The story of one of Stone’s most famous sons – the creator of Hovis bread – was told on the BBC’s Victorian Bakers this week.
The BBC2 programme – which sees four modern bakers plunged back into the world of 19th century baking – told the story of Richard ‘Stoney’ Smith and his invention at The Mill in Stone. Stoney’s story only featured for a few minutes, but it’s a huge part of Stone’s history – and of the history of baking in the UK.
Richard ‘Stoney’ Smith was born in the mill house opposite The Mill in 1836. Today, The Mill is a popular restaurant, hotel and wedding venue. Back then, it was a working mill, and it was where Stoney worked his days as a flour miller.
When he was 50, Stoney perfected a method of steam cooking that preserved wheatgerm in bread without destroying its nutrients. For generations, the wheatgerm had been discarded with the bran when making white flour. Stoney’s genius was to steam it before adding it to wholemeal flour, producing a new kind of bread with three times the natural germ but without the grittiness that was associated with other wholemeal breads at the time.
It was a real breakthrough.
Smith’s Patent Germ Flour, as it was called, was patented in 1887 when Stoney teamed up with Macclesfield millers Fitton & Sons to develop his new product.
Hardly trips off the tongue does it, ‘Smith’s Patent Germ Flour’? So a national competition was launched to find a new name, with a £25 prize for the winner. Herbert Grime’s name was chosen. He shortened the Latin ‘hominis vis’ (strength of man) to Hovis.
One year later, with Hovis selling the flour to bakers to make more than a million loaves a week, Fittons changed their name to ‘The Hovis Bread Flour Company’, with Stoney sitting on the board. And the rest, as they say, is history!
Stoney died in 1900 and was buried at Highgate Cemetery in London.