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.
shire, is probably the most ancient on record. It is men­tioned in a charter by which the town of West Halton was granted to the Abbey of Cockersand, about the reign of King John. The pole, it appears, superseded a cross, and formed one of the landmarks which defined the boundaries, and must therefore have been a permanent and not an annual erection. The words of the charter are, " De Lostockmepull, ubi crux sita fuit recta linea in austro, usque ad crucem-super-le-Tunge."—Dugd., Monast. Anglic. 1830, vol. vi. p. ii. n. ii. p. 906; Med. AEvi Kalend. vol. i. p. 238.
Formerly it was customary in some parts of this county to change servants on May-day.—Time's Telescope, 1823, p. 118.
A peculiar rustic ceremony used annually to be observed at Horncastle towards the close of the last century. On the morning of May-day, when the young people of the neigh­bourhood assembled to partake in the amusements which ushered in the festival of the month, a train of youths col­lected themselves at a place called the May-bank. From thence with wands enwreathed with cowslips, they walked in procession to the maypole, situated to the west end of the town, and adorned on that morning with every variety in the gifts of Flora. Here, uniting in the wild joy of young en­thusiasm, they struck together their wands, and, scattering around the cowslips, testified their thankfulness for that bounty which, widely diffusing its riches, enabled them to return home rejoicing at the promises of the opening year.— Weir, Sketches of Horncastle.
Dr. Stukeley, in his Itinerarium Curiosum (1724, p. 29), alluding to this custom, says there is a maypole hill near Horncastle, where probably stood an Hermes in Roman times. The boys annually keep up the festival of the Floralia on May-day, making a procession to this hill with May-gads (as they call them) in their hands. This is a white willow wand, the bark peeled off, tied round with cowslips. At night they have a bonfire, and other merriment, which is really a sacrifice or religious festival.
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