Sunday, May 02, 2010


Yesterday we celebrated May Day by attending a Jack-in-the-Green procession. I imagine you have no idea what that is, so let me give you some background information.

Jack-in-the-Green processions have their roots in the milkmaid May Day celebrations of the mid 17th century. At that time, milkmaids would go out with the utensils of their trade (cups, pots, spoons) decorated with garlands and piled into a pyramid, which they carried on their heads. Later on, other groups such as chimney sweeps also started taking advantage of May Day as an opportunity to collect money.

At some point during the 18th century, the separate garlands of flowers and leaves were transformed into a structure, like a large beehive, covered with foliage which was carried by a man and which became known as a Jack-in-the-Green.

By the 19th century, May Day had come to mean chimney sweeps with a Jack and music provided by drums, fiddles and whistles. However, by the end of the century, these celebrations had come to be considered too disorderly and were often suppressed by the police. Jacks became a rarity after the First World War.

A revival started in the 1970's and there are now two well-known Jack-in-the-Green celebrations in South East England, one in Rochester and another in Hastings. London has its own Jack-in-the-Green procession, organised by the Deptford Fowlers Troop. This is the one we attended.

The route we followed took us along the South Bank and over the Millennium Bridge to a pub opposite St Paul's Cathedral, where we stopped for a well-earned drink or three.

Along the way, we met a group of Morris Men (folk dancers) heading in the opposite direction. They kindly stopped to be photographed.

The man inside the Jack also came out when we reached the pub and posed for photos. I also took a short video showing him twirling to the music. The big structure in the background is St Paul's Cathedral.

Tradition says that as long as the drum can be heard, the rain will hold off. I took this photo shortly after the procession finished, so perhaps there is some truth in that belief. Funnily enough, it started raining an hour or so later - and hasn't stopped since.

The historical information for this post came from a booklet titled "Fowlers Troops and the Deptford Jack-in-the-Green: A history of an old London May Day tradition" by Sarah Crofts.


Puss-in-Boots said...

I have never heard of the Jack-in-the Green but it looks very colourful. I love watching Morris dancing...but haven't seen it for years.

Karen said...

The most interesting part of this (other than the fact that Jack dances better while wearing a beehive than I do in my socks) is how greatly traditions can evolve and change over time. It's almost nothing like the original celebration at this point.

HalfCrazy said...

Wow it's so great to know about the history! Now I'm very much informed, haha! I cam here with no idea about this, y'know! It's great to know how traditions and festivals can evolve over time! Thanks for sharing!

Per Stromsjo said...

I hope Jack got his drink as well.

So maybe this is where Jim Henson got the idea to create a certain character.

Shionge said...

Oh Wow, this is the first time I read about this and how interesting ;) Everyone is so friendly and smiling :D

ShadowFalcon said...

So that's what it was all about! I saw a few people - must of been later in the day and was very confused but the whole thing. Thank you