A Buttered Bun at St Barts
In 1887 Joshua Whitehead Butterworth, an antiquarian law publisher, created a charity and a unique custom about which many might say ‘only in England’.The Butterworth Charity revived an old practice of distributing 6d to 21 poor widows of the parish of St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield. The money was given during a service in the churchyard on Good Friday morning and any children who came along got a hot cross bun.The service continues each year on Good Friday and is one of those City Ceremonies related to the Livery Companies of the City – in this case the link is with the Worshipful Company of Stationers of which Joshua was Master.Which explains why around 100 people were gathered at St Bartholomew’s this Good Friday (3rd April). Some newcomers like myself, others were old hands but we were all rewarded for our efforts by no rain and even a bit of sunshine coming through the trees.
The priest, attendant clergy, vergers and churchwardens processed out of the beautiful Norman church at 11.30 carrying banners illustrated with the instruments of the passion. The service itself is taken by the priest standing on the flat tombstone in the churchyard. The current incumbent is on sabbatical and I sadly did not get the name of the priest who took the service but he did a superb job.
A brief prayer followed by a hymn preceded a reading from St Mark telling the story of Jesus’s death on the cross. This was followed by the story of the Butterworth Charity and a request for any needy widows to step forward. One did (looking a trifle sheepish) to receive her 6d (actually a 20p piece). One of the St Bartholomew churchyard squirrels was climbing up and down a tree near the tombstone, stopping every now and again as if listening – the priest thanked him for his attention at the end of the Address.
We then got down to business, the hot cross buns (buttered) were handed round and there was a period of silence as we all munched happily. Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch (or brunch possibly?) so as we ate our buns there was a collection for the homeless in the parish.
Another hymn, the Lord’s Prayer and a blessing and we were on our way.
Another enjoyable City Ceremony I have now ticked off my list and a very pleasant way to spend Good Friday morning.