1st – May Day
This was the first day of summer in the Celtic calender. A day for ‘bringing in the May’.
People got up early and went into the woods bringing back hawthorn branches and flowers with which to decorate their horses, and crown the Queen of the May, and dance around the Maypole.
A fair maid who, the first of May
Goes to the fields at break of day
And washes in dew from the Hawthorn tree
Will ever after handsome be.
The first Sunday after Easter, it can fall anywhere between 29th March and 2nd May.
Another old festival, secular in nature but tied to Easter, is Hocktide, the Monday and Tuesday of the week following Easter week.
3rd – Rood Day
Also known as Crossmas or finding the cross.
The word Rood is of old English origin, meaning gallows, or cross, holy rood meaning Christ cross. This day commemorates the supposed discovery in AD326 by St Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, of the cross on which Christ was crucified.
The first Derby at Epsom was run today in 1780.
Epsom’s other claim to fame is its salts, discovered in 1618 by local farmer Henry Whicken. He set up a spa and Pepys and Nell Gwynn were soon among the Spa’s many customers. The water sas said to be good for the bowels.
A local saying at the time went:
Killed by drinking the Cheltenham waters;
If we had stuck to Epsom salts
We shouldn’t be lying in these here vaults.
Along with the other days between April 30th and May 8th is ‘Between the Beltanes’. Anyone born during this brief spell has power and influence over all living things.
If you are born between the Beltanes.”
On this day in 1760 Earl Ferrers was the first man to die on the new gallows in London.
Nine people at a time could be hung, which stood at Tyburn until 1783. The site, near Marble Arch, is marked with a plaque.
The original gallows had fallen down in 1678. The name Tyburn comes from ‘two burns’, being the junction of two now culverted streams.
On this day in 1851 Linus Yale patented his door lock.
One of the oldest surviving customs in England, the Helston Furry Dance, takes place today in Cornwall.
9th – Lemuralia
The Roman festival of the dead begins today. In some ways similar to our Halloween, ghosts walked the earth.
‘Lemures’ were the Roman spirits of the dead.
The Lemur was named after it due to its appearance and its ghoulish cry.
On this day in 1671 Thomas Blood, known as Colonel Blood, stole the Crown of England.
10th – Dotterel Day
Dotterel is a type of plover.
When dotterel do first appear
It shows that frost is very near
But when the dotterel do go
Then you may look for heavy snow.
11th – Old May Eve
Customary day for planting beans.
When ellum leaves are as big as a farden
‘Tis time to plant kidney beans in the garden.
12th – Old May Day
Traditional time for putting cattle out to pasture, and the start of the cheese making season.
St Pancras Day
Feast of St Pancras. St Pancras was a Roman boy martyred at the age of fourteen, and is one of the patrons of children. He is invoked against headaches, but is probably best known for the London railway station that bears his name.
Morris dancers much in demand for May games and Whitsun feasts.
A jolly old fellow in every degree.
He wears a top hat and he wears a pigtail
And all his delight is in drinking mulled ale.”
“In steps I, Prince of Paradise, black Morocco King
My sword and buckle by my side and through the woods I ring
And through the woods I ring,
I’m brave, lads, and that’s what makes us good
And through thy dearest body, George, I’ll draw thy precious blood.”
Feast day of St Dympna, an Irish princess an patron saint of the mentally ill.
19th – St Dunstan’s Day
St Dunstan (909-988) is the patron saint of goldsmiths, jewellers and locksmiths.
Henry VI died in 1471 aged 50, probably murdered. Henry founded Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge. During his lifetime he was imprisoned, deposed twice and suffered from a mental disorder, remaining a political pawn throughout his life.
Today at the Tower of London the Lilies and Roses ceremony takes place.
After his death he became something of a cult figure, and responsible for 150 miracles. He was well on course for being canonised when Henry VIII scuppered everything by breaking away from the Church of Rome.
The Battle of St Albans took place today in 1455, marking the start of the 30 years of war in England, between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians known as the Wars of the Roses.
The 19th to the 21st of May are Frankinmas, a period when frost descends and ruins apple blossoms.
This was the day on which the old Roman festival in honour of Vulcan, god of fire and metalworking, took place.
25th – St Aldhelm’s Day
Founder of Malmesbury Abbey, and Bishop of Sherbourne. His name lives on in St Albans (Aldhelms) head in Dorset.
26th – St Augustine’s Day
He came to England in 596. The first English Cathedral was erected in Canterbury in 601 and Augustine became its first Archbishop.
27th – St Bede’s Day
The venerable Bede, a devout and clever man, died in 735. His oaken chair in St Paul’s in Jarrow can still be seen. Unmarried girls used to put a splinter of the wood under their pillows in order to dream of a future husband.
28th – St Bernard of Menthon’s Day
He was patron saint of mountaineers, after whom the St Bernard dog is named.
29th – Royal Oak Day, or Oak Apple Day
Named after the tree where Charles II hid in 1651 from the roundheads after the Battle of Worcester.
The day monarchy was restored to England. Sprays of oak leaves were worn and children carried bunches of nettles to hit those not wearing them.
Names given to this day include Shick Shack Day, Bobby-Ack Day, Nettling Day and Pinch Bum Day.
30th – St Walstan’s Day, and St Hubert’s Day
St Walstan lived in the eleventh century and is buried at Bawburgh, which soon became a place of pilgrimage, and the offerings at his tomb made him the top saint in Norfolk.
Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) wrote the last entry in his diary on this day in 1669. Thinking that writing was making him go blind, he was only 36 when he quit, but he lived until he was 70.
Joseph Frimaldi, ‘King of the Clowns’, died on this day in 1837.
This can fall any time between 30th April and 3rd June, and is one of the major festivals of the Christian Church, often referred to as Holy Thursday, commemorating Christ’s ascension to heaven, watched by his apostles.
“And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.” Acts 1.9
Water which falls on Ascensiontide is holy. Well dressings are now in season
These are mainly in the Peak District of Derbyshire. Tissington holds theirs on Ascension Day.
It is a time when the well is dressed with flowers and greenery. It is now very much part of the church calender, a lot of displays having a Christian theme, but it goes back to the pagan worship of water spirits. The Romans celebrated their own festival at this time, called Fontinalia.
or Pentecost (from the Greek ‘pentikosti’ – fiftieth day) falls 50 days after Easter.
In the past Whitsun was a time when church festivals played an important part in village life.
It is celebrated ten days after Ascension Day and is the seventh Sunday after Easter. Conveniently, these festivals fall at a time when people engaged in agriculture were less busy than later in the summer and could indulge in the brief holidays they gave rise to.
The name comes from the Latin ‘rogare’, to beseech. Rogationtide is the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday preceding Ascension Day. The fortieth day after Easter Sunday and can occur any time from 27th/29th April to 31st May/2nd June.
Traditionally a time for the faithful to go in procession around the parish, led by the clergy, blessing the fields, crops and animals, to ensure a good harvest.
The ‘Beating of the Bounds’ also took place around this time, with people from the parish processing around the village, marking out the boundaries in rural areas. The boundary markers were often stones, crosses or prominent trees. The procession would stop at these key points for a prayer, hymm or sermon. Many local maps still show a ‘Vicar’s Oak’ or Gospel Oak in memory of these customary points. Wands were carried to beat the boundary markers to fix the locations in peoples’ memories, and boys were often turned upside down and bumped on stones, whipped or beaten.
Some of these stones can still be found. Although the practice has nearly died out, some well-known ones are still in existence in Oxford and the Tower of London. St Margaret’s in Leicester, one of the largest parishes in the town, used to have one every three years, and the bounds party would even go into and through houses to do the job thoroughly.
Up merry Spring, and up the merry ring,
For summer is acome unto day.
How happy are those little birds that merrily do sing
On the merry morning of May.