British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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230
MAY DAY.
[May i.
saw cause, deposed or punished their governors, their barons, and their kings. The judge's bough or wand (now discontinued, and only faintly represented by a trifling nosegay), and the staff or rod of authority in the civil and in the military (for it was the mace of civil power, and the truncheon of the field-officers), are both derived from hence.
A mayor, he says, received his name from this May, in the sense of lawful power; the crown—a mark of dignity and symbol of power, like the mace and sceptre—was also taken from the May, being representative of the garland or crown, which when hung on the top of the May or pole, was the great signal for convening the people; the arches of it, which spring from the circlet and meet together at the mound or round bell, being necessarily so formed, to suspend it to the top of the pole. The word maypole, he observes, is a pleonasm; in French it is called singly Mai.
In front of the spot now occupied by St. Mary-le-Strand anciently stood a cross, at which, says Stow, " In the year 1294 and other times, the justices itinerant sat without London."
In the Br1sth Apollo (1708, vol. i.) a writer says: It was a custom among the ancient Britons, before converted to Christianity, to erect these maypoles, adorned with flowers, in honour of the goddess Flora.
Keysler, says Mr. Borlase, thinks that the custom of the maypole took its origin from the earnest desire of the people to see their king, who, seldom appearing at other times, made his procession at this time of year to the great assembly of the states held in the open air.—Pop. Antiq. 1849, vol. i. p. 246.
Chimneysweepers.—How or when the chimney-sweepers contrived to intrude their sooty persons into the company of the gay and graceful Flora upon her high festival does not appear. It is certain, however, that in London they have long observed the early days of May as an established holiday, on which occasion they parade the streets in parties, fantastically tricked out in tawdry finery, enriched with strips of gilt and various coloured papers, &c. With their faces chalked, and their shovels and brushes in hand, they caper the " Chimney-sweeper's Dance " to a well-known
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