Bath Oliver is a white, pale, thin and dry biscuit or cracker that was invented in England in the mid-18th century. It is named after the person who invented it and the city he lived in. Originated for health purposes, Bath Oliver is now enjoyed as snacks, often consumed with cheese and red wine.
Born in 1695, William Oliver, who invented Bath Oliver, was a physician who settled in Bath, a town in the southwestern English county of Somerset, in 1728. Educated at Pembroke College and Leiden University, the Netherlands’ oldest educational institution of higher learning, Oliver had previously practiced medicine at Plymouth, Devon, where he had introduced smallpox vaccination. It was in Bath, located east of Plymouth, however, where he would remain for the rest of his life.
Within a decade, Oliver had become the leading physician in the city. This was due to the establishment of a hospital now known as the Royal Mineral Water Hospital, or “The Min.” A hospital specializing in rheumatism had been established in 1738 out of a belief that the mineral waters of bath spas contained healing benefits. Oliver came up with a food that could complement such purported natural forces.
Thus, Bath bun, who was the precursor to Bath Oliver, was born. It was an incredibly rich bun made of floors, caster sugar, milk, water, dry yeast, eggs, butter and raisins, which are white stone-free grapes. Although the patients loved the delicious snack, Oliver soon discovered that they were gaining weight from eating them. He suggested introducing Bath Oliver as a less greasy alternative.
Suffering from gout in his last years, Oliver wanted Bath Oliver to survive him. Before he died in 1764, he passed it on to his cousin Atkins, along with some flour and money. Atkins went on to make a fortune with the diet biscuits when setting up a store on 13 Green Street; He is credited with giving the Bath Oliver name. It was advertised as “Old Bath Oliver Biscuits,” possessing the ability to reduce stomach acidity.
Bath Oliver is still sold commercially, marked with a portrait of Oliver William himself. They are no longer made in Bath, and Oliver’s recipe for cracker is still kept secret. What is known from rare, old cookbooks is that Bath Oliver biscuits contain flour, yeast, water, milk and butter.
- Bath Oliver studied at Cambridge University and other schools.
- Bath Oliver biscuits are often served with red wine and cheese.