Parliamentary Buns

Donovan and I have been enjoying this little flyer from Grosvenor Prints in Covent Garden, a place well worth nosing around if you’re ever down Shelton Street (for about a year they had a marvellous, huge, original print of the plans for Greenwich Hospital in the front window; sadly when I went in to purchase it the surprisingly low price tag of £200 turned out to have had an extra zero hidden behind the window frame).  That one’s now gone, but they do carry a selection of Greenwich prints under the counter (no, not that sort of print.)

But back to the Parliamentary Buns.  The print is labelled as being from around 1800. Donovan reckons that’s far too early; he goes for around 1850. I looked it up in Williams Street Directory of 1849 and while I couldn’t find Cocks or even its former name Culfs, I did find ‘Kibbles,’ which is mentioned at the bottom of the flyer along with its ‘Boro’ Clock’ as being four doors down. It’s listed as  ’Goldsmith, 4, London street,’ but I’m not sure what the Boro’ Clock bit’s all about.

Donovan thought it might have had Greenwich’s official Timepiece outside it or something, which would mean folk didn’t have to either wait for the one o’clock timeball or trudge up to the Observatory and ask. This was, of course, five years before the birth of the Greenwich Time Lady, though her father John Henry Belville had been collecting the time and selling to all comers since 1836.

I guess if you were one of Belville’s customers, then having a clock in your window that told the correct time would be quite a draw for your own potential trade (especially anyone who wanted to catch one of those new-fangled trains) so why wouldn’t the Old Parliament and Bun House want to cash in on Kibble’s fame?*

But on. Why Old Parliament? Well, presumably it refers to the times when the court was based (at certain times of the year, anyway) at Greenwich, though given Mr Cock may well have been into cashing in on other people’s fame, he might well have half an eye on the parliamentary Whitebait Dinners that were held at the Trafalgar Tavern and the Ship Hotel, which would have been a cough and a spit from the bun house (London Street is now Greenwich High Road.)

We then got on to discussing the concept of buns, never an unpleasant subject in my humble opinion. Donovan wondered whether they might sell Chelsea buns, shipped down for Greenwich Fair. He said

“According to Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, Greenwich Fair was the principle time for sales of Chelsea buns outside Good Friday, so perhaps the bun house is connected with that…? You couldn’t hoik fresh buns all the way from Chelsea after all”.

True, but whoever said that they sold fresh buns at Greenwich Fair? They were probably last week’s Chelsea buns sent by second class penny post to be hawked to already ‘well-refreshed’ punters who wouldn’t know a fresh bun if it bit them.

And of course stale buns, Donovan points out, are better for a bun fight after all.

I can’t help thinking we need a new Greenwich Bun. We shouldn’t be importing cakes from Chelsea, we should have our own, South East London version. What unique ingredient would you put in a Greenwich Bun? I can only think of whitebait which somehow just doesn’t appeal. Perhaps some Tate & Lyle sugar? And what shape would it take (don’t go for cheap laughs now…) Perhaps the shape of the Millennium Dome, complete with nuts inside, angled sparklers round the rim and a nice icing Skywalk?

Nikki – here’s a challenge for you – you’re a local food writer – invent us a Phantom recipe for Greenwich Buns. Then we can be as famous as Chelsea, Bath, Eccles and, er The Widow’s Son.


* Nick has found a link to Kibble the clockmaker on a poster sold by the Science and Society Picture Library . He believes both posters date to the 1850 – 1860 period.

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Parliamentary Buns
Parliamentary Buns

13 Comments to “Parliamentary Buns”

  1. Capability Bowes says:

    What ingredient would I put in a Greenwich Bun? How about the finely minced balls of Cllr. Mr. Roberts?

  2. Conejo says:

    It has to be thyme.

  3. I’d suggest parliamentary buns were made (either in terms of ingredients or size) according to law. The online OED doesn’t specifically refer to parliamentary buns but does have, for example, parliamentary trains (run at a fare fixed by parliament) and the
    parliamentary pit (n. Mining Obs. a shaft dug to provide a separate outlet from a mine, as required by law.)

  4. Donovan says:

    A Greenwich Bun = a Chelsea Bun with a big hoofprint in it.

  5. Thyme – brilliant. I wonder if you could create some kind of sweet-savoury bun with that…

  6. Donovan says:

    I used to know a bank where the wild thyme grew, but they shut the local branch.

  7. Rod says:

    “I’d suggest parliamentary buns were made (either in terms of ingredients or size) according to law. The online OED doesn’t specifically refer to parliamentary buns but does have, for example, parliamentary trains (run at a fare fixed by parliament) and the
    parliamentary pit (n. Mining Obs. a shaft dug to provide a separate outlet from a mine, as required by law.)”

    This sounds unlikely, but could be true, by analogy with First World War Government Ale, which was the result of the first set of government controls on the gravity and strength of beer, introduced in 1917. It was brewed within specified gravity bands (pretty low) and sold at a controlled price. The intention was to ensure more beer was brewed from the same quantity of raw materials and keep down the price to stop unrest amongst the working class.
    It was very unpopular, and many jokes such as this were made about it -

    “It appears that a Wallasey licensee, in order to satisfy his customers, sent a sample of Government ale to be analysed. We understand that the analyst reported that there was nothing in it.”

  8. Possible, I guess, Rod – but why would you advertise that your buns were government approved? Surely you’d keep that bit as quiet as possible, especially if parliamentary buns were as bad as parliamentary beer…

  9. Rod says:

    I said the “Government approved” theory was unlikely – it’s Alan Burkitt-Gray’s theory, not mine!
    I simply saw an analogy with WW1 restrictions on what you were allowed to do by way of brewing beer. Why the Government would want to do something similar in 1850 on something so marginal to the economy as buns would be beyond this humble brewer’s brain.

  10. Tee hee – indeed. But buns marginal to the economy? Never! They were, of course, the mainstay of Victorian society! Along with the splendid ales, of course…

  11. Rod says:

    Out o’ tune, sir: ye lie. Art any more than a steward? Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?

  12. My point exactly, sir. Ah, Sir Toby. Now all we need is Chris Roberts in yellow cross-garters…

  13. Nick Martin says:


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