Immagini della pagina
PDF

money collected during the day's excursion is appropriated to defray whatever expenses may have been incurred in the necessary preparations, and the remainder is #." in jovial festivity. ' w = 2 * *

is ancient custom, like many others among the ancient Britons, is annually growing into disuse. . . The decline of sports and pastimes is in every age a subject of regret. For in a civil point of view, they denote the general prosperity, natural energy, and happiness of the 3. consistent with morality,+and combined with that spirit of true religion, which unlike the howling of the dismal hyena or ravening wolf, is as a lamb

ive and innocent, and as a lion magmanimous and bold! o ''

[ocr errors]

May-DAY. At hitch IN, IN HERTFoRDSHIRE, ... . . For the Every-Day Book. o ExtRact from a letter dated Hitchin, May 1st, 1823. . . . . ; t On this day a curious custom is ob-, served here, of which I will give you a brief account. Soon after three o'clock in the morni

a large party of the town-people, and neighbouring labourers, parade the town, singing the “Mayer's Sang.” They carry in their hands large branches of May, and they affix a branch either upon, or at the side of, the doors of nearly every respect-, able house in the town; where there are. knockers, they place these branches within the handles; that which was put into our knocker was so large that the servant could not open the door till the gardener came and took it out. The larger the branch is, that is placed at the door, the more honourable to the house, or rather to the servants of the house... If, in the course of the year, a servant has given offence to any of the Mayers, then, instead of a branch of May, a branch of elder, with a bunch of nettles, is affixed to her door: this is considered a great disgrace, and the unfortunate subject of it is exposed to the jeers of her rivals. On May morning, therefore, the girls look . some anxiety for their May-branch, and rise very early to ascertain their good or

[ocr errors]

illfortune. The houses, are, all thys der,

Corated by four o'clock in the morning. Throughout the day parties of these May. ers are seen dancing and frolicking in various parts of the town. The group that I saw to-day, which remained in Bancroft for more than an hour, was com: posed as follows. First came two men with their faces blacked, one of them with a birch broom in his hand, and a large artificial hump on his back; the other dressed as a woman, all in rags and tatters, with a large straw bonnet on, and carrying a ladle: these are called “mad Molfa her husband:” next came two men, one most fantastically dressed with ribbons, and a great variety of o: silk handkerchiefs tied round his arms from the shoulders to the wrists, and down his thighs and legs to the ancles; he carried a drawn sword in his hand; leaning upon his arm was a youth dressed as a fine lady, in white muslin, and profusely bedecked from top to toe with gay ribbons: these, funderstood, were called the “Lord and Lady” of the company; after these followed six or seven couples more, attired much in the same style as the lord and lady, only the men were without swords." When this group received a satisfactory contribution at any house, the music struck up from a violin, clarionet, and fife, accompanied by thé long drum, and began the merry dance, and very well they danced, I assure you; the men-women looked and footed it so much like rea, women, that I’ stood in great doubt as to which sex they belonged to, till Mrs. J.-assured me that women were not permitted to mingle in these sports. While the dancers were merrily footing it, the principal amusement to the populace was caused by the grimaces and clownish tricks of mad Moll and her husband. When the circle of spectators became so contracted as to interrupt the dancers, then mad Moll's husband went to work with his broom, and swept the road-dust, all round the circle, into the faces of the crowd, and when any pretended affronts were offered (and many were offered) to his wife, he ursued the offenders, broom in hand; if e could not overtake them, whether they were males or females, he flung his broom at them. These flights and pursuits caused an abundance of merriment. " ..."? ... I saw another company of Mayers in Sun-street, and, as far as I could judge. from where I stood, it appeared to be of - 12 or -1)

[ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][graphic]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

-----o - . * - "In London, thirty years ago, ----- When pretty milkmaids went about, - * - It was a goodly sight to see --- – – Their May-day Pageant all drawn out – --

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]

From the preceding lines somewhat may be learned of a lately disused custom in London. The milkmaids’ garland was a pyramidical trame, covered with damask, glittering on each side , with polished silver plate, and adorned with knots of gay-cosoured ribbons, and posies of fresh flowers, surmounted by a silver urn, or tankard. The garland being placed on a wooden horse, was carried by two men, as represented in the engraving, sometimes preceded by a pipe and tabor, but more frequently by a fiddle ; the gayest milkmaids followed the music, others followed the garland, and they stopped at their customers' doors, and danced. The plate, in some of these garlands, was very costly. It was usually borrowed of the pawnbrokers, for the occasion, upon security. One person in that trade was particularly resorted to for this accommodation. He furnished out the entire garland, and let it at so much per hour, under bond from responsible housekeepers for its safe return. In this way one set of milkmaids would hire the garland from ten o'clock till one, and another set would have the garland from one o'clock till six; and so on, during the first three days of May. It was customary with milk-people of less profitable walks to make a display of o: kind, less gaudy in appearance, but better bespeaking their occupation, and more appropriate to the festival. This was an exhibition of themselves, in their best apparel, and of the useful animal which produced the fluid they retailed. One of these is thus described to the editor of the Every-Day Book, by an intelligent eye-witness, and admirer of the pleasant sight. A beautiful country girl “drest all in her best,” and more gaily attired than on any other day, with floral ornaments in her neat little hat, and on her bosom, led her cow, by a rope depending from its horns, garlanded with flowers and knots of ribbons; the horns, meck, and head of the cow were decorated in like manner: a fine net, like those upon ladies' palfreys, tastefully stuck with flowers, covered Bess's back, and even her tail was ornamented, with products of the spring, and silken knots. The F. of the cow, a neat, brisk, ittle, matronly body, followed on one side, in holiday-array, with a sprig in her country bonnet, a blooming posy in her handkerchief, and ribbons on her stomacher. This scene was in Westminster, near

the old abbey. Ah! those were the days. The milkmaids’ earlier plate-garland was a pyramid of piled utensils, carried on a stout damsel's head, under which

she danced to the violin. MAY-FAIR.

The great May-fair was formerly held near Piccadilly. An antiquary, (shudder not, good reader, at the chilling name—he was a kind soul,) Mr. Carter, describes this place in an interesting communication, dated the 6th of March, 1816, to his valued friend, the venerable “ Sylvanus Urban.” “Fifty years have passed away since this place of amusement was at its height of attraction: the spot where the fair was held still retains the name of May-fair, and exists in much the same state as at the above period: for instance, Shepherd's market, and houses surrounding it on the north and east sides, with White Horse-street, Shepherd's-court, Sun-court, Market-court. estwards an open space extending to Tyburn (now Park) lane, since built upon, in Chapel-street, Shepherd's - street, Market-street, Hertfordstreet, &c. Southwards, the noted Ducking-pond, house, and gardens, since built upon, in a large Riding-school, Carrington-street, (the noted Kitty Fisher lived in this street,) &c. The market-house consisted of two stories; first story, a long and cross aisle, for butcher's shops, externally, other shops connected with culinary purposes; second story, used as a theatre at fair-time, for dramatic performances. My recollection serves to raise before me the representation of the “Revenge,' in which the only object left on remembrance is the “black man, Zanga. Below, the butchers gave place to toy-men and gingerbread-bakers. At present, the upper story is unfloored, the lower ditto nearly deserted by the butchers, and their shops occupied by needy peddling dealers in small wares; in truth, a most deplorable contrast to what once was such a point of allurement. In the areas encompassing the marketbuilding were booths for jugglers, prizefighters, both at cudgels and back-sword, boxing-matches, and wild beasts. The sports not under cover were mountebanks, fire-eaters, ass-racing, sausagetables, dice-tables, up-and-downs, merrygo-rounds, bull-baiting, grinning for a hat, running for a shift, hasty-pudding eaters, eel-divers, and an infinite variety of other similar pastimes. Among the

extraordinary and wonderful delights of the happy spot, take the following items, which still hold a place within my mind, though I cannot affirm they all occurred at one precise season. The account may be relied on, as I was born, and passed my youthful days in the vicinity, in Piccadilly, (Carter's Statuary,) two doors from the south end of White Horse-street, since rebuilt (occupied at present by lady Pulteney).-Before a large commodious house, with a good disposure of walks, arbours, and alcoves, was an area, with an extensive bason of water, otherwise “Ducking-pond,’ for the recreation of lovers of that polite and humane sport. Persons who came with their dogs paid a trifling fee for admission, and were considered the chief patrons and supporters of the pond; others, who visited the place as mere spectators, paid a double fee. A duck was put into the pond by the master of the hunt; the several dogs were then let loose, to seize the bird. For a long time they made the attempt in vain; for, when they came near the devoted victim, she dived under water, and eluded their remorseless fangs. Herein consisted the extreme felicity of the interesting scene. At length, some o: more expert than the rest, caught the feathered prize, and bore it away, amidst the loudest acclamations, to its most fortunate and envied master. This diversion was held in such high repute about the reign of Charles II., that he, and many of his prime nobility, did not disdain to be present, and partake, with their dogs, of the elegant entertain. ment. In Mrs. Behn's play of “Sir Patient Fancy,' (written at the above period,) a sir Credulous Easy talks about a cobbler, his dog-tutor, and his expectation of soon becoming “the duke of Ducking-pond.” — A ‘Mountebanks' Stage' was erected opposite the Three Jolly Butchers’ public-house, (on the east side of the market area, now the King's Arms.) Here Woodward, the inimitable comedian and harlequin, made his first appearance as merry-andrew; from these humble boards he soon after found his way to Covent-garden theatre. --Then there was “Beheading of Puppets.” In a coal-shed attached to a grocer's shop, (then Mr. Frith's, now Mr. Frampton's,) one of these mock executions was exposed to the attending crowd. A shutter was fixed horizontally; on the edge of which, after many previous ceremonies, a puppet

w

laid its head, and another puppet then instantly chopped it off with an axe. In a circular staircase-window, at the north end of Sun-court, a similar performance took place by another set of puppets. The condemned puppet bowed its #. to the cill which, as above, was soon decapitated. In these representations, the late punishment of the Scotch chieftain (lord Lovat) was alluded to, in order to gratify the feelings of southern loyalty, at the expense of that farther .."#, a fore one-pair room, on the west side of Sun-court, a Frenchman submitted to the curious the astonishing strength of the ‘Strong Woman,’ his wife. A blacksmith's anvil being procured from White Horse-street, with three of the men, they brought it up, and placed it on the floor. The woman was short, but most beautifully and delicately formed, and of a most lovely countenance. She first let down her hair, (alight auburn.) of a length descending to her knees, which she twisted round the projecting part of the anvil, and then, with seeming ease, lifted the ponderous weight some inches from the floor. After this, a bed was laid in the middle of the room; when, reclining on her back, and uncovering her bosom, the husband ordered the smiths to place thereon the anvil, and forge upon it a horse-shoe! This they obeyed; by taking from the fire a red-hot piece of iron, and with their forging hammers completing the shoe, with the same might and indifference as when in the shop at their constant labour. The prostrate fair one appeared to endure this with the utmost composure, talking and singing during the whole process; then, with an effort which to the by-standers seemed like some supernatural trial, cast the anvil from off her body, jumping up at the same moment with extreme gaiety, and without the least discomposure of her dress or person. That no trick or collusion could possibly be practised on the occasion was obvious, from the following evidence:–The audience stood promiscuously about the room, among whom were our family and friends; the smiths were utter strangers to the Frenchman, but known to us; therefore the several efforts of strength must have proceeded from the natural and surprising power this foreign dame was possessed of. She next put her naked feet on a red-hot salamander, without receiving the least

« IndietroContinua »