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Friday, 23 October 2015

Our Daily Bread

Barony Mills.
The type of bread or grain your ancestors ate depended on which part of Britain they lived in, and which time period. In the middle of the 18th century, many labouring families in the northern counties lived on bread made from barley, or barley and rye.

They also lived on porridge or gruel made from oatmeal, and oat cakes. (Dr Johnson famously defined 'oats' as 'a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people').
Part of the mill machinery.

Which grain was grown depended on the soil, and the local climate. By the early 19th century, about 3.3 million acres of wheat was grown in England, plus about 2 million acres of barley.

In Cheshire, wheat, oats and potatoes were grown, but very little barley. However in Sussex, wheat, barley, oats, and rye were grown. In East Lothian in the 1790s, wheat, oats and barley were grown.

Whether barley or grain was used to make flour, the basic process of milling it to make flour changed little since very ancient times. The grains were ground between 2 pieces of stone (querns) powered either by hand, wind, or a waterwheel. Roller milling was introduced in the industrial revolution.
The overshot waterwheel.

Last year we enjoyed a tour of Barony Mills, Birsay - the last water-powered beremeal mill on Orkney. The mill was built in 1873, but it's thought that a mill has been on the site since Viking times. Beremeal (pronounced BEARmeal) is used to make bread, biscuits, and bannocks, and
The author setting the big wheel in motion!
very tasty they are too. I was allowed to set the mill machinery going, which was very exciting!

During the Regency era, the price of bread varied hugely owing to several factors - uncertain harvests, the war with France, and (in 1815) the Corn Laws, which artificially raised the price of grain, were introduced to protect the profits of the landowning classes.

When high food prices coincided with a scarcity of work, the government knew that trouble such as food riots were in the offing. The government, and local magistrates relied on spies and informers to let them know if trouble was brewing on the home front, and I'll be discussing what kinds of people were employed as spies in a later blog post..

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