Historic Arnott's Biscuits building for sale at Morpeth

WELL BRED: Allison and Stephen Arnott are selling the historic Arnott's Bakehouse and will retire.
WELL BRED: Allison and Stephen Arnott are selling the historic Arnott's Bakehouse and will retire.

It's a slice of Australian history that played a major role in helping shape this country and our city.

If only the walls of Morpeth's former Arnott's Biscuits building could talk they would tell a tale of a thriving river port turned internationally acclaimed tourist destination and a family business that became an Aussie food icon.

It is with a heavy heart that founder William Arnott’s great great great grand son, Stephen and wife Allison are selling the Swan Street flagship where the business started in 2003 and now sells their Morpeth Sourdough products.

After the sale of the property Morpeth Sourdough will continue to distribute their sourdough and muesli nationally.

The building will go to auction on Saturday, September 16 at 1.30pm in the Elgin Street, Maitland office of McGrath Estate Agents.

Its sale will be testimony to Stephen and Allison’s painstaking 13-year renovation of the 189-year-old building. The couple has poured hundreds of thousands into the property, $195,000 into restoring the building’s original oven which was literally crumbling to pieces, a result of the railway passage being carved through the property in 1860.

The oven restoration required a heritage archaeologist, heritage engineer and builder with reports demonstrating in 1830 oyster shells from Limeburners near Port Stephens were brought in and crushed to be made into mortar with Hunter river sand. This mortar between blocks of Hunter sandstone is a testament to the craftsmanship in the colonial days. The mortar replacement during restoration cost $2700 a square metre.

Brothers William and David Arnott travelled from Scotland to Morpeth in 1848 and the Arnott’s biscuit story began around Morpeth and West Maitland. It was reborn with the opening of Morpeth Sourdough in 2004.

The Arnotts leased the premises from George Chapman a local butcher and businessman in 1861 after losing their Maitland property in floods. In 1864 they moved the business to Newcastle where they continued to make bread, wedding cakes, fancy biscuits and biscuits for reconstitution for passengers making long journeys on ships.

The Maynard family lived and operated a boot making business form the site after Arnotts relocated.

“The building was never owned by our family, it was always leased,” Stephen said. “We bought the property in 2002. We were living in Sydney and visiting Morpeth. We knew Arnott’s started in the building,” he said.

“On the way back to Sydney, Allison said we should buy the building and renovate it. We turned around and returned to Morpeth to ask owner John Rademaker, if it was for sale. He was about to list it.”

During an archaeological dig on the bakehouse floor, carried out through a NSW Heritage Office and Maitland City Council restoration program, old floorboards were removed and metres of ash and dirt revealed.

During the renovation Stephen and Allison uncovered a number of items including bones probably from Chapman’s butchery, peach stones, silver thimbles, mother-of-pearl buttons, leather, parts of China tea sets, bottle tops and a hessian sack containing old jam tins from George Peacock’s factory in Tasmania.

The colourful tins of gooseberry, damson plum and raspberry jams were labelled Peacock Jam and went on to become IXL under Peacock’s foreman Henry Jones demonstrating trade in the colonial days played a significant role in Morpeth’s beginnings.

Heritage experts believe the Arnott’s building is the oldest original workplace in the Maitland district.

“It’s been a very hard decision to list the building but we want to retire and move back home to Sydney,” Stephen said. “It took us about 18 months to make up our minds but it is a necessary part of our retirement to let go and hand over the reins to the next owner, just as has been done in history.”

“Morpeth Sourdough will definitely continue, we have another site in Morpeth that we will be trading from and production moved offsite in 2006 to maintain the heritage building.”

Stephen said he will continue to follow in William Arnott’s footsteps by continuing to produce sourdough bread for the township of Morpeth.