British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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264                                     may day.                              [May. i.
occasion was called the steward. At the meeting in 1698, Mr. John Panther, being in that office, proposed to make a collection for binding out as apprentices the children of poor persons having a legal settlement. This was readily acceded to, and it was resolved that the minister of the parish, and such gentlemen as had served the office of steward, and should afterwards serve it, should be governors. This excellent plan has been followed ever since: the members for the borough are always invited to the feast, and a liberal col­lection is made. By means of donations and good management on the part of the governors a considerable sum has been invested in the public funds. These boys are apprenticed annually, and if so many are not found in St. Thomas's parish, the stewards in rotation may each appoint one from any other parish.—Brayley, History of Surrey, 1841, vol. v. p. 399.
In very early times May-day was celebrated with great spirit in the town of Eye; young people going out at sunrise and returning with large boughs and branches of trees, with which they adorned the fronts of the houses. About three hundred years ago the Corporation possessed certain wood­lands, called the common woods, whither the people used to go and cut the boughs, until at length they did so much damage that the practice was prohibited. A few years ago here and there a solitary may-bough graced a house, but they have now ceased to appear altogether. A garland or two carried by little children, and the chimney-sweepers in their ivy-leaves, representing * Jack of May," are the only relics of these May-day sports, so characteristic of merry England in former times.—Hollo way, Hist, of Rye, 1847, p. 608.
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