Monday, 7 May 2012


The May blossom is out in these parts (though it's much too cold to cast any clouts) but Mr N and I are completely bemused about the precise whereabouts of May Day. The Occupy protesters in New York had no doubt about the date - we saw them on TV, on 5/1/2012.

But there wasn't much sign of a dance around a Maypole, let alone a political rally, anywhere near here on May 1st last week, so we hoped the first Sunday of the month, yesterday May 6th, might provide a traditional spectacle to liven things up. However the only event around was an arcane May festival with a Gaelic name, Beltane, at Thornborough Henge which, among other folksy things, involves burning hawthorn branches while a Green Man lurks in the bushes hoping for a glimpse of the May Queen - a bit scary, we think.

How we longed for a return to the time when (come what may) the first of the month was May Day. Milkmaids would dress in their finest clothes for this occasion...

...and dance around a Milkmaid's Garland, hoping to collect some pennies in return for their pretty display, as depicted in this painting by Francis Hayman circa 1740. You will note that the Milkmaid's Garland is a curious pyramid-shaped structure bedecked with polished metal domestic utensils; tankards, pans and silver plate, all finished off with flowers and ribbons. Some strong girls would even don this hefty headgear themselves.

The tradition of the Milkmaid's Garland and this seasonal busking faded into history about 200 years ago, but we still have the Queen of the May and her attendants, with some villages still boasting a Maypole for the traditional annual Ribbon Dance (click here for a very polished version).
Here is my mother's school May Day in 1930s Berkshire. Note the economy-style  Maypole - a gas-powered street lamp.
So here we are, it's May Bank Holiday today, the 7th of May! Surely this MUST be May Day, though there's nothing much happening around here apart from a beer festival at Ripon Cathedral. Aldborough has a lovely Maypole - let's go and see if the crowds are gathering...

Fantastic! The ribbons are ready for the dance - but look, there are no dancers and no celebratory crowds...

                           ... wait a minute, here is a sign.

Oh, so THAT'S when it is!



  1. Such a darling group photo but not many happy faces.Ha. Perhaps they were anxious for the fun to begin instead of posing for a photo.

    Love the old pictures of times gone by.