Old Chelsea Bun Shop

Chelsea Bun
Chelsea Bun

The Chelsea bun has been the treat of choice over centuries: sticky sweet buns, filled with raisins and currants and topped with a sugary glaze, were sold by the tens of thousands at the famous Old Chelsea Bun Shop near today’s Pimlico Road near Sloane Square (technically Pimlico, not Chelsea), which was frequented by Royalty and the public alike. The shop was famous for its Chelsea bun and also did a great trade in hot cross buns at Easter. According to legend, on the first day that the Chelsea bun was introduced by the Old Chelsea Bun House, 50,000 people queued to buy one.

The Chelsea bun was first created around 1700 at the Chelsea Bun House, known variously as the Old Chelsea Bun House and the Old Original Chelsea Bun House. This was a one-storied building with a majestic colonnade situated on Jew’s Row, near Grosvenor Row, by the Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens. None of these places now exist, but according to modern maps, it’s roughly between Pimlico Road and the Royal Hospital Road. There is a Bunhouse Place with Passmore Street and Bourne Street on either side, close to the remains of the old Ranelagh Gardens, which is believed to be the exact location. Other sources suggest that the Bun Shop was believed to be located at today’s 93 Pimlico Road, which is now home to Christopher Howe antique shop.

The Chelsea Bun House
The Chelsea Bun House

The bakery’s most famous proprietor was Richard Hand, affectionately known as ‘Captain Bun’. During his time, the place was frequented by the royal family and other aristocrats. According to records, King George II often visited Hand with Queen Caroline and the princesses, as did his son King George III, and Queen Charlotte, who gifted Mrs Hand a silver half-gallon mug with five guineas. Due to the regal patronage, the bakery became informally known as the Royal Bun House.

However, in the bun’s early days, writer, cleric and political figure Jonathan Swift wasn’t impressed. He famously wrote in his Journal to Stella in 1711:

A fine day, but begins to grow a little warm; and that makes your little fat Presto sweat in the forehead. Pray, are not the fine buns sold here in our town; was it not Rare Chelsea buns? I bought one today in my walk; it cost me a penny; it was stale, and I did not like it, as the man said, &c.

Over a hundred years later, Sir Richard Phillips wrote in ‘A Morning’s Walk from London to Kew’:

Before me appeared the shops so famed for Chelsea buns, which, for above thirty years, I have never passed without filling my pockets. In the original of these shops, for even of Chelsea buns there are counterfeits, are preserved mementos of domestic events, in the first half of the past century. The bottle- conjuror is exhibited in a toy of his own age; portraits are also displayed of Duke William and other noted personages; a model of a British soldier, in the stiff costume of the same age; and some grotto-works, serve to indicate the taste of a former owner, and were perhaps intended to rival the neighbouring exhibition at Don Saltero’s. These buns have afforded a competency, and even wealth; to four generations of the same family; and it is singular, that their delicate flavour, lightness and richness, have never been successfully imitated. The present proprietor told me, with exultation, that George the Second had often been a customer of the shop; that the present King, when Prince George, and often during his reign, had stopped and purchased his buns; and that the Queen, and all the Princes and Princesses, had been among his occasional customers.

The family to which Phillips referred to was the Hand family who had succeeded David Loudon as proprietors. After her husband Richard Hand’s death, his wife continued to run the business. Upon her death, her son ran the business and when he died too, his older brother took over. He was a retired soldier — a poor knight of Windsor — and, like his brother, was eccentric. There were no more Hands so, after his death in 1839, the property reverted to the Crown and the contents were auctioned off.

Chelsea Bun Shop 1810
Chelsea Bun Shop 1810

 

Chelsea Bun Shop (The Mirror)
Chelsea Bun Shop (The Mirror)

 

The interior of Chelsea Bun House (Image from 1839 edition of The Mirror)
The interior of Chelsea Bun House (Image from 1839 edition of The Mirror)

 

93 Pimlico Road (December 2015)
93 Pimlico Road (December 2015)

Source: Wikipedia

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