diamond geezer

 Friday, March 29, 2013

Every Good Friday, a pub not far from me tops London's list of Quirky Things To See At Easter. The pub is The Widow's Son in Bromley-by-Bow, and the reason for widespread interest is dangling buns. Legend has it that in the early 18th century a local sailor, having promised to return home at Easter, drowned at sea. His mother refused to accept the loss of her son and baked a hot cross bun for him, annually, until she died. The Widow's Son pub opened on the site of her cottage in 1848, and the bun-baking tradition has continued ever since. A net full of increasingly stale buns hangs from a beam over the bar, and each Good Friday a serving sailor comes along to drop another inside. It's a touching tale, although I doubt that any of the existing buns are widow-baked.

Here's the Widow's Son pub today, near the mini-roundabout on Devon's Road. It's nearly 3pm, which is the official bun-chucking time, and I've come along to experience this peculiar ceremony for myself. The pub is full, indeed very full. There are people crammed into every seat, there are people jammed up against the bar, and there are people milling around at all points inbetween. They're happy, smiling, expectant, beers in hand. Some look like they've travelled miles to see the spectacle, a few are clearly sailors in uniform, but most appear to be resolutely local. Somewhere in the melee is a table of sandwiches, sausage rolls and nibbles, because they're having a party here once the deed is done. "We're shutting the bar for a few minutes," cries the landlord, because adding this year's bun to the net involves somebody clambering up on top of it. A few of the smokers out the back stop puffing and move to the door, while those inside try not to finish off their existing pints too swiftly.

What spectacle awaits? I don't stay to find out. I'm not good at entering alcohol-serving locations I've never visited before, especially those that are jammed full of strangers. I've gathered all of the information above simply by walking past the front of the pub, which has conveniently large windows, and peering briefly inside. I don't feel able to push my way over the threshold, and hanging round on the pavement for several minutes would appear awkward and socially gauche. So I walk on, listening to the cheery hubbub within, and leave the celebrants to their annual tradition. Events probably turned out much as in 2011 when The Gentle Author visited, and recounted the whole tale much better than I. You might try visiting next year, assuming the pub's not been closed by then, but if you do, maybe I could tag along?

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