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Widow's Son Bun Ceremony


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Hanging from the ceiling of the Widow's Son pub in East London is a bundle of about 200 dust-covered, shrivelling hot cross buns. Every year, on Good Friday, a sailor adds another. The story is that a widow's house previously stood on the site. Expecting her sailor son home one Easter, she naturally baked him a hot cross bun but, unfortunately, he did not return. The widow lived in hope and next year made another bun, and so on. The house became famous for its collection of buns, and when the pub was built on the same site it was naturally called the Widow's Son and the custom continued. It was commonly believed that bread or buns baked on Good Friday would never grow mouldy and had a marked medicinal value, and it was also not unknown for such items to be hung up. F. K. Robinson, for example, in his Glossary of Words Used in the Neighbourhood of Whitby (1876), writes of seeing Good Friday biscuits with holes in the centre, hanging from the ceiling, and this is likely to be the origin of the custom, to explain which the story was later concocted. The Widow's Son custom still continues, although the official involvement of the Royal Navy in recent years (because it was getting difficult to find a sailor) has brought it more of an air of the conscious publicity stunt than it used to have.

Kightly, 1986: 235;Shuel, 1985: 16;E. B. H., London Lore 1:2 (1978), 15–16.


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