The Historic Arnott Bakehouse in Morpeth is of historical significance to the colony of New South Wales, as the first bakehouse in this newly established river port. It is thought to be the oldest Scotch oven remaining in the Southern Hemisphere.
Built in early 1850, the Bakehouse was part of the commercial fabric of the river port township, at the peak of its development and importance in the Hunter Valley’s 19th century history. A busy shipping port, over 1300 steam ships would visit Morpeth each year. The river trade was increasing rapidly and business was booming.
Richard Chapman (1827 - 1867), a prominent businessman and trade butcher in Morpeth, purchased the land and made significant improvements. To the west of the Bakehouse, he built a substantial brick, two-story residence, a butchery and a rear paddock to house his pigs. His business signage can be seen to the left, on the western wall of our building.
On Chapman's death, his asset was listed for sale as a "dwelling house and shop, built of brick, with an excellent oven and bakehouse, stables, shed, roomy yard, and every convenience for continuing a business which has been successfully carried on in these premises for many years".
Probably the reason the Bakehouse was built by Chapman was because one of the earliest and most important industries to establish at Morpeth was the flour mill of John Portus located east of Northumberland Street. In the early years of Hunter Valley settlement wheat growing was of great significance, providing basic food and income from any surplus. Portus, a particularly able and inventive engineer, supervised the erection of mills at several places in the Hunter Valley, then in 1837, opened the Morpeth mill on his own account. He is said to have been the first miller in the Hunter River district who manufactured flour of a quality especially for bakers’ use.
Chapman, a clever businessman, saw this opportunity and provided a leasehold for his Bakehouse. This site was one of the first allotments and buildings in the Morpeth township and was later to become the home and workplace of the Arnotts in their early baking history in Australia.
R. Chapman - Butcher
This wall sign, painted some time around 1850, was revealed when the attached building next door was demolished. Chapman's original butchery site, with a small tannery to the rear, had long since gone.
The Colonial bricks seen here were quarried and made at the Raworth Brickworks, currently a park on Morpeth Road. Laid in the flemish-bond style, the bricks had deteriorated significantly during the time the wall next door was attached to the building.
Historic Arnott Bakehouse c.2003 - before restoration
This photo was taken shortly after we bought the property. The state of disrepair of the Scotch Oven is evident. Our heritage engineer deemed the building in imminent danger of collapse.
Baking and quality go hand-in-hand with the name Arnott. Back in 1847, William Arnott, a baker and confectioner, arrived in Morpeth from Scotland and began baking sourdough bread. Later in 1865, he moved into Newcastle and turned his trade to baking biscuits and cakes. The legend has it that William met a ships providore who said "I can sell as many biscuits as you can bake". William took up the challenge and never looked back.
With Arnott's Biscuits now celebrating over 155 years of continuous baking in Australia, we can imagine William would be filled with pride if he were alive today.
Now to learn that his great great great grandson Stephen Arnott had returned to Morpeth in 2003, to the same bakehouse making sourdough bread, would have been beyond his wildest dreams. Just goes to show baking is truly in the blood of this family.