7

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?

13

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

| improve this answer | |
  • 5
    Even today, Tesco has cheap hot cross buns for 15p, and expensive hot cross buns for 38p. – Gareth Rees Jul 24 at 8:08
  • 3
    @GarethRees And 1d (one penny) in 1900 is equivalent to about 33p today, so it figures. – Mick Jul 24 at 8:12
  • 1
    Still, I'm definitely going to refer to the 'hot cross bun paradox' in my next treatise, like it's a thing already. – Strawberry Jul 24 at 9:33
  • 1
    @Strawberry Everyone loves a paradox, and a conspiracy theory even more. You are going to have to campaign hard to get my exposé deleted, though. 😜 – Mick Jul 24 at 10:25
  • The real paradox is what I'm meant to do with them if I don't have daughters or sons. – Showsni Jul 24 at 12:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.