On Good Friday each year the spotlight falls on The Widow's Son pub in E3, home of the famous bun-hangingceremony. 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.
Until last year. New owners Dalco Developments turfed out the landlady a few days before Easter, leaving the old boozer empty on the crucial day, and the bun ceremony had to be hastily rearranged to a pub in Limehouse. Here's my full report from last March.
In 2016 our local heritage stuttered, but this Good Friday the news is rather better. The Widow's Son reopened last November with fresh tenants behind the bar, and they've confirmed that the traditional bun-hanging will be returning today. Well, almost traditional anyway.
If you know the pub of old you won't spot much of a difference from outside on Devons Road, save the ongoing encroachment of an enormous housing estate at the rear - Merchants Walk. Look a little closer and you'll spot chalkboards outside, and they give more of a hint as to what's happened within. The pub now offers "Burger + Pint" for a tenner on Mondays and Tuesdays, and promises "we mince our own beef!", whereas previously pork scratchings would have been the culinary highlight. They also do tapas, and host live music on a Friday evening, and don't open until 5pm (or 4pm at the weekend) because their clientele has changed. This Google review from Will Burns sums up the new vibe succinctly, I think.
Peer inside and yes, the interior is now liberally scattered with small circular tables topped with menus and candles, and there might just be tubs of homemade salsa on the bar. A further chalkboard promises "Wakad cocktails" and "Lovley Food", whatever the former is, plus details of the pub's social media presence on "insta" and "faceyb". Unfortunately the pub's website is fresh out of the box and contains no relevant information whatsoever, but there is a poster in the window about Good Friday... except oh, it's half-fallen down.
The Widow's Son is proud to have the Hot Cross Bun ceremony 2017, this Good Friday 14th April from 12am.
Complimentary buns, Buffet, the return of DJ Justin Vella the Story Tella. Come & raise a rum with us for the old girl.
The post, but not the poster, confirms that sailors from HMS President are coming down to put the new 2017 bun in the net, which means the old tradition is back on track. The presence of a live DJ might sound odd, but Romford's Justin Vella has played the Widow's Son a number of times before, spinning tracks with a family-friendly vibe rather than hosting any leftfield house party. Nevertheless, any old sea dog returning to The Widow's Son this Easter is in for a culture shock.
Before anyone scoffs at the modern upgrade, remember that this corner of East London is changing fast. New flats are going up at a rate of knots, and their young cosmopolitan tenants are perfectly happy with burgers, cocktails and live music. Bow's grey-haired ale drinkers either died out or moved away, and the replacement Bangladeshi community never drank alcohol anyway. The vast majority of the old pubs around here have closed and been sold off as apartments, so it's genuinely amazing that any drinking establishment from the Victorian era should survive. The Widow's Son was dead, but is born again, which is E3's little Easter miracle.
That said, if you're the kind of pedantic drinker who's already thinking "I see they said 12am, I wonder if perchance they meant noon?", I very much doubt that the updated bun ceremony is for you.