British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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232                                      may DAY.                              [May I.
bodice, looking upon one; she seemed a mighty pretty creature,''
In a set of prints called the Tempest Cryes of London, one is called the Merry Milkmaid, whose proper name was Kate Smith. She is dancing with her milk-pail on her head, decorated with silver cups, tankards, and salvers borrowed for the purpose, and tied together with ribbons, and orna­mented with flowers. Misson, too, in his Observations on his Travels in England, alludes to this custom. He says: On the 1st of May, and the five and six days following, all the pretty young country girls that serve the town with milk * dress themselves up very neatly, and borrow abundance of silver plate, whereof they make a pyramid, which they adorn with ribbons and flowers, and carry upon their heads instead of their common milk-pails. In this equipage, accompanied by some of their fellow milkmaids and a bag-pipe or fiddle, they go from door to door, dancing before the houses of their customers, in the midst of boys and girls that follow them in troops, and everybody gives them something.— OzelTs Translation, 8vo, 1719, p. 307.
In Bead's Weekly Times, May 5th, 1733, occurs the fol­lowing :—On May-day the milk-maids who serve the Court danced minuets and rigadoons before the Royal family, at St. James's House, with great applause.
The following lines descriptive of the milkmaid's garland are taken from Every Day Book, vol. i. pp. 569, 570 :—
" In London thirty years ago,
When pretty milkmaids went about, It was a goodly sight to see
Their May-day pageant all drawn out. Themselves in comely colours drest,
Their shining garland in the middle, A pipe and tabor on before,
Or else the foot-inspiring fiddle.
They stopt at houses where it was
Their custom to cry ' milk below!' And, while the music play'd, with smiles
JoinM hands and pointed toe to toe.
Thus they tripp'd on, till—from door to door The hop'd-for annusil present sent—
A signal came, to courtsey low, And at that door cease merriment.
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