Sunday 3 May 2009

May Day - 'going-a-maying' and the May Queen: part 3 of 4

Dear Mr Postman .. yesterday’s letter gave us some more of the background .. so today’s letter is about the May Queen ..

Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem “The May Queen” starts:

You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear;
To-morrow ’ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
Of all the glad New-year, mother, the maddest merriest day,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.

The third verse refers to’ knots of flowers’ and you’ll probably remember the nursery rhyme:

“Here we come gathering nuts and may,
Nuts and may, nuts and may;
Here we come gathering nuts and may
On a cold and frosty morning”

We all know that we cannot gather nuts in May, especially on a cold and frosty morning (which I hope have gone for a few months!) .. No-one told us that ‘nuts’ was probably a corruption of ‘knots’ and referred to the old custom of gathering knots of flowers on May Day!

May fairs have been going on in the UK for over a thousand years .. one of the most celebrated here is the Knutsford Royal May Day .. in 1887 the Prince and Princess of Wales bestowed the title ‘Royal’ on the May Day festivities.

There’s a peculiar May Day custom in Knutsford, Cheshire .. still observed today, of “sanding the streets”. The streets are decorated with coloured sands in patterns and pictures. The tradition has it that King Canute (d 1035), while fording the River Lily, threw sand from his shoes into the path of a wedding party, wishing the newly-weds as many children as the grains of sand at their feet. (Not sure I'd like this - rather too many ...?? especially today?! - what do you think?)

The custom can be traced to the late 1600s. Queen Victoria, when she was still a Princess, recorded in her journal of 1832 “we arrived at Knutsford, where we were most civilly received, the streets being sanded in shapes which is peculiar to this town”

Knutsford also has an exhibition of May Queen costumes dating back to 1887 .. and the one worn in 1887 is made of white plush velvet trimmed with lace and satin ribbons. The crown decorated with costume jewels lined with blue velvet with ecclesiastical braid and trimmed with ermine: see picture.

KATIE Smith (see above) was crowned at this year's Knutsford Royal May Day after hundreds of people gathered for the annual procession. More than 500 children set off from Marshall's Yard at 2pm and were joined by the May Queen and her court at the Sessions House in Toft Road. The youngsters, decorated lorries, horse and drays and other participants then made their way along the streets to the Heath, where there’s dancing, a New Orleans Parade Band, an antique fire engine, the Leyland Morris Men and what is said to be largest funfair in the UK.
An interesting aspect .. I bet the 1887 costume displayed above was made in England & probably locally near Knutsford .. while the 2009 costumes were made in China, as they were considerably cheaper than if they'd been made here in the UK!

Thank you for visiting today Mr Postman .. it’s always kind of you to deliver our letter .. so my mother and I can have something to chat about and remember days gone by .. perhaps you can bring something about Morris Dancing and Jack-in-the-Green .. that sounds interesting ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Thankyou to the Knutsford Guardian newspaper for their information on this year's May Queen, and the wonderful picture of Katie Smith .. please see the link for more pictures of the 2009 event. The Knutsford Guardian also has an article on the May day costumes being shipped 5,000 miles from the Far East.


Liara Covert said...

Traditions can be viewed as important means to clarify stability and identity. Many women like the idea of being Queen at least for a day. Every woman forgets she is already loved and valued in ways that are immeasurable. Its not hoe people view you that matters but how you choose to love and accept yourself. Higher Forces love and support you through everything.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. many thanks for visiting .. I think or hope these are just fun together time for the family, friends and local community. I'm sure they'll find the way - as they go through life...
great to see you here ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

Hilary, thank you for sharing more about this lovely time of year in the UK. It sounds lovely indeed. Hope that your and your mother had a great May Day.
Dan and Deanna "Marketing unscrambled"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dan & Deanna .. thanks for visiting .. it just seems to get everyone going for the summer .. so we're now into the round of fetes, fairs, etc etc .. lovely long days.

Mum and I have had a quiet weekend .. when she's been awake I've been able to read to her .. she does like hearing her stories ..

Thank you - all the best
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Peter Baca said...

Hello Hilary,

Prior to reading your blog...I would have never known that May Day is so ingrained into English culture!

I suspect that weather maybe a factor...with Spring weather joyously received!

Thanks for your interesting post!

Pete Baca
The Car Enthusiast Online

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Pete .. everything links back .. it is so amazing .. I keep finding interesting links back May Day goes right back to pagan times .. pre Christianity ...

Definitely now .. the weather is v important .. though not today it's cold!! and wet ..

Thanks for visiting
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters