We’ve been doing some preliminary research into what kinds of records might give insights into baking methods and cultures. Part of this involved finding out more about the history of the baking industry, to identify what records might have been created. This research has already thrown up some interesting findings which relate to the time-dimension and economics of baking.
Until 1815, bread-making was controlled by medieval legislation: the 'Assize of Bread' of 1266. This stipulated the size, weight and price of loaves according to the price of wheat and included other regulations for bread production. A number of books listing sizes and prices of loaves survive: we looked at one in the Liverpool University Special Collections as part of the 'Memories of Mr Seel's Garden' project; there's another one online here.
During the eighteenth century, however, the monopoly of the craft guilds was breaking down and increasing numbers of bakers (often not master bakers, but journeymen acting as agents for millers and flour merchants) began to undercut the fixed price - and were hailed as the champions of liberty against the bastions of ancient privilege. After the end of the bread crisis and famine years of the late 1790s, many towns abandoned the Assize and a Parliamentary Committee appointed to enquiry into the matter in 1815 recommended that more benefits were likely to be incurred from free competition.
We’ve found a number of interesting transformations in senses of time occurring during the process of deregulation, which we will outline in our next post.