History of bread – Industrial age

The Industrial Age (1700 – 1887)

In Georgian times the introduction of sieves made of Chinese silk helped to produce finer, whiter flour and white bread gradually became more widespread. Today more than 70% of the bread we eat is white. Tin from the flourishing mines in Cornwall began to be used to make baking tins. Bread baked in tins could be sliced and toasted – and it was not long before the sandwich was invented. In the early 19th century, life was dramatically changed by the Industrial Revolution. As large numbers of farmworkers moved from the country into cities to work in the new factories, less food was produced. When the Corn Laws were passed prohibiting the importation of grain, starvation became a serious problem.

c. 1700

Wheat began to overtake rye and barley as the chief bread grain.


A new Act superseded the Assize of 1266. Magistrates were empowered to control the type, weight and price of loaves. Only white, wheaten (wholemeal) and ‘household’ bread were permitted (‘household’ bread was made from low grade flour).


A report accused bakers of adulterating bread by using alum lime, chalk and powdered bones to keep it very white. Parliament banned alum and all other additives in bread but some bakers ignored the ban.


The first recorded chain of bakery shops was set up by Christopher Potter of Westminster.


The Corn Laws were passed to protect British wheat growers. The duty on imported wheat was raised and price controls on bread lifted. Bread prices rose sharply.


In London standard weights for loaves were abolished. Bakers had to weigh each loaf in the customer’s presence.


Wholemeal bread, eaten by the military, was recommended as being healthier than the white bread eaten by the aristocracy.


Rollermills were invented in Switzerland. Whereas stonegrinding crushed the grain, distributing the vitamins and nutrients evenly, the rollermill broke open the wheat berry and allowed easy separation of the wheat germ and bran. This process greatly eased the production of white flour but it was not until the 1870s that it became economic. Steel rollermills gradually replaced the old windmills and watermills.


With large groups of the population near to starvation the Corn Laws were repealed and the duty on imported grain was removed. Importing good quality North American wheat enabled white bread to be made at a reasonable cost. Together with the introduction of the rollermill this led to the increase in the general consumption of white bread – for so long the privilege of the upper classes.


The National Association of Master Bakers was formed.