Dr William Oliver, Bath Oliver Biscuit Inventor

Bath Oliver Biscuit

Dr. William Oliver, invented the English Bath Oliver Biscuits. William Oliver was a legendary physician who treated people with the spa waters at Bath. Hence the biscuit has been called the Bath Oliver.

William Oliver was born near Penzance on the 4th August, 1695, being the second son of John and Mary Oliver of Trevarno,in the parish of Sithney, Cornwall.

At the age of 19, he went to Pembroke College, Cambridge, graduating M.B.in medicine in 1720. He then went on to the University of Leyden. And after some years in Europe, returned to England and took his M.D. at Cambridge in 1725. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1729.

He first practiced as a physician in Plymouth, where in 1724 he introduced smallpox inoculation, still a relatively new technique at that time. In 1728 he moved to Bath with his Cornish cousin, the Rev. Walter Borlase.

On arrival, he probably resided in Westgate Street but as he became more successful he acquired a grand house on the west side of Queen Square. Not long after coming to Bath, Oliver became a friend of Ralph Allen, a fellow Cornishman. As a result of this friendship he met Alexander Pope and other famous people of the day.

He published an essay on gout in 1751. In 1753 he published a “pastoral” called Myra, a sketch about Mr. Nash which was praised by Goldsmith.

Oliver founded the Bath General Hospital (now Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases) with Ralph Allen, John Wood and Richard (Beau) Nash. He was elected physician to the Hospital on 1st May, 1740, and retired on 1st May, 1761, dying three years later in 1764.

So where do Bath Olivers fir into this life? Dr Oliver had apparently first invented the Bath Bun (a rich, sweet bun that his patients adored.) which was so delicious that Dr. Oliver found that his patients, whom he was treating for rheumatism, were getting too fat on them. So he experimented and was able to produce the plainer and less fattening, Bath Oliver biscuits.

He is buried in the churchyard of All Saints, Weston (where he owned the Manor House with members of his family).

He is said to have willed the recipe for Bath Olivers to his coachman Atkins, together with a sack of flour and a sum of money. Atkins set up in business at 13 Green Street and became rich by making the biscuit. After various changes in ownership, the Oliver biscuit recipe passed to James Fortt. In 1952 the Fortt family business was still baking 80,000 biscuits a day in Bath. The biscuits are no longer made in Bath, they are still available and are excellent when eaten with cheese, especially the local Cheddar.

The Bath Oliver recipe still appears to be secret, but you can find recipes for the richer Bath Bun:-

This source gives a Bath Bun recipe

Batter Ingredients:
Plain flour - 150 g (5 oz)
Caster sugar - 1 tsp
Dried yeast - 2 tsp (or 15 g fresh yeast)
Milk - 150 ml, hand-hot (warm if using fresh yeast)
Water - 150 ml less 4 tbsp, hand-hot (warm if using fresh yeast)

Dough Ingredients:
Plain flour - 300 g (11 oz)
Butter - 50 g (2 oz), diced
Eggs - 2 beaten, Caster sugar - 75 g (3 oz)
Sultanas - 175 g (6 oz)
Cut mixed peel - 50 g (2 oz)

Egg Glaze Ingredients:
Egg - 1
Caster sugar - 1 tsp
Water - 1 tbsp
Sugar lumps - 40g (1* oz), crushed

1. Place the batter ingredients in a large bowl. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth, then leave in a warm place until frothy for about 20 minutes.
2. For the dough, place the flour in a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
3. Add the rubbed in mixture, eggs, sugar, sultanas and mixed peel to the batter. Beat well for about 10 minutes.
4. Cover and leave to rise for about 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size and will spring back when lightly pressed.
5. Pre-heat oven to 220C / 425F / Gas 7 and lightly butter 2 baking sheets.
6. Beat the dough well for a few minutes. Place tablespoonsful of the dough on the baking sheets Cover and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes until doubled in size.
7. Place the egg, sugar and water in a bowl and beat until well mixed.
8. Uncover the buns and brush with the egg glaze and sprinkle with crushed sugar. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Leave to cool on a wire rack.


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