Baking The Daily Bread – Weardale’s Bread Ovens:
Bread ovens, built into the wall of many Weardale houses from medieval times onwards, are one of the unsung features of the dale’s architectural landscape. The ovens appear as large round or square protuberances, like stone carbuncles, on the outside walls of houses and especially of farmhouses. June Crosby of the Weardale Society has recorded 48 such ovens.
Alan Blackburn, a local historian, says that part of the burning fuel from the main cooking fire of the house would be gently shoveled inside the oven, with extra fuel added as needed. (This fuel would often be peat, most of the timber in Weardale having been cut for firing the early lead earths). When the oven was up to temperature the fire was raked out and thrown back on to the cooking fire, the base was cleaned and the dough set on the heated stones. The front would be closed with a metal plate which could be left at an angle during the heating process to draw the fire and let out smoke. (Many of these ovens had no flue and were vented directly into the house). The stone/brick construction of the oven would retain cooking heat for some considerable time allowing a week’s bread baking to done in one firing and other baking to be done afterwards using a cooler oven. So baking, like clothes washing, would have taken a large part of one day for the Weardale housewife.
These literally “built in” ovens were replaced from the mid-1800s onwards by cast iron kitchen ranges when the arrival of the railways allowed cheaper delivery of heavy items to Weardale.