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.                                      231
tune, considered by amateurs as more noisy than musical. Some of the larger parties are accompanied by a fiddle, a " Jack-in-the-Green," and a "Lord and lady of the May." The " Jack-in-the-Green" is a man concealed within a frame of wickerwork covered with leaves, flowers, &c.—■ Soane, New Curiosities of Literature, p. 261 ; Sports, Pastimes, and Customs of London, 1847, p. 34; See Every Day Book, vol. i. p. 583, vol. ii. p. 619.
Milkmaid's Dance.—On the first day of May, says a writer in the Spectator (vol. v.), " the ruddy milkmaid exerts her­self in a most sprightly manner under a pyramid of silver tankards, and, like the virgin Tarpeia, oppressed by the costly ornaments which her benefactors lay upon her." These decorations of silver cups, tankards, and salvers were borrowed for the purpose, and hung round the milk-pails, with the addition of flowers and ribbons, which the maidens carried upon their heads when they went to the houses of their customers, and danced in order to obtain a small gratuity from each of them. Of late years the plate, with the other decorations, was placed in a pyramidical form, and carried by two chairmen upon a wooden horse. The maidens walked before it, and performed the dance without any incumbrance. Sometimes in place of the silver tankards And salvers they substituted a cow. The animal had her horns gilt, and was nearly covered with ribbons of various colours, formed into bows and roses, and interspersed with green oaken leaves and bunches of flowers.—Strutt, Sports and Pastimes, 1801, b. iv. p. 266.*
Pepys in his Diary, May 1st, 1667, says, " To West­minster ; on the way meeting many milkmaids, with their garlands upon their pails, dancing with a fiddler before them, and saw pretty Nelly [Nell Gwynne] standing at her lodgings' door in Drury Lane in her smock sleeves and
* At Baslow, in the county of Derby, the festival of kit-dressing is, occasionally, observed. The kits or milk pails are fancifully and tastefully decorated with ribbons, and hung with festoons of flowers and ornaments of muslin and silk, and with gold and silver thread. The kits are carried on the heads of the young women of the village, who, attended by the young men and preceded by a band of music, parade the streets, and end the day's proceedings by a dance. Jour, of Arch. Assoc. 1852, vol. vii. p. 208.
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