British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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May i.]                              may day.                                      229
beating all the way, and other sorts of musick; it was sup­posed to be so long that landsmen (as carpenters) could not possibly raise it; (Prince James, the Duke of York, Lord High Admiral of England, commanded twelve seamen off aboord to come and officiate the business, whereupon they came and brought their cables, pullies, and other tacklins, with six great anchors); after this was brought three crowns borne by three men bare-headed, and a streamer displaying all the way before them, drums beating, and other musick playing; numerous multitudes of people thronging the streets with great shouts and acclamations all day long. The maypole then being joyned together, the crown and cane with the King's arms richly gilded was placed on the head of it. This being done, the trumpets did sound, and in four hours space it was advanced upright, after which being established fast in the ground, six drums did beat, and the trumpets did sound; again great shouts and acclamations the people give that it did ring throughout all the Strand. After that came a morris-dance finely deckt, with purple scarfs in their half-shirts with a tabor, and pipe, the ancient musick, and danced round about the maypole, and after that danced the rounds of their liberty. Upon the top of this famous standard is likewise set up a royal purple streamer, about the middle of it is placed four crowns more, with the King's arms likewise ; there is also a garland set upon it of various colours of delicate rich favours, under which is to be placed three great Ian thorns, to remain for three honours; that is, one for Prince James, Duke of York, Lord High Admiral of England ; the other for the Vice-Admiral; and the third for the rear-Admiral : these are to give light in dark nights, and to continue so long as the pole stands, which will be a perpetual honour for seamen."—See The Town, Leigh Hunt (1859, p. 161).
The author of a pamphlet entitled The Way to Things by Words, and Words by Things, considers the maypole in a curious light. We gather from him, says Brand (Pop. Antiq. 1849, vol. i. p. 245), that our ancestors held an anniversary assembly on May-day, and that the column of May (whence our maypole) was the great standard of justice in the Ey-commons, or fields of May. Here it was the people, if they
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