At THIS time of year, organisers of our local carnivals are busy making plans for their events in the summer months. With the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, there is no shortage of themes to choose from in the plans.
Feltham Carnival Association have chosen Diamonds are Forever as it will also be the 60th carnival this year.
Much thought will also go on the choosing of a carnival queen. A young woman will be selected to act in that capacity, and not only ride in the procession with her court, but present prizes and attend other carnivals in the district.
The idea to select a queen goes back a long way in our history when, during the month of May, a queen was selected from the young women of the village to watch over the festivities to celebrate the coming of summer sunshine and longer days.
It is recorded that in 1650, milkmaids would dress up and, carrying their decorated milk pails, dance in front of the houses they supplied the milk to, in the hope their customers would give them money. On occasion they would be accompanied by a fiddler playing a jig.
As the custom grew, in circa 1740 they were joined by chimney sweeps, and the first of May became the celebration day.
In the end, many more characters were drawn to the day and people dressed as clowns or lords and ladies joined in.
Later, a character joined the sweeps who became known as Jack-in-the-Green. A man was concealed in a wickerwork frame covered with greenery and ribbons and danced down the road accompanied by a fiddle and drum.
The nearest we have today is the hobby horse man in a team of Morris men. And so these festivities grew and took over the town or village for May Day.
Some of these old customs died out at the beginning of the First World War, although in the 1930s I remember May Day celebrations being held at Morden, Surrey, with a charity fete being held in a park and a young lady being crowned as May Queen. Unfortunately, in recent years May Day has been taken over as a political day, as we witness on TV the great parades in Moscow’s Red Square.
Another old custom that appears to be revived in some parts is the election of Boy Bishops. This certainly took place at the old St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
The custom was probably imported from Germany where a boy from the church or cathedral choir was elected by his fellow choristers and reigned from St Nicholas’s Day (December 6) to Holy Innocents Day (December 28), so taking in the Christmas festival. The Boy Bishop would be dressed in bishop’s robes and took the place of the local incumbent for this short time.
One of his duties was to deliver a sermon, written for him by one of the clergy, and lead the choir round the district singing carols.
This custom ceased under Henry VIII under his abolition of the monastries. However, it is delightful to know that the custom was revived in 1973 in Hereford Cathedral and is celebrated annually.
Others who have also revived the custom include St John the Baptist, Claines, Worcestershire; Salisbury Cathedral; St Nicholas, Longparish, Hampshire; the Cathedral Church of St Nicholas, Newcastle; and St Nicholas Church, North Walsingham, Norfolk.