British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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260                                     may DAY.                              [May i.
Dr. Rimbault, in a communication to the Illustrated Lon­don News (May 17th, 1856), speaking of this custom, says:— In the year of our Lord God 1501, the "most Christian" King Henry VII. gave to St. Mary Magdalen College the advowsons of the churches of Slimbridge, county of Glou­cester, and Fyndon, county of Sussex, together with one acre of land in each parish. In gratitude for this benefaction, the college was accustomed, during the lifetime of their royal benefactor, to celebrate a service in honour of the Holy Trinity, with the collect still used on Trinity Sunday, and the prayer, " Almighty and everlasting God, we are taught by Thy Holy Word that the hearts of kings," &c.; and after the death of the king to commemorate him in the usual manner. The commemoration service ordered in the time of Queen Elizabeth is still performed on the 1st of May, and the Latin hymn in honour of the Holy Trinity, which continues to be sung on the tower at sun-rising, has evidently refer­ence to the original service. The produce of the two acres above mentioned used to be distributed on the same day between the President and Fellows; it has however for many years been given up to supply the choristers with a festal entertainment in the college-hall.
It was also the custom at Oxford a generation ago for little boys to blow horns about the streets early on May-day, which they did for the purpose of " calling up the old maids." " I asked an aged inhabitant," says a correspondent of N. & Q. (4:th S. vol. vii. p. 430), "how long the horn-blowing had ceased, and he replied, ever since the Reform Bill came in; but that he remembered the time when the workhouse children were let out for May-day early in the morning with their horns and garlands, and a worthy alderman whom he named always kept open house on that day, and gave them a good dinner." " Calling up the old maids " no doubt refers to the practice of calling up the maids, whether old or young, to go a-maying. Hearne, in his preface to Robert of Gloucester's Chronicle, alluding to the custom (p. 18),says: —" 'Tis no wonder, therefore, that upon the jollities on the first day of May formerly the custom of blowing with, and drinking in, horns so much prevailed, which, though it be now generally disused, yet the custom of blowing them
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