My thanks to Stephen in Manchester for letting me have the box in which a packet of Bath’s Dr Oliver biscuits were parcel posted to a customer in 1936.
I cannot read the address – so have no idea where they were destined – but the label clearly bears the famous name of Cater, Stoffell and Fortt Ltd. A 5-star company as far as Bath’s retail history is concerned.
According to local historian Andrew Hill who has written a history of the firm – entitled Biscuits, Banquets and Bollinger – this was an enterprise whose company name was a byword for quality, service and variety – not only in Bath but throughout the West.
“It’s proud boast was that it offered everything from fish fingers to foie gras and custard powder to caviar, and it was as much a part of Bath life and landscape as the Abbey and the Pump Room.’
It was James Fortt – third son of William Fortt – the founder of the dynasty – who acquired the rights to make the Original Bath Olivers and turned them into a globally-enjoyed product. He took over a Green Street business that manufactured Olivers and other fancy biscuits.
The dry and unflavoured biscuit had been invented, around 1735, by Dr William Oliver – a renowned Bath physician – as an antidote to the rich foods normally enjoyed by those coming to the city for ‘the cure’ and the recipe – together with ten sacks of wheat and £100 – bequeathed to his coachman who opened the Green Street business.
The biscuits had traditionally been made by hand but James Fortt brought in machinery and increased production. He eventually built a brand new factory in Manvers Street and bought premises on the corner of Green Street – opposite St Michaels – to promote the product plus other biscuits and confectionary. A roundel – depicting Dr Oliver – was moved from the old factory up to the new corner shop. It is still there.
Though damaged in the last world war and affected by several fires, the Manvers Street factory kept running through to 1962 when Huntley and Palmers bought out the old company and production was transferred to Reading.
The biscuit has changed hands several times but you can still buy Fortt’s Original Bath Oliver Biscuits today.