Lunn, Sally (supp. fl. 1680x1800), supposed baker
by Matthew Kilburn

Lunn, Sally (supp. fl. 1680x1800), supposed baker, first appears as a historical figure in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1798, where a correspondent stated that ‘a certain sort of hot rolls, now, or not long ago, in vogue at Bath, were gratefully and emphatically styled “Sally Lunns”’ after their inventor (GM). By 1831 a more elaborate version of the story was being told:
The bun so fashionable, called the Sally Lunn, originated with a young woman of that name in Bath, about thirty years ago. She first cried them, in a basket with a white cloth over it, morning and evening. Dalmer, a respectable baker and musician, noticed her, bought her business, and made a song, and set it to music in behalf of ‘Sally Lunn’. This composition became the street favourite, barrows were made to distribute the nice cakes, Dalmer profited thereby, and retired; and to this day, the Sally Lunn cake, not unlike the hotcross bun in flavour, claims preeminence in all the cities in England. (Hone, 2.1561–2)
These two items appear to be the only evidence available for Sally Lunn's existence. Her bun is first mentioned in 1780 in a fashion that suggests it was already an established part of Bath life. The author of The Valetudinarian's Bath Guide wrote that his brother died suddenly ‘after drinking a large quantity of Bath Waters, and eating a hearty breakfast of spungy hot rolls, or Sally Luns’ (Thicknesse, 12). The waters, not the buns, were at fault. The bun remained part of the English tea throughout the nineteenth century and was mentioned alongside muffins and crumpets by Charles Dickens in The Chimes (1845). A recipe for the bun appeared in Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845), which gave the alternative spellings ‘solemena’ or ‘soel leme’. By the early twentieth century the term Sally Lunn was also being applied to different kinds of bread in North America. In 1954 the British food historian Dorothy Hartley, commenting on the 1831 story, wrote: ‘we do not dispute the existence of the cook, nor the baker, but the “cry” she yelled in good west-country French was “Solet Lune! Soleilune!”’ (Hartley, 512), representing the gold top and white base of the bun.

Whether a person or an accident of popular etymology, in the twentieth century Sally Lunn became an integral part of the folklore of Bath. By 1917 The Original Bath Guide was stating that at 4 North Parade Passage ‘Sally Lunn sold the tea cakes still known by her name’ (Lewis, 79), and that same house, ‘an ancient shop in Lilliput Alley’ (Sturge Cotterell, 14), was by the early 1930s marked on Bath corporation's Historic Map of Bath as Sally Lunn's house. A plaque was fixed to the wall of the house, asserting that Sally Lunn had arrived there in 1680, much earlier than might previously have been inferred, as a Huguenot refugee from France. The house, itself probably built in the mid-sixteenth century, was claimed to have been a coffee house where ‘Beau Nash, Ralph Allen and their friends came to their morning coffee and [where], no doubt, they would have had a Sally Lunn as well’ (Borsay, 141). At the end of the twentieth century the house was the home of a successful restaurant, serving a Sally Lunn bun with a variety of savoury and sweet toppings; its authenticity rested on the reported discovery of a secret recipe ‘in a panel above the fireplace’ in 1966 (Simmonds and Carter, 27). In this way Sally Lunn was used ‘to provide a tangible link, of place and taste, between the eighteenth century and the present’ (Borsay, 141) and demonstrated the power of the legend-making process in the twentieth-century British tourist economy.

MATTHEW KILBURN

Sources  

P. Borsay, The image of Georgian Bath, 1700–2000: towns, heritage and history (2000) · ‘Sally Lunn’, Oxford English dictionary, online edn (2000) · W. Hone, The Every-day Book and Table Book, 2 (1831), 1561–2 · D. Hartley, Food in England (1954) · GM, 1st ser., 68 (1798), 931 · P. Thicknesse, The valetudinarian's Bath guide, or, The means of obtaining long life and health, 2nd edn (1780), 12 · W. Lowndes, They came to Bath (1982) · T. Simmonds and M. Carter, This is Bath (1991) · H. Lewis, The original Bath guide (1917) · T. Sturge Cotterell, Historic map of Bath (1931) · ‘Sally Lunn's, 1680’, www.sallylunns.co.uk · ‘Gadsby's tavern Sally Lunn bread recipe’, www.whitington.com/wash99/gadbread.html


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Sally Lunn (1680x1800): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/55187