It was an unusual sight: a herd of 20 goats being led by 20 prominent women, including Cherie Blair and Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, wife of deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, across the busy London Bridge to raise awareness about the plight of widows and their children on the International Widows Day.

Hundreds of curious Londoners and tourists watched as the “procession” slowly walked from one end of the bridge to the other with television crews and photographers in tow.

Goats were the real “stars” of the show and they appeared to enjoy their moment in London’s elusive sun.

“But why goats?” some wondered.

“Because they are a symbol of wealth and prosperity — and often a life-line for widows in South Asia and across Africa,” said a spokesperson for the Loomba Foundation which organised the event.

The walk, which took about 45 minutes to complete, echoed a medieval tradition when a “freeman”, someone who was not the property of a feudal lord, was allowed to take sheep across the London Bridge as part of his/her freedom to earn a living. The practice is now practically banned but, on rare occasions an exception is made to highlight a charitable cause.

The International Widows Day, now officially recognised by the UN, was launched in 2005 by the Loomba Foundation, established by Lord Raj Loomba in memory of his mother, Pushpa Wati, who was widowed at the age of 37.

“The Foundation aims to educate the children of poor widows throughout India and empower widows around the world.

Since the establishment of International Widows Day, it has educated 6,500 children of poor widows in India, and supported over 27,000 family members,” the organisers said in a statement.

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