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.                                      255
village have the right of pasturing cows upon.* The pasture season commences on May-day, and on the evening pre­ceding a rail is put across the entrance to the pasture, which the cows must leap to get into. Much rivalry takes place on this occasion. The lads watch through the night and the dawning of May-day, the lasses with their cows being ready at the proper moment to see which cow shall leap the rail first into the meadow, and the cow which does this is led round the village in the afternoon, her horns decorated with ribbons, &c. Degradation only awaits the hindmost cow, she has to carry elder, nettles, and thistles as her badge, and the lass who milks her has to bear the gibes and jeers of the villagers.—Glossary, &c, p. 428.
At Morton-Pinkeney the following song is sung by the children on May-morning :—
" I have a little purse in my pocket, All fixed with a silver pin; And all that it wants is a more little silver To line it well within.
The clock strikes one, I. must be gone, -
Or else it will be day; Good morning to you, my pretty fair maid,
I wish you the merriment of May."—
Ibid. p. 426.
At Polebrook, on the last few days of April, the Queen of
May and her attendants gather what flowers they can from
the surrounding meadows, and call at the houses of the
principal inhabitants to beg flowers, the gift or the loan of
ribbons, handkerchiefs, dolls, &c, with which to form their
garland. This being arranged on hoops, the young maidens
assemble on May-morning, and carry it round the village,
preceded by a fiddler; and the following quaint song—
very similar to the one used at Hitchin, and thought from
its phraseology to have been written in the time of the
Puritans—is sung by the Queen and her company at the
different houses, and a gratuity is solicited.
" Kemember us poor mayers all, For now we do begin To lead our lives in righteousness, For fear we die in sin.
Vide Bridge's Hist, of Co. of Northampton, 1791, vol. ii. p. 468.
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