WHAT did you do this May Day? Did you get up early to wash your face in the morning dew, and than go out wearing flowers in your hair to mingle with like-minded gentlefolks of this parish. Although, it's never safe to trust spring weather and make rash plans. For all that, it is said on "Old May Days," it was warm enough to spend the night out-of-doors in the greenwood. So to the woods young couples went gaily, eager to rejoice in the joys of spring and participate in the rites of the renewal of life.
May Day has from very ancient times been celebrated as an important spring festival, and despite the occasional lapses in the weather, by May 1st spring was supposed to have made its appearance. In their origins the celebrations were the spontaneous rejoicing over the end of winter's chill and the coming of the warmth of spring.
To our ancestors everything around them in the countryside was showing signs of growth and fertility, however as the season was laying the foundations for renewal and birth quite severe frosts were known to arrive in May to halt nature's progress.
"Ne'er cast a clout, till May is out," this was a rhyme often repeated to us by our parents, but as children we were never sure whether the May referred to was the month of May or the hawthorn blossom, which we called May. (Did you notice it blossomed in March this year?) In my case, grandma wouldn't allow us to pick and bring the hawthorn blossom indoors, because her version said it brought bad luck. Consequently, we continued to wear our winter woollies and similar footwear until at least towards the end of the month, which fulfilled the purpose of the saying in reminding us that spring was a fickle time.
This photograph of garlandwearing by little girls, and small boys dressed in white, (which was a somewhat precarious colour for boys) could have been one of the last pale surviving snapshots of a once much more popular Maytime celebration. This wonderful picture belonged to one of these charming little girls named Connie aged 3 years and 10 months when taken during May 1929. For this May Day celebration in the Sunday School room at St Jude's Church, Wolverhampton, the photographer was greeted by the sight of a group of under five's all dressed up in outfits of white. In the midst of the boys the most lovely little girls pose, their heads adorned with ribbons and flowers, enjoying every moment of sitting and looking pretty - but for how long once the capering began.
Miss Mary Stokes was instrumental in providing for the spiritual, moral, and material welfare of the expanding population of Wolverhampton. In doing so she funded the church of St Jude's by donating £2,000 for its upkeep, and also donated the land for a new school to be built. This proved to be a lastingly, satisfactory arrangement, as her influence among the young people of the parish was exercised in part through the resulting work of the Sunday school and the new day school. Although it was also an opportunity for some quite memorable gala days and fetes to be held at St Jude's, for the best people, ladies and gentlemen, as well as the working class, all dressed in their best, to gather and gossip as their children led a merry dance. Probably quite a lively and stirring scene, long since dead and gone.
One such huge fete was organised by teachers and church elders of St Jude's so that the merry people of Wolverhampton, and its considerable districts could go-a- Maying. Not content with a garlanding of their little heads and the Maypole the children of St Jude's school celebrated the arrival of spring by performing a "Floral Dance," as seen within this photograph they attracted crowds of parents and onlookers.
This May Day snapshot belonged to Ena Finnemore, one of the little ones leading a merry dance, and probably making a terrific hullabaloo with the rest of the other pupils as they performed on the school playing field. However, little girls were very well behaved in the twenties when this shot was captured. Only the girls are foremost in the dance, not a boy to be seen, this makes us suppose they only ventured out when the funfair began, with its stalls and side-shows.
Perhaps the villagers wouldn't want to walk to Wolverhampton several miles away, and so confined within such narrow limits, they had to find their pleasures in the countryside.
There were garland bearing children, and the May Queen was crowned with a crown of blossoming hawthorn, but the culture had its roots in the tradition of farming and an obsession with the weather. Consequently May inspired the unusual crop of agricultural proverbs. "Cold May and Windy, Barn filleth up finely."
Suppose it makes good sense, however, there was a warning of danger. "Who sows in May, gets little that way."
The May Queen survived in almost every place where May Day celebrations were held therefore it made me wonder about our local town of Lye when I discovered this picture postcard (see front page). A beautiful artist’s impression of a young lady bedecked in daisies had been chosen in Edwardian times, and sent to Miss May Porter at 9, Sheddings Lane, Lye, by her friend Daisy with this message "Do you like my May Queen."
Did Daisy think her friend was beautiful enough, and was so eligible for election as the May Queen for Lye; and of course they raised a "Maypole at Lye Cross" for a festive shindig.
May Day celebrations, with the emphasis on the tradition of the greenwood were enjoyed all over our country, but it was the Romans who called it the "festival of Floralia," which lasted for several days after April 28th. These celebrations became notorious as they tended to deteriorate into orgies performed publicly.
In this country, however, May 1st had a further significance in that it was one of the quarter days of the old pagan calendar.
This was the "Celtic Beltane, or Beallteinn," a word meaning "a good fire."
Flowers and fire were the chief feature of the ritual, whereby the people set fire to the gorse to burn out the witches, while the smoke blew over the fields and purified them.
Coupled with these ancient pagan associations was the fact that it was the season of fertility, hence the nights spent in the greenwood; even the maypole had a certain representation.
Consequently early Christian fathers, realising the futility of trying to convert people from their beliefs and customs attempted to transform the ancient pagan festivals into Christian ones; but they could never succeed with May Day, even though they were perfectly aware of the festival of the greenwood.
What an extraordinary burden for the austere Puritans.
As a result they caused Maypoles to be uprooted, no longer was the fairest maid of the village crowned with blossoms from the hawthorn, and no longer did the lads and lasses meet in the greenwood.
All in all they thought they had put a stop to the jollities - but did they? After the Restoration Maypoles were re-erected everywhere and the rites recommenced - appropriate of course! Now, alas, in the course of time the Maypole has again vanished.