British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

Home Main Menu Order Support About Search

Share page  

Previous Contents Next

252                                      may day.                              [May i.
Every Day Book, 1826, vol. ii. p. 615 ; Glossary of North­amptonshire Words and Phrases, 1854, vol. ii. p. 421.
Clare, " the Peasant Poet" of Northampton, in one of his MS. ballads, describes the manner in which May-day is ob­served in his native tillage, Helpstone, near Peterborough, and the neighbourhood. His delightful ballad is printed by Miss Baker in her work already quoted (vol. ii. p. 423).
" How beautiful May and its morning comes in! The songs of the maidens, you hear them begin To sing the old bal'ads while cowslips they pull, "While the dew of the morning fills many pipes full.
The closes are spangled with cowslips like gold, Girls cram in their aprons what baskets can't hold; And still gather on to the heat of the day, Till force often throws the last handful away.
Then beneath an old hawthorn they sit, one and all,
And make the May-garlands, and round cuck a ball
Of cowslips and blossoms so showy and sweet,
And laugh when they think of the swains they shall meet.
Then to finish the garland they trudge away home, And beg from each garden the flowers then in bloom; Then beneath the old eldern, beside the old wall, They set out to make it, maid, misses and all.
The ribbons the ploughmen bought maids at the fair Are sure to be seen in a garland so fair; And dolls from the children they dress up and take. While children laugh loud at the show they will make.
Then they take round the garland to show at each door, With kerchief to hide the fine flowers cover'd o'er; At cottages also, when willing to pay, The maidens their much-admired garland display.
Then at duclc-under-water* adown the long road They run with their dresses all flying abroad ; And ribbons all colours, how sweet they appear! May seems to begin the life of the year.
* Duck-under-the-water. A game in which the players run, two and iwo, in rapid succession, under a handkerchief held up aloft by two persons standing apart with extended arms. Formerly in this northern part of Northamptonshire even married women on May-day played at this game under the garland, which was extended from chimney to chimney across the village street.—Glossary of Northamptonshire Words and Phrases, 1854, yoI. i. p. 204.
Previous Contents Next