Several years ago, back in the real world, I belonged to a group which met to talk about and discuss things to do with Saxon England and to look at Anglo-Saxon. It sounds more scholarly than it was, there were no teachers only leaders – very knowledgeable leaders but our get-togethers were rather rambly affairs. Among the group were a couple who were very interested in myths and folklore and the origins of language, and they did have some very unusual ideas, which were fascinating but I did wonder on what they were based. They believed in ley lines, and ancient paths and tracks, and as far as I understood, that Egypt was actually in Scotland – but I may have misunderstood that part.
I hadn’t thought about them for a long time, and can’t remember now what it was that brought them to mind, but I suddenly recalled one get together in which we were talking about seasonal rituals and I mentioned that I had been May Queen. Every year in our junior school we had a May celebration, with a girl in what was then the fourth year – junior four presiding, who had been chosen as May Queen the previous year. The celebration involved what was essentially a little play which was repeated every year. On staging at one end of the hall were the May Queen’s courtiers, the lades and gentlemen – these were all the children in year four, eleven year olds. The May Queen would enter, processing up the hall, with all the rest of the school sitting on the floor round the edges, watching with great excitement. She would then hold court, and various enactments took place including the trial and banishment of Jack Frost, the Spirit of Spring dancing round the sleeping spring flowers – girls dressed in green ‘sleeping’ on the floor who would get up and dance, and various other little playlets. She would then ‘crown’ a girl who would be next year’s May Queen.
I can’t imagine how I came to be chosen as the prestigious May Queen, I guess I was quite tall and confident but so were my friends! Maybe the teachers just liked me – which I wasn’t aware of at the time, but I was really surprised – and delighted to be chosen, and took the part very seriously. All through the junior school I’d watched the May celebrations, never dreaming that I would be involved, let alone as the central character! My friends in the Anglo-Saxon group were very impressed, believing that I must have had something mystical about me to be chosen to be crowned in this rôle, even though really it was just a rather lovely school tradition. I then told them that it was not my only claim to fame in school. Every year in Cambridge there was a country dancing festival – country dancing was a big part of our PE (physical education) and we had danced every week throughout all our school days, boys and girls. Each year the best group was chosen from each school to go to the festival. I was an utterly useless dancer – very enthusiastic and energetic, but really not very good. I was not chosen to be in the team and wasn’t surprised, but I was chosen to be the Hobby Horse – not just for our school but for the whole festival.
My friends were amazed, this made me doubly special and important – to be May Queen and Hobby Horse! I’d had to wear an outfit – there was a frame which hung over my shoulders, with a big hoop, and the fabric skirts of Hobby were draped over and I held it up under the costume with the head over my head somehow. I can’t quite remember how it all worked now, but I was enclosed in this musty canvas, peering through some sort of eye-hole. I had to dance around the other dancers, not getting in their way and not interfering with them and I must have had an arm free because I had a little whip I was supposed to pretend to whip them with! Very folky! My friends were so excited and in awe of this and said I must have an aura, I must have an ancient soul, I must be of great mystical import!
I suppose it was quite an odd thing to have happened, to be chosen to take part in two traditional rituals, probably dating back in some form or another quite a long way, but I tend to think I was chosen as May Queen because someone liked me and thought I would play the part well and take it seriously,, and I was chosen to be the Hobby Horse for similar reasons!
This was a couple of years before me, the tall dark Queen is the outgoing monarch, the petite blond girl is the new Queen. Jack Frost is on the front row flanked by the policemen who had arrested him, and the Queen’s guards, the others on the front row are towns folk who had been affected by his icy behaviour, such as the farmers! I remember the May Queen was Marion Appleton, I thought she was so beautiful and grown up – she was only eleven!
My featured image is of me as May Queen, with my arm linked with my friend Frances Child who was the Spirit of Spring. My ladies in waiting are Linda Bennett, Jocelyn Stowell and my friend Penny Barnett, and behind them Patsy Hopkins and Lynn Crossman – I think!