University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The History Collection

Page View

Chambers, Robert, 1802-1871 / Chambers's book of days, a miscellany of popular antiquities in connection with the calendar, including anecdote, biography & history, curiosities of literature and oddities of human life and character
Vol. I (1879)

May,   pp. [unnumbered]-714 PDF (97.6 MB)

Page 573

MAY                                 MAY-DAY.
been rather a dull office, but doubtless to the
female heart had its compensations.  In our
country, the enthronization of the May Queen
has been longer obsolete than even the May-
pole, but it will be found that the custom
still survives in France. The only relic of the
custom now surviving is to be found among the
children of a few out-lying places, who, on May.
day, go about with a finely-dressed doll, which
they call the Lady of the May, and with a few
small semblances of May-poles, modestly pre-
senting these objects to the gentlefolks they
meet, as a claim for halfpence, to be employed in
purchasing sweetmeats. Our artist has given a
very pretty picture of this infantine represen-
tation of the ancient festival.
In London there are, and have long been, a
few forms of May-day festivity in a great
measure peculiar. The day is still marked by a
celebration, well known to every resident in the
metropolis, in which the chimney-sweeps play
the sole part. What we usually see is a small
band. composed of two or three men in fantastic
dresses, one smartly dressed female glittering
with spangles, and a strange figure called Jack-
in-the-green, being a man concealed within a tall
frame of herbs and flowers, decorated with a
flag at top. All of these figures or persons stop
here and there in the course of their rounds, and
dance to the music of a drum and fife, expecting
of course to be remunerated by halfpence from
the onlookers.  It is now generally a rather
poor show, and does not attract much regard;
but many persons who have a love for old sports
and day-observances, can never see the little
troop without a feeling of interest, or allow it to
pass without a silver remembrance. How this
black profession should have been the last sus-
tainers of the old rites of May-day in the
metropolis does not appear.
At no very remote time-certainly within the
present century-there was a somewhat similar
demonstration from   the milk-maids.   In the
course of the morning the eyes of the house-
holders would be greeted with the sight of a
milch-cow, all garlanded with flowers, led along
by a small group of dairy-women, who, in light
and fantastic dresses, and with beads wreathed
in flowers, would dance around the animal to
the sound of a violin or clarinet. At an earlier
time, there was a curious addition to this choral
troop, in the form of a man bearing a frame
w hich covered the whole upper half of his person,
on which were hung a cluster of silver flagons
and dishes, each set in a bed of flowers. With
this extraordinary burden, the legs, which alone
were seen, would join in the dance,-rather
clumsily, as might be expected, but much to the
mirth of the spectators,-while the strange pile
above floated and flaunted about with an air of
heavy decorum, that added not a little to the
general amusement. We are introduced to the
prose of this old custom, when we are informed
that the silver articles were regularly lent out
for the purpose at so much an hour by pawn-
brokers, and that one set would serve for a
succession of groups of milk-maids during the
day. In Vauxhall, there used to be a picture

Go up to Top of Page