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The Widow's Son : 75 Devons Road, Bow E.3
In 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 symbolizes so neatly the dangers of the sea and the bond between sailors and those they leave behind.
A guide to Bow
The busy East End district of Bow was once a tiny village, surrounded by meadows. It was named after an arched bridge, constructed by royal order in 1110 after Henry I's wife Queen Matilda tumbled into the River Lea. The bridge gave access to the tide mills across the river, and one such complex - Three Mills - survives as a working museum.
The old bow-shaped bridge is now a multi-lane flyover, but modern life has not completely obliterated a colorful history. Roman Road Market, inaugurated around 1843, still pulls the crowds with its many clothing stalls and a traditional pie and mash shop. Meanwhile, the annual Green Goose Fair - banned in the 1800s over disorderly behavior - is remembered in the name of Fairfield Road. In this road, the match factory girls' strike of 1888 struck a blow for women's rights and trades unionism. And the legacy of suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, who worked extensively in Bow, lives on. Today's Bow is mainly residential with the traffic-island church of St Mary's at its centre. It may have lost its meadows, but the beautiful Victoria Park and Mile End Park, with its excellent sporting and leisure facilities are both nearby.
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