HMS President visits Pub for Hot Cross Bun Tradition

There is a pub in East London called 'The Widow's Son'. It's in Bow, close to one of the DLR stations. I'd never been to it before, but had heard this week that it is home to a traditional ceremony which takes place on Good Friday of each year; apparently, the tradition involved a sailor being invited to add a hot cross bun to a large hammock-like net full of buns from previous years which hangs right above the bar and the presentation of a sailor's cap to the pub.

A widow, living in Bow in the early nineteenth century, was expecting her son, a sailor, to return home; he had promised to be back by Easter. She duly baked a hot cross bun for him.

He never came.

She continued to make a hot cross bun for him every Good Friday from then on, just in case ........ One by one, the buns built up and eventually she started to hang them from a beam in her cottage, which became known as 'The Bun House'. When she died, in the 1840s, a pub was built where her cottage had stood; it was decided that it should be called 'The Widow's Son', so that he would recognise it if he ever came home again.

Each year, the landlord/lady invites a sailor to add another hot cross bun to the net in memory of the widow and her act of hope for her son's return. I was keen to know more and so, curiosity getting the better of me, decided to go along to the pub and see for myself. I duly turned up and, lining up a few sweet sherries on the bar, sat and waited .........

I was not disappointed. In one fell swoop, the pub turned into Matelot Central with the appearance at the pub door of a substantial contingent from HMS President; 20 of them, all told, ranging from AB to Commander, 15 Ratings (3 New Entries), 5 Officers and belonging to a broad spread of branches. As I chatted to them during the afternoon, I discovered that some were old hands when it came to the Hot Cross Bun Ceremony; one LS hadn't missed one for the last 10 years; others, straight out of HMS Raleigh, were there for the very first time.

This year's event was organised by 2010's 'Bunno', AB Guy Townsley; he had arranged for a superb buffet and everyone was kept well fed and watered as they waited for 3 pm, when the Ceremony was to begin. The in-house singer/DJ had made a special effort to add a maritime flavour to the proceedings, with a rendition of 'Sailing' followed by a selection of tracks including 'In the Navy' by the Village People (got a few feet tapping) and 'Dancing with the Captain' by Paul Nicholas (mmm, perhaps not so many); I thought at one point that I was about to see a mass demonstration of the matelot shuffle but was sadly disappointed. Later on, though, after the Ceremony of the Bun itself, the rum started to flow and I saw some fairly energetic booty shaking going on ............

As the clock ticked towards 3 pm and Bun Time, The Reverend Tom Pyke led the pub in prayer; the gathering remembered all those currently serving and Forces' personnel injured or disabled in the course of their duties. Later on, a collection was made for the charity SSAFA.

Silence was observed throughout the prayers; well, observed by the humans present - not by a mobile phone, which suddenly trilled the theme tune to 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' as Fr. Tom spoke ........

3 pm came and this year's 'Bun Hoister' stepped forward; the sailor chosen to carry out the task is either the youngest or most junior member of HMS President; this year's 'Hoister' happened to be both, in the guise of AB2 Christian Rawling. He reached for his bun ........... and, to loud cheers, was lifted up by the Hoisting Party so that he could reach the net and 2010's bun was duly added to its predecessors. I took a closer look at the bun net later on; I could clearly see the newest one; each bun has the year of its donation baked into it, so this year's has the numbers 2010 on its top; some of the older ones are, hmmm, on the black and mouldy side, but the ones from the most recent years still looked quite fresh. Wouldn't like to bite into one, though.

The rum was flowing as I packed up my notebook and made to leave, saying goodbye to Commander Peter Gracey (SM), who had been most kind, as had everyone from HMS President. My one regret, as I left, was that there was no coverage, as far as I could see, by the local press. While not everyone might be interested in the Royal Navy participating in a traditional Hot Cross Bun Ceremony on Good Friday, it would have been a suitable opportunity to include something in the article about the role of the Royal Navy in the wider world and, in this particular case, the extent to which the RNR is involved in fulfilling that role.

Maybe next year.
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Lantern Swinger
Also a Londoner and have never came across this, have thought about joining the unit and have been to a few open/display days, great bunch!

Also agree with Stix, just call them they are really nice at NN.


Lantern Swinger
Dep Ed likes the tale so it looks like there'll be some hot cross bun related tomfoolery in our June edition...
I have lived in this area for the last 5 years and this pub is within 10 minutes walk from home, and had never heard/read/seen any mention of this before. I will be making a trip to sample the wares, strictly for research purposes..............

The nearest DLR station is in fact Devons Road, a mere 2-3 minutes walk away
This ceremony was attended each year by the ships company members from HMS St Vincent (Commcen Whitehall); it was one of the 'standing engagements' for that establishment. As I recall articles have appeared at infrequent times in local papers, London News and of course Navy News depending upon whatever else was in the 'news' at the time.


Lantern Swinger
This ceremony was attended each year by the ships company members from HMS St Vincent (Commcen Whitehall); it was one of the 'standing engagements' for that establishment. As I recall articles have appeared at infrequent times in local papers, London News and of course Navy News depending upon whatever else was in the 'news' at the time.

Yep, was happening as late as '88 when CCWH was still a big place with loads on a watch! Didn't go myself but remember seeing it in the dockyard dandy a few months after I went on draft, back at sea and jealous as f**k!

Drink played a major (the only!) part at COMMCEN Whitehall. Lodging allowance, being single, Jenny Wrens in large numbers , rent-a-mob (the entire watch) available for p*ss ups after every day watch and an all dayer on the middle day off, good days now sadly gone!

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