Stone, the birthplace of Hovis

Victorian Bakers presenter Annie Gray at The Mill in Stone, the birthplace of Hovis

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.

Photo from the Highgate Cemetery website. Click for more information
The episode of Victorian Bakers featuring Stoney Smith and the story of Hovis is repeated on Saturday 23rd January at 5.50pm. You can also see it on the BBC iPlayer until 18th February


  1. The ‘ YANKS ‘ used Norburys bakehouse in the afternoon when Mr Newbold had finished, the ‘Yanks’ were in Stone from 1942 to 1945, I remember going up to the Rec on VJ Day 1945 with my aunt & a YANK ! On the side of the Bakers van it had George Norbury & Son, my dad was the ‘son’ but he had moved on to his own business in Stafford by then.

  2. Well ‘ Stoney’ took the flour to Ann Norbury , Baker High Street Stone and she baked the first wholemeal bread from flour from ‘ Stoney’s ‘ mill.

    Got A nice photo of George Norbury & my granny, my father and his sisters at Sherwood House, High Street, Stone, taken in 1928. I was born in Stone a bit later !

  3. I grew up in Swynnerton and went to St Dominics’s Priory school in Station Road. I have lived in Hampshire for many years now. Last year I joined a women’s group and met another woman from the Stone area. I sent her this article and she has printed it out for her dad who can no longer use his laptop.
    Your page travels far and wide!

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