May in Particular
The First of May is MAY DAY
Here you can find information on May Day events and customs.
Cowslips - check with your local Wildlife Trust or English Nature office to find where best to see them in your area. One local name for the Cowslip is St Peter's Keys: "The nodding flowers also suggested the bunch of keys which were the badge of St Peter. One legend of northern Europe is that Peter let his keys drop when he was told that a duplicate key to Heaven had been made. Where the keys fell the Cowslip broke from the ground" Grigson, The Englishman's Flora. Do they have a local name in your area?
Bluebells - Nowhere else in the world will you find such bluebell woods as in England.
Fritillaries - Snakeshead Fritillaries at North Meadow National Nature Reserve, Cricklade, Wilts - 108 acres of hay meadow. At its peak, in mid April, one million blooms have been counted. It is on commonland watermeadows between the Rivers Thames and Churn and can be seen from footpaths around the edge of the meadow. The fritillaries are followed by other wild flowers in May and June. Contact Englush nature Wiltshire Team on +44(0)1380 726344.
Fritillary Sunday, St Bartholemew's Church, Ducklington, near Witney, Oxfordshire - 10 acre meadow near St Bartholemew's Church. The field is open from 11am and there is a plant stall and cream teas between 2 and 5pm. The Church also refers to the importance of the fritillary in carvings, a stained glass window and embroidery on the altar cloth and kneelers. Before WWII fritillary meadows were a common sight here bu the push for food production lead to the ploughing up of ancient meadows and land drainage. The last 10 acres were bought by a local family and are still farmed, though sympathetically to conserve the flower. The meadow is left between 1st March and 1st July to allow the fritillaries to flower and drop their seeds, then the crop of hay is taken and the field is grazed through until Christmas. Contact Edmund Strainge (+44(0)1993 772175) or read more.
Fox Fritillary Meadow Open Day, near Saxmundham, Suffolk - Fritillaries (around 300,000 of them) can be seen on the annual Open Day which is scheduled between late April and May when the flowers are at their best. Please call (01473 890089) for a date nearer that time - there is no access to the meadow other than on the Open Day. The meadow is part of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust Reserve, 2.5 hectares of wet meadow next to a tributary of the River Debden. Nearly all of the 18 fritillary meadows in Suffolk have disappeared since WWII through ploughing and land drainage. In early July after the flowers have dropped their seeds, a crop of hay is taken and the meadow is given over to sheep grazing which helps control the grasses that would smother the fritillaries. Contact +44(0)1473 890089.
Swifts and House Martins Return
Low Tide Day - on the Saturday in May with the lowest tide. Go down to the beach to explore the habitats and creatures normally hidden from view. Contact RORE (River Ocean Research & Education) for more information, and look at their web site for low tide listings.
Worm Charming Festival
The Big Apple Association
Seven parishes of the Much Marcle Ridge area organise 'Big Apple' weekends - one in Blossomtime in early May and one on or near October 21st - Apple Day - where there are displays of apples, cider making, orchard produce to eat and drink, orchard walks etc. Contact Jackie Denman on +44(0)1531 670544. Much Marcle has wassailing in January.
Maypole dancing at Slingsby Green, Yorkshire, in early May. Contact +44(0)1653 628135. More May Day Maypoles can be found here.
Furry Dance, Helston, Cornwall (8th May, the Feast Day of the Apparition of St Michael, unless it is a Sunday or Monday when it takes place on the previous Saturday). This is an ancient festival ('feur' or 'fer' is Cornish for a fair or jubilee) on the feast day of Helston's patron saint, and features a dignified procession and floral dance through the town which is decorated with the first greenery of spring, particularly bluebells and hazel. Contact +44(0)208 563 3035, or look at this web-site.
May Bank Holiday
Garland Day in Lewes, East Sussex on May Day Bank Holiday Monday. Children assemble in the castle garden at 10am, bedecked in flowers and foliage. Local Morris teams including the ladies' Knots of May perform (with their U shaped garlands above their heads), and then lead the children, not just wearing but also carrying garlands of flowers down the High Street to the Cliffe. All children receive a certificate for participating; there are some wonderfully inventive outfits; parents across town have to rise early on this day to strip lilac bushes, but then get to go to the pub for lunch and more Morris dancing. Contact Lewes TIC +44(0)1273 483448. Lewes also has bonfire night celebrations in November.
Maypole in Wellow, Notts - the maypole is topped by a golden weathervane and stands permanently on the village green.
Wray Fair Day. Wray, Lancaster TIC, +44(0)1524 32878.
Corby Pole Fair, Northants - held every 20 years (most recently on 6th May 2002), the name comes from the custom of barring local roads and exacting tolls to pass, anyone who refuses to pay or commits any other misdemeanor is carried through the fair on a pole (or chair, if female) and put in stocks.
Exmoor Pony Stallion Parade and Exmoor Pony Society AGM at Exford, Somerset : first Wednesday in May. Contact +44(0)1398 341490.
First weekend in May
Rochester Sweeps Festival on the first weekend in May originates from the Industrial Revolution when chimneys were swept by small children, or Climbing Boys. Chimney sweeps would perform in a colourful processions on May Day and collect money at a time of year when work was scarce. Jack-in-the Green was the central character in the procession and helped them to raise money without begging. After the Climbing Boys act of 1868 and the development of the chimney sweeps' brush climbing boys became redundant and the Sweeps' Day was no longer celebrated. In 1980 the Rochester Sweeps' Procession was revived. Now the Festival lasts for five days with music, ceremonies, exhibitions, dancing and the Sweeps' Procession. Rochester, Kent, Contact TIC +44(0)1634 843666. See other events in Rochester during July.
Knutsford Royal May Day, Cheshire (First Saturday in May). This custom derives from the eleventh century when King Cnut (the Canute of legend) is said to have emptied his shoe of sand when a wedding party went by, wished the couple happiness and as many children as there were grains of sand. Since then, sand drawings and grottos have been made outside the houses of brides during the May festival season. Pavement are decorated with patterns in coloured sand. A procession is followed by the crowning of the May Queen and Morris and country dancing. Contact Knutsford TIC, +44(0)1565 632611. Read more on the Virtual Knutsford web-site.
Hastings Jack in the Green Festival (first weekend in May with Jacks appearance on Monday) - the Jack is the symbol of the summer. There is debate on whether it represents a garland from the 17th century or if the tradition is much older. There are now around 1,500 participants, 10,000 watching the procession, and 5,000 attending the finale in the castle where the Jack is symbolically slain. Also live music and celebration over the weekend. Contact +44(0)1424 429154.
Bristol also has a Jack in the Green Festival each year with a lively procession through the city's streets accompanied by musicians and dancers. Jack, 9 ft tall and covered in greenery, is accompanied by two attendants, in green rags and vegetation, from the Arnolfini at the historic Harbourside at 10.30am to Horfield Common around 4pm. There he must die, to release the Spirit of Summer (always first Saturday in May). See the web-site for information, or contact +44(0)117 924 8168.
Deptford has a Jack-in-the-Green festival. See some photos on-line.
May Day celebrations at Lustleigh Community Orchard, Lustleigh, Devon on the first Saturday in May. Contact +44(0)1647 277496.
Malvern May Day Celebration Worcs, on the first Saturday in May. A grand procession of sculptures, costumes and artefacts made by schools and community groups winds its way through the streets on the side of the Malvern Hills to the Priory Park where further entertainments take place and stalls can be found. This event, started in 1993, now coincides with the decoration of springs and wells on and around the Malvern Hills organised by the Malvern Spa Association and Civic Society. A coach takes visitors to view the springs and wells decorated by local groups. Both events have attracted an increasing number of participants and spectators drawing upon local tradition and creativity. Contact Lesley Rhodes e-mail lesley [at] shiel289. freeserve. co. uk
Blossom Day, Cross Lanes Fruit Farm, Mapledurham, Berks - chance to see the blossom at its best on 60 varieties of apple and pear trees. Usually first weekend in May but call in early-mid April to check: +44(0)118 972 3167 or e-mail apples [at] crosslanesfruitfarm. co. uk
Spalding Flower Parade & Festival Weekend, South Holland, Lincs - tulips are grown here for bulb production and the flowerheads are removed to allow the bulbs to develop for sale. But rather than waste them, the flowers are used to decorate floats for the annual flower parade on the first weekend in May, established in 1959 by local growers. There are around 15 floats and up to a quarter of a million people attend. The parade is accompanied by marching bands, vintage bicycles and other entertainment. Floats are on display from 9am and the parade starts at 2pm on the Saturday. Contact +44(0)1775 724843 or look at their web-pages.
Urchfont Scarecrow Festival, Urchfont, Wilts - scarecrows are made with a new theme each year and placed around the village. A scarecrow trail map and quiz encourages visitors to walk around the village and guess the identity of each scarecrow to raise funds for village causes. Started in 1997. (May Bank Holiday weekend). Contact Jane Steadman, +44(0)1380 848201.
Cowslip Sunday was celebrated on the first Sunday in May 2002 in Winchester's wildflower meadows between St Catherine's Hill and the city. The meadowland, which this year were covered in around 50,000 cowslips, were restored to compensate for the loss of Twyford Down but are now themselves in danger of being developed as a park and ride car park. The Winchester Meadows Conservation Alliance, who organised the first Cowslip Sunday, are trying to protect these chalk grasslands and the water meadows of Winchester. They hope to hold Cowslip Sunday on the 1st Sunday in May each year - as long as the meadow is still there. Contact Keith Story on +44(0)1962 854880. See more events in Winchester during June and August.
'Rogationtide' comprises the three days prior to Ascension Day. It derives from the tradition of singing psalms and chanting prayers ('rogationes' in Latin) for 'God's protection on crops, beasts and people'. Read more about Rogationtide
Beating the Bounds. Rogation Sunday or May 1st. A custom dating from the 5th century when parishioners asked for God's blessing to protect their crops. During the Reformation walking the parish boundary became a more important part of the ceremony as it provided the community with a mental map which could be drawn on in disputes over boundaries. Celebrated with Ganging Beer and Rammalation biscuits.
International Dawn Chorus Day, on or near the first Sunday in May, intitiated by Birmingham & the Black Country Wildlife Trust. Dawn chorus walks organised nationwide. Contact +44(0)121 4541199 or look at this web-site for details.Cheese Rolling at Randwick, Glos (First Sunday in May) - this starts with a 10.30am church service where three Double Gloucesters are blessed and rolled anticlockwise around the church to ward off evil spirits. The cheese is then cut up and shared amongst bystanders to protect their fertility and ensure future generations of 'Runickers', or villagers. Contact Stan Giles, +44(0)1453 766782. Randwick Wap is later in the month.
Horse sale, Stow on the Wold, Glos. Two fairs, on the nearest Thursdays to 12th May and 24th October. The fairs were chartered in 1476 by King Edward IV, are held in fields between Stow and Maugesbury. Gypsies arrive from the Monday onwards, and there are stalls of crafts with the sales on the Thursday after which everyone packs up and moves on. The May fair is the larger of the two. Contact Stow on the Wold TIC +44(0)1451 831082. Find out more about English fairs at the Showmen's Guild web-site.
Whitby Penny Hedge, N.Yorks (Rogation Wednesday, Ascension Day eve) - a dozen or so stakes are driven into the beach near Boyes Staithe in the harbour and willows are woven into them to form a 'Penny (pennance) Hedge' that will withstand three high tides. The hedge is a vestige of a much longer fence called a Horngarth, probably intended to contain Whitby Abbey's cattle or to protect the Abbey's landing place on the sands. Whitby tenants were required to build the Horngarth annually as part of their rent to the Abbey. This may have originated in Saxon times.
Well Dressing - Bisley, Glos (Ascension Day) - started in 1863 by Rev'd Thomas Keeble after he restored the villages wells. A church service is followed by a procession to the wells which are decorated with garlands and wreaths in the shape of the Star of David, A.D. and the year, letters spelling 'Ascension' and five hoops. Read more about Well Dressing.
Horse Fair, Wickham, in mid-May. The main road through the town is closed for the purpose of the horse dealers, while a funfair occupies the main square. Find out more about English fairs at the Showmen's Guild web-site.
Second weekend in May
National Mills Weekend organised by the Mills section of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. Lots of mills are open with enthusiasts and experts on hand. Contact +44(0)207 456 0909.
Randwick Wap Saturday after first Sunday in May, Randwick, Gloucestershire. An ancient procession and festival dating from the Middle Ages. The procession is lead by the Mop Man who swishes his mop to clear the crowds. The Mayor and Queen are carried shoulder high and flanked by flag boys, cheese bearers and others. The mayor is dunked in the Mayor's Pool and then doused in spring water. The procession then moves on to Well Leaze where two double Gloucester cheeses are rolled down the hill. The festival follows with music, dancing, stalls and entertainments. Contact Stan Giles +44(0)1453 766782.
Maypole dancing around the permanent maypole at Welford-on-Avon, Warks (second or third Saturday in May)
Chestnut Sunday - On the second Sunday in May, in Bushy Park near Richmond upon Thames, Surrey, a magnificent avenue of horse chestnuts in full flower is celebrated by a parade and picnic. this tradition, which was popular in the Victorian and Edwardian times and attended by various members of the royal households of Europe, has been recently revived. There was no official event in 2003 but it is hoped that it will return in future years. Contact Kingston upon Thames Tourist Information Centre +44(0)208 547 5592.
Whit Monday Spring Bank Holiday
Hooden Horse, Charing, Kent - a display by the East Kent Morris Men on the Spring Bank Holiday in front of the Bishop's Castle followed by a meander up the street to the Wheel Inn, Westwell. At one time Invicta the Hooden Horse chased the vicar and the side danced on the church tower but the roof became unsafe. See this web-site for more information.
Hunting of the Earl of Rone, Combe Martin, Devon, on the Spring Bank Holiday - a revived hobby horse procession, preceeded by a chase through the woods in pursuit of the 'Earl', who when caught is carried facing backwards on a donkey to the beach and dumped into the sea. It is said that the Earl was an Irish refugee who arrived claiming to be the Earl of Tyrone. Banned in 1837 and revived in 1978. Contact Barbara Brown, Secretary of the Earl of Rone Council +44(0)1271 882366. See this web-site for more information.
Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling, Cooper's Hill, Brockworth, Gloucestershire - young people assemble at the top of the hill and chase the cheese down the hill. Whoever reaches the bottom first claims it. The custom originally ensured the villagers rights to graze sheep on the hill. The event has become so popular that Cooper's Hill can become quite overwhelmed.
Cuckoo Fair, Laughton, Sussex. Always on the second bank holiday weekend in May. Contact David Astiss +44(0)1323 811264
Jarrow Lecture - Annual lecture on Anglo Saxon topics given since 1958 to commemorate Bede's Day, in St Paul's Church, Jarrow, Co. Durham. The Venerable Bede was a monk and priest at the monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow in the late seventh and early 8th centuries and was perhaps the most influential writer and historian of his time in Western Europe. The lecture is held on the Friday nearest Bede's Day, May 25th. Contact - Lecture Secretary, Mrs B McAllister, +44(0)191 4216765, or for more information see the Bede's World web-site.
Arbor Day, Aston on Clun, Shropshire - the last sunday in May (the nearest Sunday to Oakapple Day). The re-enactment of a wedding around the Black Poplar in the village, a young tree replanted after the old tree fell in 1995. The event has taken place in Aston on Clun since before the 1700s and attracts many visitors. Contact Rose Evans +44(0)1588 660544. Read more on their web-site.
Medway Barge Sailing Match - magnificent barges tacking up and down the river under full sail. The Paddle Steamer 'Kingswear Castle' will be sailing amongst them taking passengers, beginning at Strood, Kent. Contact Paddle Steamer 'Kingswear Castle' +44(0)1634 827648.
Read about River Customs in May
Pinner Fair, Middlesex (Greater London). Originally granted to the Archbishop of canterbury in the 14th century to be held on the Wednesday after Whit Sunday. Nowadays held on the Wednesday following the Spring Bank Holiday, which means it can fall at the end of May or beginning of June. The funfair stands in the main streets of the town. Reputed to be the best - busiest! - one-day fair in England. Find out more about English fairs at the Showmen's Guild web-site.
Oak Apple Day Royal Oak Day, 29th May
The wearing of a sprig of oak commemorates Charles II's triumphant re-entry into London at the Restoration, and his hiding from the roundheads in the Boscobel Oak.
Oak Apple Day at Guildhall, Worcester - People dressed as the Worcester Militia meet the Mayor of Worcester at the Guildhall which is decked in oak leaves. Someone dressed as Charles II thanks the people of Worcester for their role in the war. The group then go to the Comanderie where they meet people throughout the day. It is said that if anyone is found not to be wearing a sprig of oak they can be stung by nettles! (Bank holiday Saturday nearest Oakapple Day, 29 May). Contact The Comanderie, +44(0)1905 361821. See another event in Worcester during March.
Castleton Garland Day, Derbyshire. Held on 29th May unless that is a Sunday, in which case it is held on Saturday 28th. Branches of oak, elm and sycamore are tied to the pinnacles of the church tower on the eve of Oakapple Day. On the day, flowers are collected, tied in bunches on a beehive shaped frame and a special posy called the Queen is put on top. The Garland King, who represents the Green Man, is covered down to the waist by the garland and rides on horseback with a procession through the town stopping for dancing outside six pubs. They eventually arrive at the May pole for more dancing. The May King then rides to the church where the garland is hauled to the top of the tower where it stays for a week. The ceremony ends with the placing of the Queen posy on the War Memorial and everyone joining the dancing. Contact Sheffield TIC, +44(0)114 221 1900, Mrs P Dale, +44(0)1433 20604.
Grovely Rights Day, Great Wishford, Wilts - In 1603 the villagers were granted the rights to collect wood from Grovely forest for all time. They confirm this by marching to the forest once a year. They return with large branches, chanting "Grovely, Grovely and all Grovely" and carrying a banner bearing the words "Grovely, Grovely and all Grovely. Unity is Strength!". At 2.00pm there is a procession and fete. Contact Salisbury TIC for more information +44 (0) 1722 334956.
Well Dressing in Derbyshire & neighbouring counties - May Day Holiday through to September. Wells are decorated with pictures often made of flower petals pressed into clay. As pure sources of water, the wells were venerated in order to propitiate the guardian spirits. This practise was originally banned by the church but many wells and springs were turned into christian holy wells and the custom continued. Contact Bakewell TIC, 01629 813227. Read more about well dressing.
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