May Day 1841 and other May Day celebrations

Bucks Herald, 15 May 1841

  The Commemoration of the 1st of May, assumed an air of importance unusual in this age of general contempt for ancient customs; but though

“The rude forefathers of the hamlet  leep,”

and the freezing influences of trading and commercial cupidity have given a widely different phrases to rural life, there are yet individuals existing, whose pure and expansive benevolence will reflect

“The light of other days,”

and kindle to a flame the expiring embers of village mirth and jollity. Upon this principle of veneration for the past, John Cowley, Esq., the ever-active projector of whatever is calculated to recreate the mind or promote the weal of the inhabitants, devoted his well-known taste in designing a most magnificent garland, with which the children perambulated the place, realizing a very handsome amount of donations from the admirers of the rustic and innocent scene.

Bucks Herald, 10 May 1856
  JUVENILE ENTERTAINMENTS.- The return of Mayday was joyously welcomed here by the children attending the Girls’ National School, as likewise by those attending the Infant and Lace Schools.  The boys’ schoolroom was appropriated to the use of the former, when between fifty and sixty children and a few of their friends – numbering together seventy-four – sat down to a bountiful supply of cake and tea. The day being cold for out-door pastime, they confined themselves to the boundaries of the school, where ample provision was made for their enjoyment, which consisted of swings and various other amusements.  Only one murmur was heard to escape their lips, viz., that similar holidays did not oftener take place.  Numerous visitors attended both schools, which greatly increased the buoyancy of the childrens’ spirits.  They broke up at eight o’clock, expressing themselves highly delighted with the afternoon’s entertainment.

Bicester Herald, 6 May 1881
  MAY DAY AT WINSLOW.- Monday the 2nd of May, was kept as May day by an unusually large number of children perambulating the streets with their garlands, and by the usual procession of sweeps in their tinsel finery.

Buckingham Advertiser, 1 May 1886 (written by Arthur Clear)
A May-day Song.
The following old song is sung by the children at Winslow and surrounding parishes on May-day, who go in large numbers from house to house carrying garlands of flowers and branches of may (whitethorn), for the purpose of gathering alms.  In some of the parishes the version slightly differs, and in others whole verses are entirely omitted, but as here given the song is tolerably complete. A.C.

A branch of may I have brought you,
  And at your door it stands,
It is but a sprout, but its well budded out
  By the work of our Lord’s hands.

Oh man, oh man, your life’s but a span,
  It vanisheth like a flower,
Its here to-day and is gone tomorrow,
  And is all cut down in an hour.

Awake, awake, good people all,
  Awake and you shall hear
How Christ our Saviour He died for all
  And he loved us all, most dear.

Then take the Bible in your hands
  And read its chapters through,
And when the day of judgement comes
  God will remember you.

Oh maid look out of your window high
  And view this may so fair,
It was cut down so late last night
  To protect from the morning air.

I have been wandering all the night,
  And part of this long day
But now returned back again,
  And brought you a bunch of may.

And now my song is almost done,
  I can no longer stay,
So God bless you all, both great and small,
  And I wish you a merry month of May.

Buckingham Advertiser, 7 May 1887
  May Day at Winslow.  There never was such a throng of children and so few flowers.  One feature was missing, that of the sweeps, who for the first time for many years did not go round,- they say it did not pay for the trouble and expense of dressing up.

Buckingham Advertiser, 14 May 1887
CONGREGATIONAL ENTERTAINMENT. - The last of the series of entertainments on behalf of the Building Fund, was held on old May day (Thursday), and took the form of a May festival, nearly all the pieces being appropriate.  The principal feature was novel and very pleasing one, a musical tableau, performed by about 40 children mostly selected from the Sunday school.  The characters were a May queen (Miss Midgley), three maids of honour, three pages, three courtiers, a guard of honour of 10 boys, (with Master Turnham for captain) buttercup, rosebud, violet, May flower, daisy and three butterflies, represented  by quite little girls and 12 larger girls who braided the May pole singing “a rose crown we braid for thee.”  The solo parts were mostly taken by Miss N. Wigley, as caller to the flowers.– The guards also had a musical march with solos for the captain and replied by the soldiers.  They were uniformed in red, with tall grenadier hats of black, and carried lances and shields, and the audience most enthusiastically cheered their appearance.  The May queen was seated on a floral throne, wore a pretty little floral crown and held a long gilded sceptre.  The little flower girls were most suitably attired and the butterflies were in brown with wings complete, altogether no more pleasing effect has been represented at an entertainment in this town, and it reflected great credit not only on those who had the drilling of the little ones, but also on the makers of the different dresses, etc., which must have taken much time and great pains.– Miss Wigley presided at the piano.  The programme also comprised glees and choruses, very fairly sung by the choir, the best of them being “Little Boy Blue,” and the “Laughing chorus.”  Piano and organ duets by Miss Wigley and Mr. Day, instrumental music which was bona fide enjoyed by all present.  Songs by Miss French, Miss R. White and Miss Wigley, all thoroughly appreciated by the audience. Duets by the Misses Baker (Buckingham), the Misses Perkins (Padbury), extremely well sung in each case.  Trio “Dame Durden,” by Messrs. Hurlstone, Pratt and Turnham, which the audience would fain have had repeated.- “A little farm well tilled,” by the same three, most amusing. “The wreath,” by Messrs Dunkley, Hurlstone and Riordan. A song “They all love Jack,” by Mr. Turnham, “Nursery Rhymes,” by children. And concluding with “Auld Lang Syne.”  There was a good attendance including a party of friends from Buckingham.  The refreshment department was very efficient, and the flower stalls (including pot plants) was very well patronised.

Buckingham Express, 1 June 1889
  A most novel and interesting outdoor festival was held at Winslow on Tuesday last, in the form of the old English ceremony of crowning the queen of the May.  Shortly after two o’clock the public began to gather on the Vicarage lawn, among them being the Vicar and the Rev. J. C. Colyer (curate), Rev. B. D. Aplin, Dr. Newham, Mr. M. D. [=M.S.] Lowndes, Mr. Warne, Mrs. Newcombe, Mrs. G. R. Greaves, Mrs. Tompkins (Leckhampstead), &c.  The Fenny Stratford volunteer band soon afterwards made its appearance, and then the Queen of the May (Miss Annie Williamson), with her three maids of honour, Misses Pitson, Varney, and Verney, bearing her train, and attended by her guards and page, issued from the girls’ school and took her away to the top of the lawn against the Vicarage, where the Queen was seated with her maids of honour, and with her attendants forming a semi-circle in the rear, and the guards in the foreground.  The spectacle presented was an unusually pretty one, the guards having quite a martial appearance, with red hats and sashes, and carrying long spears, while the Queen’s attendants were dressed in white and wore red, blue and pink sashes, and flower wreaths on their heads.  After singing “May is come,” the band accompanying, the page (Master Ray) advanced, carrying a floral crown on a cushion.  The Vicar then made a few remarks on the antiquity of this custom, which they were trying to resuscitate… He then placed the crown on the Queen’s head, the children gave three cheers for Queen Annie, and the band played “God save the Queen.”  The group was then photographed by Mr. Colyer (brother to Rev. J. C. Colyer), and a procession was formed, [including the main group, the band and 100 Sunday school children, under the care of their teachers. Next, they] all wended their way to the church, when a service of brief duration was conducted by the Vicar, and an address of a few minutes was given to the children by the Rev. J. C. Colyer.  Psalm 8 and several hymns were sung, Mr. Day presiding at the harmonium.  The church was well filled, [including] a good number of out-of-town people.  The service over, the procession was re-formed, and marched right through the town, to a field on the Redfields estate, where a miniature fair was in readiness.  A lofty May pole had been erected crowned with flowers, and an enclosure made, in which the Queen’s attendants danced round the pole, the Queen being seated at its foot, with her three maids.  The Rev. J. Colyer, to whom the credit of the festival is mainly due, superintended the dancing, which was remarkably pretty… Tea was provided for the school children in a tent, under the supervision of the Vicar and Mrs. Hamilton.  Preparations had been made for dancing and other sports, but unfortunately about six o’clock the rain came down heavily, and put a stop to them, otherwise everything promised favourably for an enjoyable evening.  The proceeds go towards the church restoration fund.


Children with May garlands
Celebrations of May Day carried on in Winslow well into the 20th century. This photo was taken in 1906.

Buckingham Express, 11 May 1912
  On Thursday and Friday of last week, and Tuesday of this, the children of the Congregational Sunday School (under the organisation of Mr. J. H. Turnham), gave a Musical Cantata entitled “The Queen of the Seasons” in the Congregational Schoolroom, at which there were good attendances on each occasion, and particularly so on the second night.  The idea of the piece was that on May Day the children are gathered in the woods for their festival. They dance round the Maypole and choose a Queen, Rose (Eunice Emerson). They go into the woods to pick flowers for the coronation, and while they are gone some discontented boys say they will have a King, and choose Bob (Douglas Emerson) as such, but the Fairy Silverring (Edith Willmore) comes on the scene and frightens them away.
  The coronation then takes place, after which the Queen is saluted by the seasons, Spring (Elsie Lambourne), Summer (Frances Langley), Autumn (Winnie Gates), and Winter (Bernard Thompson), and the whole winds up with a Thanksgiving Chorus.
  The piece was very taking, abounding with pretty scenes and with tasteful and melodious music, while the costumes were very attractive. Of the characters the Queen did her part both gracefully and dignified, while the Seasons and their attendants, G. Watson, F. Thompson, E. Askham, C. Holt, G. Knight, V. Townsend, and E. Lee sang well and looked nice.  The Fairy Silverrring was one of the principal characters and carried out her part remarkably well.  Other girls were Ethel Lee (Daisy), Nellie Taylor, Sylvia Gates, and Phillis Emerson.
  Of the boys, Douglas Emerson was a capital leader, while Harry White (Tom), and Albert Jackman (Jack), were good; Bernard Thompson made a jolly Winter, brimming over with fun; the other boys were R. Beckett, G. Knight, F. Saving, F. Stonell, J. Francis, and A. Askham, and they had one or two good scenes to themselves when they were drilled in a most military (?) style by Bob and Tom.
  Miss N. Watson kindly undertook the arduous duties of accompanist, and much credit is due to her and the other friends who trained the children so well. The proceeds were on behalf of the Organ Renovation Fund.

Children with maypole on edge of tennis court
The children of the Congregational Sunday School with the maypole, 1912. The photo appears to have been taken in the garden of The Cottage (5 Horn Street).

Buckingham Advertiser, 3 May 1930 (written by A.J. Clear)
  At any rate we are getting in to the “merry month of May” and looking back something over 60 years ago it brings back memories of the May days of that period, a day when no school was thought about, but every child had its bunch of flowers, big or little, and after they had paraded their own village most of the children flocked into Winslow, some of them (Great Horwood for instance) carrying an elaborate show of dolls and flowers.  Then I think Tinker’s End Feast was held on that day for all the sweeps and the bakers used to parade the town in the morning with their Jack-in-the-Green and Dicky Loveridge dressed up as a woman, their fiddler and old Mrs. Smith carrying the money box, and then at night, Tinker’s End wasn’t half lively. Read more.

Buckingham Advertiser, 10 May 1930 (written by A.J. Clear)
  May Day passed off very quietly in this district.  In some villages the school managers allowed the children about an hour off in the morning.  At Winslow the only sign of the old custom was the big gathering of children round the shop of Mr. H. J. Turnham who still gives them sweets on May Day.
  The old Maypole seems to have quite died out although you may occasionally hear the words of the song at a glee party:
                            “Come lasses and lads,
                             Take leave of your dads,
                             And away to the Maypole hie.”
  Perhaps it is because the seasons have changed too much to permit out-door sports. But I do not remember seeing a maypole since about 1886 when the Rev. H. A. Douglas Hamilton, then Vicar of Winslow had one on the Vicarage lawn. But the Maypole has practically died out for many years.

Buckingham Advertiser, 28 April 1934
One of the prettiest spring pictures in North Bucks is to be seen by those passing through Winslow High Street, an array of daffodils, in a long wave of glistening gold, paints the frontage of the Churchyard.  Soon, alas, they will prompt to recollection, Herrick's lines:
                                        “Fair daffodils we weep to see
                                         You haste away so soon!”

There will be folk dancing in Winslow Market Square at 6 p.m. on May Day evening.

See also:

Copyright 18 May, 2021