Hot Cross Buns for the Widow’s son, LondonIn Bow in the East End of London there is a Victorian pub in Devons Road whose name – The Widow’s Son - evokes a sad story commemorated every Good Friday in what has become a little piece of naval tradition.
The pub was built in 1848 on the site formerly occupied by a poor widow’s cottage. Her only son was a sailor for whom she baked some hot cross buns, expecting him to return at or soon after Easter. There is an associated folk custom that the widow must have believed: this says that these buns if made on Good Friday will not deteriorate, but a glance at the net of ancient and blackened buns hanging from the pub ceiling gives the lie to that tale.
When the son failed to return she hung the buns from her ceiling, and repeated the action the next year and the next, continuing until her death.
Given the fame locally of the story, the pub built where her cottage had stood took the name The Widow’s Son, and to some locals it is also known as The Bun House.
Every Good Friday a Royal Navy sailor presents a new bun to the pub for inclusion in the net, though naval involvement is relatively recent. The custom has developed somewhat over the last few years, with sailors visiting on the bun day to pay their respects, sing a song or two, and drink to the lost mariner. A sailor’s hat is now presented to the pub as well as the bun.
As is so often the case, proof of the story is lacking, but you would have to have a hard heart to sneer at the tale that symbolises so neatly the dangers of the sea and the bond between sailors and those they leave behind
More British Folk Customs?