Friday, April 19, 2019

Queuing for Buns

It is Good Friday, a day for somber reflection, although it’s hard to be sad when we know Easter is coming! Good Friday marked another day in Regency London. It was the day to buy hot cross buns at the Chelsea Bun House (mentioned in a post nearly 10 years ago now!).

The Chelsea Bun House was on Jew’s Row, on the way to Ranelagh Gardens, a popular public garden in the 18th century. Four generations of the Hand family managed the eatery. For most of the year, the house sold Chelsea buns—what appear to be cinnamon rolls with raisins, currants, and white icing. According to The London Encyclopedia, a poem described these delicacies as

“Fragrant as honey and sweeter in taste
As flaky and white as if baked by the light
As the flesh of an infant, doughy and slight.”

(Okay—am I the only one who squirmed a little at the last line?)

While the exterior of the single-story building was fairly standard, the interior was eclectic, with clocks and curiosities from foreign locales sprinkled about. King George II, Queen Caroline, all the princesses, and George the III and Queen Charlotte were said to be customers.

On Good Friday, however, people lined up for cross buns hot from the oven, with sales beginning as early as four in the morning. Numbers vary, but one estimate put the crowds at 50,000. Some years, the ravening customers were so many in number the shop had to close its doors and hand buns out through the shutters. In 1839, the last year of the shop, nearly a quarter million buns were sold!

Sadly, the Hand family died out, and the shop was closed and its contents auctioned. But the name Chelsea bun is still used to this day.

Hungry for more information about the Chelsea Bun House? Try this great post on Jane Austen’s World blog. 

Whether you line up for buns or not, happy Easter!

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