The BBC TV history programme Victorian Bakers has inspired participating baker John Swift to create new breads from old ideas. 

His involvement in the Victorian Bakers television series has inspired fifth-generation family baker John Swift to create the breads. The TV series sent four 21st-century bakers back in time to explore what it meant to be a professional baker in the Victorian era.

The ingredients and techniques 35-year-old Swift learned on the show were very similar to those probably used by his great aunt, Hannah Swift, when she founded Swifts Bakery in 1863.

Swift, who is from Clee Hill in south Shropshire, worked with ‘sponge and dough’ breads on the show – prepared using a longer fermentation process that took time to prove and a second-stage mix with the final ingredients. This method was used before bread improvers were invented and gave the bread a better taste, texture and chemistry.

modern techniques

With this knowledge under his belt, Swift has applied the modern techniques of a 21st-century bakery and created two new loaves for his business.

- The Clee Hill Cob is a white seeded loaf sprinkled with wheat flakes and is named after the town in which the family business has operated since the late 1970s.

- The Quarry Cob is made using locally-milled Shropshire wholemeal flour and is named after the nearby granite quarries that overlook Ludlow.

Swift said of the new loaves: “These ‘sponge and dough’ breads were originally produced as a cheap, staple food that would have been essential, especially for the very poor working classes of the Victorian era. I’ll always remember the look of ‘I’ve just been to heaven and back’ on the face of my fellow Victorian Baker John Foster when we were filming and he had just smelled the first successful batch of loaves.

“We will respect tradition by using the same long fermentation processes, but I’m sure the newer versions will bring something fresh and appealing to the table for our modern-day customers.”