The Exchange Hotel Bread Oven
In early March 2017, we became aware of the possible site of a bread oven that was part of the Exchange Hotel complex. I was touring the township site with one of our two stonemasons during our on-site annual works planning meeting (checking on remedial work that was becoming urgent), when Ron pointed out a pile of stonework that was reputed to be the Hotel bread oven. I photographed this for future investigation.
Volunteer Vic Ellis, while working on the wall repairs at the Exchange Hotel, heard about the possibility of this pile being a bread oven, and he took it upon himself to do an exploratory dig.
Very quickly, Vic found aspects of the rock-pile that indicated something of interest, and his enthusiasm increased by the minute as he threw himself into removing great quantities of sand from the Northern face of the pile. Vic worked all day on this! Hardly stopped for a break – and by late afternoon had uncovered enough to demonstrate that this was indeed a previously hidden oven!
Oven builder Dennis Benson was called in to view and explain the operation of the find. He very quickly pronounced that it was an example pf an Alan Scott designed oven that when working, would have been superior to the Scotch oven that we already have in operation! As I write this, Martin MacLennan has just called to say that the design of (our Exchange Hotel Oven) pre-dates Alan Scott. He says instead, that it is a typical European direct fired oven, similar to those commonly found in Italy.
Whatever the lineage, Dennis has explained that the oven was heated by building a suitable fire on the oven floor (the oven would have had a dome covering). When up to operating temperature, the fire was scraped forwards, and dropped down the slot at the front of the floor pan and into the ash pit (which was enclosed with an iron door on the front to enable clearing when cool).
The prepared loaves etc. were then placed into the oven and the oven door (behind the ash chute) was closed.
I’m due back on site in about 4 weeks to photograph the end of season site status, so we’ll all see what has been achieved with the new Exchange Hotel Oven.
Martin MacLennan has sent us the following in-depth discussion.
A second oven has been exposed from the sand in Farina
Whilst it was common knowledge that another oven existed as part of the Exchange Hotel complex at Farina this oven has now been unearthed and we are to decide what we do with it. Whether it be left as is or partially or fully restored will be determined at some point in the next weeks or months.
The names of several bakers have been linked to the Patterson Oven but it is now unclear whether they operated one or the other. Hopefully more information will be forthcoming that may shed some more light on this.
The Patterson oven (now formally renamed The Anne) is more of a commercial baking oven built on the Scotch oven design which allows constant baking without having to have a fire in the baking chamber and having to shuffle coals aside or in and out of the oven. This oven was most likely to be found in bakeries in Britain prior to 1900s’ especially the larger bakeries producing significant volumes of baked goods. Exactly as it is today, the oven is the control point in a bakery as you can only bake what the oven is capable of.
The common order would have been to get the oven up to about 250 Deg C and when evenly hot fill it with bread. When the bread was baked rolls would have been baked followed by sweet goods. Then the sponges would have been baked followed by any fruit cakes or products that required extended baking.
A good oven of this type would take up to two weeks to attain a solid heat and maybe 3 weeks to cool right down and required very little timber to bring it back up to maximum baking temperature for the following days bake.
There is a more detailed description of this Farina oven and its history on sign boards and on this website. It is responsible for enabling us to raise much of the funding required to support the preservation effort at Farina.
The Exchange oven (perhaps The Dennis 2) after the man who restored The Anne and may restore / preserve this one as well is a direct fired oven which means that the fire has to be lit and maintained in the baking chamber and removed prior to baking. An experienced operator could just move the coals to one side and bake on the other but for larger bread products as opposed to pizzas or small items this makes scorching a distinct possibility.
This oven has a coal chute in front of the entrance where the coals would have been dropped when the oven was hot enough. At the bottom of the chute at ground level there is an opening that when baking would be covered by a sliding door. When the oven needed reheating the sliding door was opened and the coals shovelled back into the oven normally with some more firewood.
The capacity of this oven would have been much less than The Anne but it would have produced good results in the right hands.
Whilst we have no history it would be logical to assume that this oven baked bread for the hotel as I would imagine the rigours of operating the main bakery would have made bread supply somewhat unreliable.
It would be very satisfying to obtain more facts about both ovens as in who worked in them, how long they operated and what the conditions were like.
Possibly the economy of the time would have prevented people from affording bread meaning there was not a high demand but then The Anne is reported to have produced bread for the train to take up and down the railway.
Having worked in the heat of the little underground bakery in the coolest part of the year I hate to think what it would have been like in the summer.
According to Oven builder Dennis Benson, this is an Alan Scott designed oven that is older than our existing Scotch oven!
The Exchange Hotel walls are under attack!
The initial work has now been completed on the Patterson house. The Hebelcrete layer is down, and the materials for the walls and roof trusses were due to arrive on the week end. A contract team (I understand) will be on site shortly to complete this part of the rebuild.
Because of the reduction in volunteer labor required for the Patterson rebuild, we had enough available to make a concerted effort on the rear of the Exchange Hotel.
Over the years, all the walls have become less stable and most of the rear of the building has collapsed. The rubble has been covered by sand drifting in from the surrounding country, and we have lost much of the character of the structure.
A couple of years ago, a visiting team from the RAAF offered to help out. They (being young and strong) shifted an enormous amount of the fallen walling material and left it in large piles to the South of the building.
This year we have had an experienced team of seniors (male and female) who carried on the removal process, and also have begun to re-build many of the walls so that we (and visitors) can now get a much better idea of the layout of the hotel.
Some of the higher walls have also been modified (unstable top/corners removed) to make them safe, and I found it amazing to see the amount of material which was still being removed by volunteers who’s ages varied from 40 or so right through to the late 70s (and maybe more – but who’s counting)! These guys kept up a cracking pace for most of the day, and came back for more the next!
Obviously there’s a lot more to be done during the next 4 weeks, and I’m looking forward to being on-site in mid July after the last of the volunteers have departed (for a well earned rest) so that I can record the final state of play for the year – and update this web site.
See the last 5 images (below) for the final state of play in mid July 2017.