End of an era for a Tinful of history?

Sad to hear that United Biscuits have ceased production of Bath Oliver Biscuits this month. One of the lines to fall victim to a more limited production because of the pandemic it seems. The company haven’t said they won’t make them again but wouldn’t be drawn on when production could re-start. Anyway – a good excuse to re-publish this story from earlier this year.

Here’s something you don’t see every day – a tin once containing original Bath Oliver Biscuits – and sold by the Old Red House in the city. My thanks to friend Stephen for spotting this during a recent house clearance.

Screenshot 2020-04-28 at 09.15.05 Dr Oliver is seated on the left-hand side of the table is this painting by the artist W T Hoare – being transferred from the old Min to the newly opened RNHRD and Brownsword Therapies Centre at the RUH.

A Bath Oliver is a hard dry biscuit or cracker and was invented by physician Dr William Oliver. He was one of the founding fathers of the General Hospital – later the Royal Mineral Water Hospital – and came up with a biscuit made from flour, butter and milk which he considered especially digestible when soaked in water or milk and considered an ideal invalid food.

According to Wikipedia, the story has it that “when Oliver died, he bequeathed to his coachman, Mr Atkins, the recipe for the Bath Oliver biscuit, together with £100 and ten sacks of the finest wheat-flour.

Atkins promptly set up his biscuit-baking business and became rich. Later the business passed to a man named Norris, who sold out to a baker called Carter, although it is possible that several Bath bakers were producing the biscuit in competition. During the nineteenth century, the Bath Oliver biscuit recipe passed to James Fortt.[2] 

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The company continued to produce the biscuit well into the second half of the twentieth century.  As of October 2020 United Biscuits have ceased production of Bath Olivers. No announcement was made.[3]

But what of the Old Red House?  Kirsten Elliott – in her excellent book The Ghost Signs of Bath – tells us that  “In Rivers Street, there is a relic of an old established Bath business which some readers may still recall – the Old Red House Bakery.

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© Kirsten Elliott, Akeman Press.

The main shop was in New Bond Street, and the business was owned by one of Bath’s most high profile families, the Taylors. The façade of the new Bond Street building has long been restored to its natural stone but the familiar deep red it was once painted survives here”.

Reading this article reminded fellow Mayor’s Guide Michael Noakes of something he read in The Times newspaper a couple of years ago in which a Bath Olivers biscuit tin played a major role in protecting incredibly precious.

He says:I have attached a piece I read a couple of years ago which I hope you will find interesting. I make mention of the article’s content during my Min stop on my Sunday morning walks; it goes down well with our visitors.

Sunday 27th April 10.30 am

A deserted Abbey Church Yard. The daily free walks service given by the Honorary Corps of Mayor’s Guides has been suspended since the lockdown was introduced.

For my daily exercise, I walked into the city centre from my home in Combe Park and took the two attached pictures at 10.30 am when I should have been doing the ‘call-in’!

Here’s that article Mike sent in – in full!

Crown Jewels hidden from Nazis in Biscuit

TinTimes January  12th 2018

Priceless gems from the Crown Jewels were hidden underground in a biscuit tin at Windsor Castle during the Second World War to ensure that they did not fall into Nazi hands, it can be revealed today.The operation to hide the jewels was ordered by George VI and was such a closely guarded secret that the Queen has only just found out precisely what happened, during the filming of a BBC documentary.

There has long been speculation that the jewels were taken from the Tower of London to Windsor in the war. Other theories have included them being kept in a vault in Canada, a secret tunnel at a prison in Devon and a cave in Wales.The story of how they were buried at Windsor in a Bath Oliver biscuit tin, with the grass left to regrow to conceal their hiding place, has come to light from confidential correspondence in the Royal Collection.

It was discovered by the royal commentator Alastair Bruce, who spoke to the Queen for a BBC documentary about the Coronation to be broadcast this weekend.Described by Mr Bruce as “an electric set of letters”, they were from Sir Owen Morshead, the royal librarian, to Queen Mary, the mother of George VI.They tell how a deep hole was dug in the grounds beneath a sally port, one of the secure entries to the castle, and two chambers constructed with steel doors.

 During the works, the excavations had to be covered at night. Mr Bruce said: “They dug out this fresh, very virgin white chalk and they had to hide it with tarpaulins so when the aircraft flew over at night no clue was given to the German Luftwaffe that anything was going on.” The Crown Jewels were then locked inside, but access was possible through a trapdoor that exists today.In his letter, Sir Owen described how the most precious jewels were removed from the Imperial State Crown — worn at the state opening of parliament — so that they could be kept separately in case of emergency. Sir Owen levered the Black Prince’s Ruby and St Edward’s Sapphire from their clasps and stored them in the biscuit tin, Mr Bruce said.

The Queen was no older than 14. Mr Bruce told her what had happened. “What was so lovely was that the Queen had no knowledge of it,” he said. “Telling her seemed strangely odd.”However, he added: “There had been in a book in our research that the Queen had been shown them during the war when they appeared at Windsor.”

The 2016 book Operation Big: The Race to Stop Hitler’s A-Bomb said that the jewels were known to be hidden at Windsor by the time in 1940 that the government was trying to hide stocks of heavy water, vital for nuclear energy. No clue was given as to where the gems were buried — or the fact that the most important were in a biscuit tin. ‘    

All may not be lost though. I couldn’t get through to the United Biscuits media centre but l did leave a message with Consumer Services.

Lis Richardson – who is Consumer Services Co-ordinatorm- sent me the following email.

“Thank you for contacting us about Jacobs Bath Oliver.  I am very sorry that you are not able to find this product at the moment.

Unfortunately, due to the situation with COVID-19 we have had to de-prioritise some of our lines, and this is one of the products that we are not currently producing.

I am sorry for any disappointment caused but do hope that you understand and hopefully once we are fully up and running this product will return.”