May Day in ‘Merrie England’ has been much written about, usually in floridly romantic terms though in reality it was not so much pretty and graceful, as boisterous, drunken and licentious. Indeed it was considered so abandoned by the Puritans that they denounced it roundly. The Victorians finally turned it into the chaste and respectable celebration seen on a thousand village greens today.
Thus began the chapter on May in Brian’s book “Traditional Customs of Great Britain”. Yes, May and May Day in particular make up such a substantial part of the folk calendar that it warranted a whole chapter to itself. The calendar lists nine specific customs that happen on the first (or the first Sunday or Bank Holiday Monday) and that does not include all the may poles, morris dancers and village green stuff!
May Morning, Magdalen College, Oxford
Padstow Hobby Horse, Cornwall
Minehead Hobby Horse, Somerset
Charlton-on-Otmoor Garland Ceremony, Oxfordshire
Royal May Day, Knutsford, Cheshire (first Saturday)
Visiting ‘Clootie’ Wells, Munlochy Bay, Inverness (first Sunday)
Ickwell May Day, Bedfordshire (Bank Holiday Monday)
Whitby Penny Hedge, North Yorkshire (Ascension Day)
Well Dressing all over Derbyshire (Ascension Day)
Bounds Beating, everywhere, but notably the Tower of London and Oxford (Ascension Day)
Rush Sunday, St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol (Whit Sunday)
Dicing for Bibles, St Ives, Cambridgeshire (Whit Monday)
Picture: The Hobby Horse, and musicians, in Higher Town early on May Morning in Minehead, Somerset, England, 1965