Hot Cross Bun Paradox

Literature Asked by Jacob Barrow on December 20, 2021

In the nursery rhyme Hot Cross Buns, there’s the line

One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns

Does this mean that you can buy a hot cross bun for either 1p or 0.5p? If so, why would anyone buy only one bun?

One Answer

No paradox involved. Hot cross buns were traditionally consumed at the end of Lent, and the nursery rhyme derives from the cries of street vendors. For example:

Hot cross buns, hot cross buns;
One a penny poker,
Two a penny tongs,
Three a penny fire shovel,
Hot cross buns.

Presumably, a one-penny bun was of better quality (or simply larger) than a half-penny bun. Going by the comparisons with fireside implements in the above street-cry, my guess is that it would be the quality that varies.

  • Poker -- used to stoke a fire, and therefore relatively clean.
  • Tongs -- used to handle coals and therefore likely to be contaminated with coal dust.
  • Fire shovel -- used to remove the ashes from the grate of a fire.

One might consider the social class of the people likely to use these implements in an upper-class household in, say, Victorian times. A poker might be used by the owner of the household if he/she did not want to bother a servant. Tongs (to make up a fire) would probably be used by the butler or a maid. Lastly, cleaning out the fire grate would probably be the job of a scullery maid.

Wikipedia has a interesting, albeit short, entry, and gives the earliest known street cry containing the phrase "one or two a penny" a date of 1733 (Poor Robin's Almanack). An online currency converter indicates that 1d (one penny) in 1730 would have a purchasing power of about £0.49 (UK) today. Supermarket prices of £0.38 and £0.15 for premium and cheap Hot Cross Buns (Tesco) compare favourably with 1730 street prices. (Thanks to Gareth Rees for this info.)

Wikipedia : Hot Cross Buns

Answered by Mick on December 20, 2021

Add your own answers!

Related Questions

Hot Cross Bun Paradox

1  Asked on December 20, 2021 by jacob-barrow


Ask a Question

Get help from others!

© 2022 All rights reserved. Sites we Love: PCI Database, MenuIva, UKBizDB, Menu Kuliner, Sharing RPP, SolveDir