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.                                      239
and " my lord" in the Sunday gear of her master. The tiring finished, " the pair " were seated on chairs or joint-stools, placed outside the cottage-door or in the porch, their bosoms ornamented with large bouquets of May flowers. They supported a hat, into which the contributions of the lookers-on were put. Before them, on a table were arranged a mug of ale, a drinking-horn, a pipe, a pair of spectacles, and sometimes a newspaper.
The observance of this usage was exclusively confined to the wives of the labouring poor resident in the town, who were amply compensated for their pains-taking by the con­tributions, which generally amounted to something consider­able. But these were not the only solicitors on May-day; the juveniles of Baldock constructed a garland of hoops transversed, decorated with flowers, ribbons, &c, affixed to the extremity of a staff, by which it was borne, similar to those at Northampton and Lynn.—Hone, The Tear Boole, 1838, p. 1593.
The following amusing account ot the manner in which May-day was formerly observed at Hitchin is given by a correspondent of Every Day Book, 1826, vol. i. p. 565 :
Soon after three o'clock in the morning a large party of the townspeople, and neighbouring labourers parade the town, singing the Mayer's Song. They carry in their hands large branches of May, and they affix a branch either upon or at the side of the doors of nearly every respectable house in the town. Where there are knockers they place their branches within the handles. The larger the branch is that is placed at the door the more honourable to the house, or rather to the servants of the house. If in the course of the year a servant has given offence to any of the mayers, then, instead of a branch of May, a branch of elder, with a bunch of nettles, is affixed to her door: this is considered a great disgrace, and the unfortunate subject of it is exposed to the jeers of her rivals. On May-morning, therefore, the girls look with some anxiety for their May-branch, and rise very early to ascertain their good or ill-fortune. The houses are all thus decorated by four o'clock in the morning. Through­out the day parties of these mayers are seen dancing and frolicking in various parts of the town. The group that I
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