This Good Friday, Londoners will gather at The Queen’s Head in Limehouse to watch a sailor place a hot cross bun in a net hanging from the ceiling. The tradition also takes place at The Widow’s Son pub in Bromley-by-Bow, where a collection of dark, stale buns has accumulated over the years – they’re still swaying pendulously above the bar. The buns are baked by Mr Bunn’s Bakery, Chadwell Heath.
How did this bizarre custom begin?
It’s said that The Widow’s Son was built on the site of a poor widow’s cottage, whose son had gone to sea. He never came home again, but every year she made him a fresh bun just in case. Legend has it that buns baked on Good Friday never go mouldy; instead they would be hung from the rafters and grated into drinks as a tonic for stomach ailments. After the ceremony in Limehouse, why not stroll to The Widow’s Son and ask for some stale bun shavings in your pint.
Want more Easter weirdness?
Head to the churchyard of St Bartholomew-the-Great in Smithfield on Good Friday for the Ceremony of the Widow’s Sixpence. Since the seventeenth century, 21 sixpences have been put on a flat tombstone: widows can kneel and take one. In 1973 the eligibility criteria were relaxed, and now buns are doled out to children after the church’s Good Friday service.
Illustration by Stephen Appleby
Words by Henry Eliot and Matt Lloyd-Rose, co-authors of ‘Curiocity: In Pursuit of London'