The History of the Chelsea Bun and London's Old Bun House

Chelsea Buns, circular spirals of dough baked and studded with dried fruits, have been enjoyed in London for over three hundred years. Jonathan Swift bought one at the shop in Chelsea in what was then Jews Row on a walk through the city but wrote in 1712 that it was stale and he didn't really enjoy it. 

Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

Luckily, the Chelsea Bun house had many more happy customers, including the royal family. George II and Queen Caroline bought buns from here, as did George III and Queen Charlotte. The historian Timbs, writing in 1855, stated that 50,000 customers once queued on Good Friday for their Chelsea Buns, 'when disturbances often arose'. The shop was run by Mrs Hand, a canny businesswoman who was quick to capitalise on her royal patronage by naming the shop 'Royal Bun House' in a notice written in 1792.

A sketch made in around 1839, shortly before the shop was demolished, shows that inside was a collection of interesting antiques, including paintings, sculptures, a theatre sign and what looks like a model of a building inside a glass case near the window. The table where the buns were laid out can just be seen on the right, and tables and chairs organised along the left. 

Interior of the Chelsea Bun House, London, c1839 Wikimedia Commons

A sketch of the exterior of the house shows a long one-storey building with pillars and an entrance door with a number of long windows along its length. There is also a window where buns could be purchased outside. 

The Old Chelsea Bun House was demolished in 1839, but luckily you can still buy Chelsea Buns from your local baker or if you're really lucky, in supermarkets. Next time you enjoy one, remember its origins at the Old Chelsea Bun House over three hundred years ago. As they say, if it's good enough for royalty... 

Never want to miss a post? Subscribe to my newsletter here: 



Timbs, Curiosities of London, (Bogue, London, 1855)