If you are in Greenwich this May Day, then you might spy a 10 foot tall tower of garlands and greenery walking slowly around the town while dancers cavort around it.

This is the revival of the old Jack in the Green tradition – and over the past few years, the Deptford Jack has stuck resolutely to the Southwark area, but this year will visit Greenwich for a change and wander around the town to delight some and confuse many.

They’ve also been lucky this year that May Day is on a weekend (Sun 1st May), so rather than a few office workers looking on in bemusement around Southwark, they should have rather more spectators – including you?

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According to the ubiquitous Wikipedia, the Jack in the Green tradition dates back to around the 16th and 17th centuries, when people would make garlands of flowers and leaves for the May Day celebration. After becoming a source of competition between Works Guilds, these garlands became increasingly elaborate, to the extent that it covered the entire man. This became known as Jack in the Green.

For some reason the figure became particularly associated with chimney sweeps; there are several explanations thereof, but none has been proven conclusively.

By the turn of the 19th century the custom had started to wane as a result of the Victorian disapproval of bawdy and anarchic behaviour (IanVisits passim). The Lord and Lady of the May, with their practical jokes, were replaced by a pretty May Queen, while the noisy, drunken Jack in the Green vanished altogether from the parades.

Over the past couple of decades, the revival of the tradition has progressed and quite a few towns now recreate the annual May Day procession – although the Rochester Sweeps is undeniably the largest example, and is now a whole weekend of events associated with the above mentioned chimney sweeps.

The Fowlers Troop Jack in the Green was revived by members of Blackheath Morris Men and friends in the early 1980s. It is a revival of a Jack in the Green from about 1906 which was taken out around Deptford, South East London on May Day by the original Fowlers Troop.

According to the Deptford Jack website, they start at the Ashburnham Arms at midday and then proceed as follows:

Depart time Destination Route Arrival time
12:30 The Mitre, Greenwich High Rd. Either Ashburnham Grove, Greenwich South St, Greenwich High Rd or Ashburnham Place, Langdale Rd, Greenwich High Rd 12:45
13:15 Star and Garter, Old Woolwich Road. Possible ad hoc dancing here but not many folks. St Alfeges Passage, St Alfege’s Park, Bardsley La, Creek Rd, Greenwich Ch St, end of Cutty Sark Gardens, Greenwich Uni Campus by Information Centre, College Way through buildings to East Gate in Park Row, Old Woolwich Rd 13:45
14:15 Plume of Feathers, Park Vista. Possible ad hoc dancing here Old Woolwich Rd, Park Row, cross Trafalgar Rd, Park Vista. 14:25
15:00 Tollyshop, Royal Hill. Possible ad hoc dancing here Park Vista, through Park Gate, Path to gate opposite Gloucester Circus, Gloucester Circus, Royal Hill. 15:20
16:00 Ashburnham Arms Royal Hill, cross Greenwich Sth St, Ashburnham Grove. 16:10

More details on their website.

A few more photos that I took in 2009.

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3 Comments

  1. Thanks for this Ian. It was great fun to see! :-)

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