Hampshire Archaeology

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c r u m b s !

The Hampshire Field Club & Archaeological Society Papers and Proceedings Vol. 17 p.174 reported that in 1948 a ‘Good Friday bun’ 102 years old was presented to Southampton Museum and continued with the following edited extract from British Calendar Customs – England Vol. I “Moveable Feasts” Wright and Jones – Folk Lore Society London 1936.

‘The Use of Good Friday Buns and Bread for Curative Purposes’


‘There is a popular custom, depending on a belief in the efficient curative properties of cross-buns or bread baked hard on Good Friday, which still lingers in some towns and villages. The custom consists in keeping for a year, or for several years, Good Friday buns or pieces of bread baked hard on Good Friday; the buns or pieces of bread are kept in a dry place e.g. suspended near the ceiling of a dry room or kept in a close-fitting box placed in a dry cupboard.  A small piece of such bun or bread finely divided by means of a nutmeg-grater and mixed with water, milk or brandy was believed a good cure for all kinds of complaints, such as diarrhoea and dysentery; in some cases, the belief in the efficacy of this ‘medicine’ was so great that if it failed to effect a quick change for the better, hope of the patient’s recovery was abandoned.


The belief in the efficacy of the dry Good Friday bun and bread was strong and widespread and could be found in many counties other than Hampshire. At the present time [1936] it lingers in Devonshire and Worcestershire, but otherwise it would be difficult to find the homely Good Friday bun or piece of bread hanging from the ceiling or enclosed in a dry box.

Another belief connected with Good Friday bun and bread is that, unlike ordinary buns and bread, they never become mouldy, a belief expressed in an old rhyme:

                 ‘When Good Friday comes, an old woman runs

                 With one- or two-penny hot cross buns,

                 Whose virtue is, if you believe what’s said,

                 They’ll not grow mouldy like the common bread.’     

This ‘belief’ is however based on the fact that when special care was taken, as it used to be, in the making and preservation of the Good Friday bun and bread, the amount of moisture left in them would be so small that no mould or fungus could develop’.


Nowadays, of course, the history of the Hot Cross Bun is most reflected in a familiar nursery rhyme, first recorded in the early 18th century, and the true origin is , as they say, lost in the mists of time. They may have Pagan roots – the equal-armed cross being more Celtic than Christian. What more can we do but enjoy them for what they are – they may no longer be viewed as a cure-all but one tradition says, ‘Half for you, half for me, between us two, good shall be’ – if you share a hot cross bun with someone you will ensure your friendship for the coming year!


Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone, with help from Stacie Elliot.