the Friends school in Lancaster and went straight into the family business after leaving.

At that time, Baxters owned a fishmonger's on Queen Street and both Stock's Cafe (now Hart's/Ma Renooo's) and the Bay Cafe.

In the 1960s, Harry Baxter was granted two Royal Warrants of Appointment as Purveyors of Potted Shrimps – honours the company maintains to this day.

When Harry died in the 1970s, Bob continued the family business.

The fish trade had declined dramatically so Bob sold the fish shop and cafes, and purchased premises on Poulton Square – where Lancaster Carpets is today – for their thriving shrimp business.

Baxters later bought their current building on Thornton Road, which was originally a freezer centre selling all kinds of refridgerated and frozen foods.

Under Bob's guidance, the company again had to move with the times when the rise of huge supermarket chains affected the cold foods industry, and therefore he closed the freezer business in the 1990s.

The Thornton Road office remained as the nerve centre of their booming shrimp and smoked salmon business, which has continued to go from strength to strength.

Bob once told Country Life magazine that making potted shrimps for over 60 years had never put him off eating them.

"When I come home from work, I like to have a gin and tonic, and eat chilled shrimps from the pot, with a fork," he said.

Away from his work, Bob was a dedicated enthusiast of motor cars and a champion rally driver.

He was one of the first members of Morecambe Car Club in 1952, joining with Arthur Senior, of Senior's bakery. Together they were an expert team winning many awards, competing at both club and national events.

Bob served on the club committee for many years, attending meetings at the Midland Hotel – once the headquarters of Morecambe Car Club.

Tony Payne, a friend of Bob's and fellow member of Morecambe Car Club, said: "Bob started as a motorcyclist but soon graduated to cars – pre-war Alvis, TR2 and Jag XK 120-150, Minis and Porches all passed through his hands.

"Bob was always good for an opinion about the pros and cons of most motor cars and was an avid reader of car magazines.

"He will be greatly missed by all his friends at Morecambe Car Club."

Newspaper food critic Nick Lander (who is married to TV wine expert Jancis Robinson) called Baxter's shrimps "the best I have ever tasted".

In an article for the Financial Times, Nick once cited Baxter's potted shrimps as one of his five favourite starter courses.

"Bob never disclosed what the secret ingredient was that made his potted shrimps so distinctive," said Nick, in a tribute to Bob on Jancis' website.

Indeed, the Baxters have always used the original recipe created by Bob's grandmother Margaret, to cook the brown shrimps caught by their own boats in the shallows around Morecambe Bay – and it still remains a closely-guarded secret.

"Even when we took the TV cameras up there to film him for our food series 'Taste' in 1999 he refused to spill the beans," Nick went on.

"He used to call me every so often for a chat and, as befits an excellent salesman, he would always take an order from me which would arrive punctually by overnight courier within 24 hours."

Nick also described Bob as a "gentleman" who lived his life quietly and with dignity.

He was also a family man – a devoted husband to his late wife Barbara, father to Susan and John, and a proud grandpa.

Bob continued to have a hands-on role in charge of James Baxter and Son right up until his death in hospital, aged 77.

Now with the able assistance of manager, Mark Smith, Bob's daughter and son will take over the business.

And as the seventh generation of Baxters, Susan and John intend to ensure their family's great English delicacy will remain popular for many years to come.