British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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218                                      may eve.                         [April 30.
symbolical meaning, as significant, if not always as compli­mentary, as " the Language of Flowers." Thus "a thorn" implies " scorn ;" " wicken " (the mountain ash), " my dear chicken;" "a bramble," for one who likes to ramble, &c. Much ill-feeling is at times engendered by this custom. —Harland and Wiikinson, Lancashire Folk Lore, 1867, p. 239; see N. & Q. 1st S. vol. v. p. 580; 4th S. vol. vii. p. 525.
While reading one evening towards the close of April 1861, says a writer in the Book of Days (vol. i. p. 546), I was on a sudden aware of a party of waits or carollers who had taken their stand on the lawn in my garden,* and were serenading the family with a song. There were four singers, accompanied by a flute and a clarionet, and together they discoursed most simple and rustic music. I was at a loss to divine the occasion of this loyal custom, seeing the time was not within any of the great festivals, Easter, May-day, or Whitsuntide. Inquiry resulted in my obtaining from an old "Mayer" the words of two songs, called by the singers themselves " May Songs," though the rule and custom are that they must be sung before the 1st of May. My chief infor­mant, an elderly man named Job Knight, tells me that he went out a May-singing for about fourteen years, but has now left it off. He says that the Mayers usually commence their singing-rounds about the middle of April, though some parties start as early as the beginning of that month. The singing invariably ceases on the evening of the 30th of April. Job says he can remember the custom for about thirty years, and he never heard any other than the two songs which follow. These are usually sung, he says, by five or six men, with a fiddle or flute and clarionet accompaniment. The songs are verbally as recited by Job Knight, the first of which leaves marks of some antiquity, both in construction and phraseology. There is its double refrain—the second and fourth lines in every stanza—which both musically and poetically are far superior to the others. Its quaint picture of manners, the worshipful master of the house in his chain of gold, the mistress with gold along her breast, &c, the phrases" house and harbour," %i riches and store,"—all seem to
* In the hamlet of Swinton, township of Worsley, parish of Ecclea.
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