logo - Join me in the 1900s early C20th
Florence Cole as a child

Celebrating May Day (May 1st)
in Edwardian times

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A pleasant memory from my childhood in the early 1900s was May Day, the 1st of May. It was regarded as the beginning of good weather and it was widely celebrated.

On May Day the maypole came out of storage. It was a pole with twenty-or-so different coloured ribbons hanging from the top, and in good weather it was erected in the playground so that passers by could stop and admire the celebrations around it. In bad weather it was erected in the school hall.

Weave at the top of a maypole

Weave at the top of a maypole. Photographed at Tilney War/Peace festival.

School children were the maypole dancers, although I suppose that there may have been festive maypole dancing elsewhere with adults.

Each maypole dancer held the end of a ribbon. Then they danced round, weaving in and out of one another, which made a pattern of coloured ribbons down the pole. Different dances produced different patterns, and the children had to move closer and closer to the pole the more they danced because their ribbons became shorter. When the teacher thought that the ribbons were becoming too short, the children had to dance the other way to unwind the ribbons. Sometimes this was to music.

I loved to see it, but I never took part. My brother Jim did, and my mother made him a smock for the event, as worn by the old country yokels.

To add to the festive atmosphere, the horses in the streets often had nosegays of flowers platted into their harnesses. (Also in the summertime horses would wear little straw ear covers. I suppose to keep off the flies.)

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

Children in the early 1900s dancing round a maypole on May Day (May 1st).

Children in the early 1900s dancing round a maypole on May Day (May 1st).

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.