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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