Superstitions And Hot Cross Buns
Some hot cross buns were purposefully baked for so long on a Good Friday that they dried out and could be kept without going mouldy until they were displaced by the next years bake. A ‘good luck’ hot cross bun, kept in a house for twelve months, was said to ward off fire, or if grated, and added into medicine, could ward off diseases – other superstitions also grew up around them, such as the one surrounding marriage.
‘The Spirit Of Public Journals’, By Stephen Jones and Charles Molloy Westmacott, Published 1826
Formerly “hot-cross-buns” were commonly eaten in London by families at breakfast, and some families still retain the usage. They are of the usual form of buns; though they are distinguished from- them inwardly by a sweeter taste, and the flavour of allspice, and outwardly by the mark or sign of the cross. The “hot cross-bun” is the most popular symbol of the Roman Catholic religion in England that the Reformation has left.
Of the use of the cross, as a mark or sign in Papal worship and devotion, most readers are aware; for it has been insisted on by Roman Catholic writers from the days of Constantine to Alban Butler himself, who, giving example of its great virtue on Good Friday, says, “to add one more instance, out of many, St. Teresa assures us, in her own life, that one day, the devil, by a phantom, appeared to sit on the letters of her book, to disturb her at her devotions; but she drove him away thrice by the sign of the cross, and at last sprinkled the book with holy water; after which he returned no more.”
In the houses of some ignorant people, a Good Friday bun is still kept “for luck”; and sometimes there hangs from the ceiling a hard biscuit-like cake of open cross-work, baked on a Good Friday, to remain there till displaced on the next Good Friday by one of similar make; and of this, the editor of the Every Day-Book has heard affirmed, “that it preserves the house from fire”; “no fire ever happened in a house that had one.”
Hot-cross-buns are the ecclesiastical Eulogy, or consecrated loaves, bestowed in the church as alms, and to those who, from any impediment, could not receive the host. They are made from the dough from whence the host itself is taken, and are given by the priest to the people after mass, just before the congregation is dismissed, and are kissed before they are eaten. They are marked with the cross as our Good Friday buns are.
Winckelman relates this remarkable fact, that at Herculaneum* were found two entire loaves of the same size, a palm and a half, or five inches in diameter. They were marked by a cross, which were four other lines; and so the bread of the Greeks was marked from the earliest periods. Sometimes it had only four lines, and then it was called quadra. This bread had rarely any other mark than a cross, which, was on purpose to divide and break it more easily.
*Herculaneum, it will be remembered, was overwhelmed and destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius, A.D. 79.
‘The Book Of Days’ By Robert Chambers Published 1835
Hot cross-buns, if properly made, will never get mouldy. To make them properly, you must do the whole of the business on the Good-Friday itself; the materials must be mixed, the dough made, and the buns baked on that day, and this, I think, before a certain hour; but whether this hour is sunrise or church-time, I cannot say. Perhaps the spice which enters into the composition of hot cross-buns, has as much to do with the result as anything, but, acperto crede, you may keep them for years without their getting mouldy.
‘The Illustrated London Magazine’: Published 1855
Young ladies are fond of preserving hot-cross buns. They puncture the date on its back with pins, and put it away, like a bag of lavender, in their drawers. “Whoever keeps one of these mealy treasures for an entire twelvemonth is sure, it is said, to get married the next”; and yet we have known many a young lady, with a small pyramid of these buns, grown harder even than man’s inconstancy, condemned to walk about with her finger still unfettered with a gold ring. There must have been some perverse ingredient kneaded, or rather some good ingredient wanted, in the manufacture of these faithless buns.
London: The Capital Of The Hot Cross Bun
If the golden-age of the hot cross bun was the 1800s, then London was the capital. As this description taken from, ‘The Literary Chronicle And Weekly Review’, published in 1821, shows: “Although the custom of having hot cross-buns for breakfast, on Good Friday, prevails in some parts of the country, yet it is in London that it is most rigidly adhered to; and poor, indeed, must that family be, that is doomed to pass the day without the accustomed treat.
“The pastry-cooks never think of selling anything else but buns on Good Friday, and from break of day until midnight, the cries of – ‘one a-penny buns; two a-penny buns; one a-penny, two a-penny, hot cross buns,’ re-echoes through the streets of the metropolis.”
The image above, from the ‘Illustrated London News’, published in 1862, shows the excitement and ‘hustle and bustle’ of the street seller’s in London. While below is a fascinating insight and detailed account into the street selling of Hot Cross Buns in London by the poorer classes during the early part of the 1800s. The extract, written by Henry Mayhew and published in 1851, gives us many details of what Good Friday was like in London; although how Hot Cross Buns have remained ‘one-a-penny’ since at least 1733 is something Charles Dickens in his magazine typically and humorously alludes to in 1870:-
‘All The Year Round’, By Charles Dickens (publisher and contributor), Published 1870
The Hot Cross Bun. Who these vendors are, whence they come, and what is their occupation on the other three hundred and sixtyfour days of the year, are questions left somewhat in mystery; for the people are evidently not all connected with the baking trade. That the buns are all hot, that they are crossed, that they are “one a penny, two a penny,” are facts asserted in a very determined and unanimous way by the vendors. And herein is suggested a speculation—why are hot cross buns always the same price? Do we get an advantage when flour is cheap in the market; and if not, why not?
London Labour And The London Poor
Of The Street-sellers Of Hot-cross Buns: By Henry Mayhew, Published 1851
Perhaps no cry—though it is only for one morning—is more familiar to the ears of a Londoner, than that of, “One-a-penny, two-a-penny, hot-cross buns” on Good Friday … One London gentleman, who spoke of fifty years ago, told me that the street-bun-sellers used to have a not unpleasing distich [a unit of verse consisting of two lines] … It seems hardly in accordance with the usual style of street poetry:—
“One-a-penny, two-a-penny, hot-cross buns! If your daughters will not eat them, give them to your sons.
But if you hav’n’t any of those pretty little elves, You cannot then do better than eat them all yourselves.”
The sellers of the Good Friday buns are principally boys, and they are of mixed classes —costers’ boys, boys habitually and boys occasionally street-sellers, and boys street-sellers for that occasion only. One great inducement to embark in the trade is the hope of raising a little money for the Greenwich Fair of the following Monday.
— [“On Easter Monday breaks out, in all its depressing vulgarity, Greenwich Fair—a melancholy exhibition of national merriment,—when drunkenness too often supplies the place of natural jollity, and brutality tramples under foot everything like rational recreation”. From ‘The Illustrated London Magazine’, Published 1855] —
I am informed that 500 persons are employed on Good Friday in the streets of London in the sale of hot-cross buns, each itinerant selling upon the day’s average six dozen halfpenny, and seven dozen penny buns, for which he will take 12s. 6d. (his profits being 3d. in the shilling or 3s. 1 1/2 d.). One person informed me that last Good Friday he had sold during the day forty dozen penny buns, for which he received 60s.
The bun-selling itinerants derive their supplies principally from the wholesale pastrycooks, and, in a less degree, from the small bakers and pastrycooks, who work more for “the trade” than themselves. A vendor of ” hot-cross buns” has to provide himself with a basket, a flannel (to keep the buns warm), and a cloth, to give a clean appearance to his commodities. These articles, if bought for the purpose, cost—basket, 1s. 6d.; flannel and cloth, 2s.; stock-money, average, 5s. (largest amount 15s., smallest 2s. 1/2 d.) or about 10s. in all. There is expended in one day, in hot-cross buns purchased in the London streets, 300l., and nearly 100,000 buns thus bought.