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.                                      235
picturesque old bridge that stretches across the river from the quaint little city of Chester. I had already been carried back into former days by the antiquities of that venerable place, the examination of which is equal to turning over the pages of a black-letter volume, or gazing on the pictures in Froissart. The Maypole on the margin of that poetic stream completed the illusion. My fancy adorned it with wreaths of flowers, and peopled the green bank with all the dancing revelry of May-day.
In Cornwall this day is hailed by the juveniles as " dipping-day." On May-morning the children go out into the country and fetch home the flowering branches of the white-thorn, or boughs of the narrow-leaved elm, which has, just put forth its leaves, both of which are called " May." At a later hour all the boys of the village sally forth with their bucket, can, and syringe, or other instrument, and avail themselves of a licence which the season confers " to dip " or well nigh drown, without regard to person or circumstances, the passenger who has not the protection of a piece of " May " in his hat or button-hole. The sprig of the hawthorn or elm is probably held to be proof that the bearer has not failed to rise early " to do observance to a morn of May."—N.& Q. 1st S vol. xii. p. 297. Borlase, in his Natural History of Corn­wall, tells us that an ancient custom still retained by the Cornish is that of decking their doors and porches on the 1st of May with green sycamore and hawthorn boughs, and of planting trees, or rather stumps of trees, before their houses.
Bond, in his History of East and West Looe (1823, p. 38), says :—On May-day the boys dress their hats with flowers and hawthorn, and furnish themselves with bullocks' horns, in which sticks of about two feet long are fixed, and with these instruments filled with water they parade the streets all day, and dip all persons who pass them if they have not what is called May in their hats, that is, a sprig of hawthorn.
A writer also in Once a Week (Sept. 24th, 1870), speaking of certain Cornish customs, tells us that dipping was admitted by the boys of Looe to be very great fun, and a May-day
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