Lustleigh May Day

After the drunken raucousness of Padstow, Lustleigh May Day on Dartmoor seems positively sedate. And yet this quintessentially English event has a quiet charm of its very own.

Morris dancers leap in front of picture-perfect thatched cottages.

There are the traditional games you'd expect of a village fete.

A town crier acts as MC, his sense of humour as dry as the local scrumpy.

There's a marching band...

...but everything centres on the May pole...

...and the crowning of a May Queen, a girl chosen from the village. She's paraded around the village in a specially created bower...

...before being crowned on a stone throne atop a great hunk of granite. Her name will be carved there, alongside the names of all previous Queens. The list goes back to 1954 (though the first Queen was crowned in 1903).

Then children dance around the May Pole to jigs and reels provided by  a local scratch band.

You can't help willing it to turn into the famous May Pole scene from The Wicker Man but both the event itself, and the idea that folk customs are the relics of ancient paganism, are Edwardian conceits. Lustleigh May Day is a survival from a forgotten age, but one dating only to the early 1900s. Yes, it's super-twee but sitting in the sunshine, eating a cream tea, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more English way to celebrate the May.


  1. Surely the desire to celebrate all that May brings at least reaches back into the ancient pagan past? And can you really categorically say that these customs are not ancient, I know it's not possible to prove that they are, but is it really possible to prove that they aren't? Just asking. x

    1. I defer, as always, on these matters to Ronald Hutton. The final chapter of his recent 'Pagan Britain' is a quite brilliant treatment of the matter of pagan survivals. With Padstow, for example, there are no records of anything happening there before 1803, therefore in that case you can categorically say the custom isn't ancient. As to what people did in prehistory, the evidence is so scant, and so open to alternative interpretations, that we are free to imagine almost anything :) x

  2. The Maypole and dance you see is not an old English fertility ritual. The dance with ribbons was imported around 1880 and introduced into schools.The dance seems to have come from France as you can see on the web under 'Les Cordelles'. There is a similar dance done by the Basques. The English Maypole is 4-5 times higher and does not have ribbons.



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