Sally Lunn’s Tea House, Bath, UK – Best Places to visit in England
Sally Lunn drawing of Buns being served
Sally Lunn’s world famous tea and eating house is in the middle of the city of Bath in Lilliput Alley and is one of the oldest houses in Bath. The kitchen was used by the young Huguenot baker Sally Lunn in Georgian Bath to create the first Bath Bun, a rich round brioche bun similar to the historic French festival breadsnow and now copied around the world.
Sally Lunn was a young French refugee who found work at what is now called Sally Lunn’s House after she came to Bath in 1680 via Bristol to escape persecution in France. Sally Lunn’s baked Bun became very popular in the Georgian Era because it was delicate, light, and tasty and could be eaten with sweet or savoury accompaniments. The house itself was built many hundreds of years before the current timber framed construction and under the foundations are excavations from Roman and Medieval times.
Bath UK Map to Sally Lunn’s
Sally’s fame grew as Bath expanded and recipes claiming to be similar to Sally Lunn buns are in publications dating back to early in the eighteenth century, although the original recipe is a secret passed on with the deeds to Sally Lunn’s house and is still made by hand.
The Great Exhibition of 1851 is believed to have started the ‘London’ Bath bun as 943,691 ‘Bath buns’ were consumed over 5½ months of the exhibition but the quality of such a large amount of buns was poor.
Excavations in the cellars of Sally Lunn’s Tea House in the 1930s and then 1985 found many items dating back through Bath’s history to Roman times. Box flue and tiles have been found from a hypocaust (underfloor central heating system) together with tesserae from floor mosaics, painted plaster from the walls, roof tiles and pieces of high quality Samian pottery and the painted rim of a mortarium (mortar) designed for teasing the flavour from aromatic plants.
The building is close to the Roman baths so it could have been a Roman inn providing food and drink for travelers, perhaps nearly 1800 years ago when the hot springs and the temple of the goddess Sulis Minerva attracted visitors from all over north-west Europe.
In 1091, William II granted the city and Saxon abbey of Bath to his former chaplain and doctor, John de Villula, Bishop of Wells but in 1137 buildings were destroyed in a city wide fire. The abbey complex was rebuilt at great expense by Bishop Robert of Lewis (1137 – 66), including the church, chapter house, cloister, dormitory, refectory and infirmary. The southern buildings, now under Sally Lunn’s House, would have contained the refectory and kitchen of the Benedictine monastery.In the north cellar of Sally Lunn’s House can be seen the foundations, floor and stone walling of the medieval complex.
Sally Lunn Buns Bath
Seven separate floor levels have been discovered, with the lowest floor level dated to around 1150 and resting on rubble containing rich pink burnt stone from the fire of 1137. When King John visited Bath in 1207, the clergy and religious were believed to make up 1/3 of the population and the church grounds covered 1/4 of Bath city.
Bread was a staple and vital part of everyone’s diet and the design for bread ovens originated in Rome around 100 B.C. and was still the normal type of construction until the early 17th century.
The Faggot oven was outside the kitchen on the earliest medieval floor level and made of large low stone or brick chambers into which tightly tied bundles of thin branches – faggots – were pushed and then set alight. Once the faggots had burned, hot embers were raked out and the oven floor or sole was swept with a scuffle (a wet sack cloth swinging on the end of a pole) and the heat stored in the stone would be sufficient for baking bread.
In 1539, Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and dispersed their lands and the Bath Abbey area was in the hands of the Colthurst family. In 1612, Henry Colthurst sold this quarter of the city to wealthy John Hall of Bradford on Avon and the carpenter, George Parker, built the present timber framed house on the remains of the south side of the former abbey. The faggot oven and old downhearth were incorporated in the ground floor and food would have been cooked in the open hearth with a wood burning fire.
When Charles II was restored as king in 1660, the somber dress and style of Cromwell were replaced by a lighthearted mood and Bath became a fashionable resort. In 1668, Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist, came to the city and enjoyed the mixed bathing and the merry Monarch Charles II paid a visit. With the influx of wealthy and fashionable people, trades flourished.
Sally Lunn’s House represents pre-Georgian Bath and the walled city with narrow alleys and gabled roofs that Beau Nash would have seen in 1705 before the old Bath was replaced by Georgian squares, terraces and crescents in the Palladian style favoured by John Wood. During the 1700s, the street level was raised, a grand reception room created, the old ground floor became a cellar, and the oven and kitchen fireplaces were modernized to burn coal. Sally Lunn’s Buns became a success because of her rich, soft and delicate dough.
In the latter half of the 1700s, the famous Spring Gardens drew the fashionable throng across the river to the public and private breakfasts that were one of the delights of Bath and the hot, buttered Sally Lunn’s were advertised in the Bath Chronicle.
Sally Lunn’s Tea House, Bath UK
When Spring Gardens closed down in August 1798, exclusive rights to Sally Lunns recipe were bought by the baker William Dalmer and he began to send them warm every morning in a portable oven and with instructions to cut them with a sharp knife and spread them with melted butter.
In the Victorian period, Sally Lunn Buns were in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Sorcerer and Charles Dickens wrote ‘Sally Lunn the illustrious author of the tea cake’ in Chimes. James Wicksteed used the building for seal engraving but later baking became the main commercial use of the property and remained so for over a hundred years as it went through the hands of a number of families until the building became run down.
After she took over in 1937, Marie Byng-Johnson carried out extensive restoration during which Sally Lunn’s recipes were discovered in a secret cupboard in the old paneling. Marie was an artist who used the bow window to exhibit her delightful cards of old Bath.