Butterworth Charity


Above: Staring out from the page are widows photographed in the 1920s on a Good Friday at St Bartholomew the Great. The photograph was published in ‘Wonderful London’ a three-volume work published in 1926.

Setting the Scene

London is never short of surprises. While out walking, you can often turn a corner and find yourself in a curios alleyway which you may not have seen before. The traditions of London are just as quaint but, unlike alleyways, which are can be discovered because they physically exist, you have to be ‘in the know’ to observe the events on a particular date.
One of the more unusual London traditions, which takes place in London each year on Good Friday, is that of the Butterworth Charity. You need to be free on the morning of Good Friday to make your way, by about 11.00 am, to the ancient church of St Bartholomew the Great where you will find people have assembled on the small raised churchyard awaiting the arrival of the vicar and the accompanying choir.

There is a procession of church dignitaries from the ancient church, along the entry path and around the churchyard before the vicar stands in front of a low horizontal tombstone to conduct the proceedings. It is the same stone that can be seen in the picture at the top. Following close behind him, the verger carries a large wicker basket filled with hot cross buns and covered by a large cloth. A short service is held, with a few prayers and hymns, followed by a dissertation by the vicar concerning the details of what the Butterworth Charity is all about.

Three_Butterworth Charity

Above: A set of three Stamps to celebrate the tradition.  Left – The vicar, followed by the choir, walks from the doorway of St Bartholomew the Great and processes into the churchyard.  Centre – Hot cross buns are handed round to the visitors who have assembled in the churchyard to witness the ceremony.  Right – A photograph, taken in the 1920s, of a widow picking up her ‘sixpence’ from the low-level tombstone in the churchyard. The stone is now used as a low ‘table’ on which to place the basket of buns.

The Stamps

The wonderful thing about email is that your message is transferred to your friend or colleague almost instantly and, of course, without going to the trouble of adding a stamp!
Just suppose you needed to put a stamp on your email!  These stamps have been generated, just for fun, as a ‘commemorative issue’ to provide a way of celebrating this famous event.

History of the Event

Due to the will of a Joshua Butterworth, in 1877, the sum of 22 Pounds and ten shillings (£22.50) was invested in perpetuity. It was intended to produce an income of 12 shillings and 4 pence (about 62p) per year. Ten shillings (50p) was to be given to 20 poor widows, meaning each of them was to receive sixpence (about 2p) each. The remaining 2 shillings and 4 pence (about 10p) was to be spent on hot cross buns which were to be given to the children of the parish. There had been a tradition of giving money in this way before this date but Butterworth intended that his will would ensure its continuance annually for ever.

By 1950 the diminution in population meant that only nine widows qualified to claim their ‘sixpence’. In 1973 (two years after Britain introduced decimal coinage) no widows came forward to receive their sixpences. It was the first time that this had happened in the history of the event.

The Event Today

The tradition is held outside, in the churchyard whenever possible. If the morning is very wet, the proceedings take place inside the church. After a short service, the vicar usually talks about the background to the event. On one occasion he recounted how he had been vicar for quite a few years and had never seen any money forthcoming from the will. He also pointed out that, even if he had received the money, the income would not have even paid for the cost of the hot cross buns, never mind providing money for any widow who might need financial assistance from the proceeds.

Having completed the ceremony, the buns are distributed to the assembled congregation to enjoy, before a more traditional Good Friday service takes place inside the church.


This entry was posted in /City-Smithfield. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.