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Tunbridge Wells Wafers



Tunbridge Wells Wafers, aka Romary Biscuits, are a historical commercial biscuit (i.e. cookie for North Americans) which has not been made since 1981.

They were flat, oval-shaped, thin, delicate, light biscuits about 3 inches (7.5 cm) wide that came in two flavours, regular or ginger.

The regular ones were not sweet, but had a rich butter taste to them.

They could be treated almost as a savoury, and had with port, wine, cheese or tea.

The actual recipe for them was proprietary.

History Notes

Alfred Romary was (16 Apr 1844 to 30th March 1929) born in Southborough, Kent, to parents John and Sophia Romary.


He opened a bakery in 1862 at 26 Church Road in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England. In 1865, he married a Martha Harvey (1843 to 1930.) They had 9 children. [1] The family lived across from the bakery.

Romary started off his baking operations using a faggot oven in the cellar of the building. Later, to meet increasing demand, he would install gas trap ovens.

The dough for the Tunbridge Wells Wafers was rolled out very thin on marble, and cooked on metal trays.

The biscuits were sold in tins (on Fridays, you could get broken ones sold in bags.)

Queen Victoria visited the bakery just on 23 December 1876 and liked the biscuits. In 1884, the company participated in the International Health Exhibition in London [1a], and in the same year, Queen Victoria gave the company a Royal Warrant to be a supplier of biscuits.

In 1910, George Frederick Marsh took over the company, and introduced the Tunbridge Wells Water Biscuit. During the First World War, owing to butter shortages, they introduced the Ginger Nut. [1b]

In 1926, four years after the death of Alfred, the company renamed itself to A. Romary and Company Ltd when it was purchased by W.A.P. (William Arthur Powlett) Lane. "Formed 1926, went into voluntary liquidation and re-formed 1935." [2]

In 1935, the company was purchased by Rowntree. The original bakery on Church Street was kept, plus a new bakery added. "Incorporated 1 Apr 1935 as a subsidiary of British Biscuits (itself a wholly owned subsidiary of Rowntree and Co.). In 1944 British Biscuits' [3] shares in Romary and Co. were transferred to Rowntree and Co., Rowntree became sole owner 1955. [Also Tunbridge Wells Trading and Manufacturing Trust Co. Ltd, a non-trading subsidiary of Romary and Co., wound up 1965]" [2]

From 1963 to 1981, the biscuits were made by Rowntree in Glasgow, Scotland.

The last batch of the biscuits was made for the royal wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981.

Nestlé who owns Rowntree now may have the original commercial recipe somewhere in its archives.

Royal Warrants for Tunbridge Wells Wafers

[2]

31July 1884. Queen Victoria to Alfred Romary as Biscuit Manufacturer.

10 March 1900. HRH The Prince of Wales to Mr A. Romary as Biscuit Manufacturer.

9 August 1901. King Edward VII to Alfred Romary as Biscuit Manufacturers to His Majesty at Tunbridge Wells. Amended to 'the late King' 3 March 1911, cancelled November 1911.

4 January 1923. King George V to George Frederick Marsh: A Romary and Co. as Manufacturers of Biscuits. Amended to A. Romary and Co., 8 September 1926.

15 January 1932. HRH The Prince of Wales to William Arthur Powlett Lane: A. Romary and Co, Ltd as Biscuit Manufacturers. Amended to 'By Appointment to the Prince of Wales 1923 to 1936', 4 February 1938, cancelled January 1941.

15 January 1941. King George VI to John Alexander Chalmers: A. Romary and Co. Ltd as Biscuit Manufacturers. Amended to Martin Edward Fowler Wilkinson, 26 February 1954, amended to 'the late king', 24 Apr 1952, cancelled Feb 1954.

1January 1957. Queen Elizabeth II to William George Dickinson: W. Romary and Co. Ltd as Biscuit Manufacturers. Cancelled 2 Jan 1963.

1 August 1963. Queen Elizabeth II to William Scobie Porteous: A. Romary and Co. Ltd as Biscuit Manufacturers.

Literature & Lore

It is likely that Romary may have derived his recipe from any of the following variants that preceded the 1862 date of him starting in business.


Here is a version from 1828, which had caraway on top:

Good Tea-Cakes
Rub four ounces of butter into eight ounces of flour, and mix with this six ounces of cleaned currants, the same of beat sugar, and three beat eggs. Make this into a paste, and roll it out about a half-inch thick, and stamp out the cakes of any size you please with a wine-glass, ale-glass, or small tumbler, by running a paste-cutter round the glass. Dust the top with sugar.

Tunbridge-Cakes
Make them as above, of any size you please, and strew caraway-comfits over the top.

(From: Dods, Margaret. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd. Third Edition. 1828. Page 441.)

Here are versions from 1854, from a book aimed directly at commercial bakers by a George Read [Read, George. The complete biscuit and gingerbread baker's assistant. London: Dean & Son. Second Edition. 1854.]

Tunbridge Cakes / Biscuits are mentioned in two places in this book.

From page 44 of that book:

Tunbridge Water Cakes
3 lbs of flour 11/2 lb of loaf sugar 1/4 lb of butter and 10 eggs.

1 1/4 lb of flour 1/2 lb of sugar 6 oz of butter; mix with milk or water and a little orange flower water.

Rub the butter in with the flour; add the sugar and make the whole into a paste; roll it out very thin; cut it out with a plain round or scolloped cutter about the same size as for Shrewsburies; place them on clean tins or buttered paper and bake them of a pale delicate colour in a cool oven.

Wafer Biscuits are similar to the water biscuits and are derived from them; they have been introduced since the first publication of this work.
8 lbs of flour 2 1/2 pints of cream 4 eggs 2 lbs of very fine loaf sugar 4 oz of ginger

Mix in the usual way; roll the dough very thin on an even board or marble slab; dock the surface over with a captains biscuit docke;r cut them into round cakes about the size of Shrewsburies; put them on very clean dry tins slightly dusted with flour and bake them in a moderately cold oven. When baked they may be put in piles whilst hot and pressed to make them flat and even.

On page 48 of the same book, further alternatives with the Tunbridge name appeared:

Currant Tunbridge Biscuits
8 lbs. of flour, 2 lbs. of butter, 3 lbs. of sugar, 1 1/2 lb. of currants. 1 1/2 lb. of ground almonds, 8 eggs, 1/2 pint of milk, 1/4 oz. of volatile salt. Mix.

Roll the dough into sheets nearly a quarter of an inch in thickness, dust with loaf sugar, pass the rolling-pin over the surface again, and cut it into biscuits with an oval cutter, the same size as for lemon biscuits. Place on buttered tins about half an inch asunder, and bake in a moderately quick heat. The following mixture may be used instead:

6 lbs. of flour, 2 lbs. of butter, 2 1/2 lbs. of sugar, 1 1/2 lb. of currants, 6 eggs, 1/4 oz. of volatile salt, and sufficient milk to mix the whole of a moderate consistence.

Lemon Tunbridge Biscuits
As the last; or use 8 lbs. of flour, 1 1/2 lb. of butter, 1 1/2 lb. of sugar, 6 eggs, 1 pint of milk, 1/4 oz. of volatile salt.

Proceed as for the last; or they may be made into small round biscuits instead of oval ones.

Ginger Tunbridge
As the last, using 2 1/2 lbs. of sugar, 4 oz. of gound ginger, and 10 eggs, with sufficient milk to make a dough.

Seed Tunbridge
6 lbs. of flour, 2 1/4 lbs. of powdered sugar, 1 1/4 lb. of butter, 6 eggs, a dram of volatile salt, and sufficient milk to make the whole into a dough about the consistence of walnut dough, with a few caraway seeds.

Roll the dough into sheets about a quarter of an inch in thickness, dust the surface with finely powdered loaf sugar during the rolling; cut into cakes with an eighth cake cutter (sic), and dock them with a diamond carved docker. Place on buttered tins about a quarter of an inch asunder, and bake in a moderately heated oven; let them be of light brown on the surface and bottom when done.

_______________________________________________

"Romary's biscuits are baking, the Tunbridge Wells biscuits, we mean—five kinds now are coming from England, the first since the war. The hitch was no butter, and Romary biscuits baked without butter are as bride without bridegroom. First on the return list is the water biscuit, now called a creamed butter wafer, being made rich as Croesus, the perfect companion to cheese and sherry. Afternoon tea biscuit is among the imports, very short, medium sweet, made by an old Kentish recipe. Parmestiks are cocktail biscuits nicely tanged of Pramesan. Everybody's love, the ginger nuts, rich, crisp, and crunchy to melt in the mouth, delicately flavored of the ginger from Canton. Only old Romary and the bees know the secret of Honey Back made with oats, plenty of pure honey, and butter, baked into crunchy golden rounds. Maison Glass, 15 East 47th Street, has the line." -- Paddleford, Clementine (1898 - 1967). Food Flashes Column. Gourmet Magazine. February 1949.

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Also called:

Romary Biscuits

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