A ‘free range’ walk on the West side – Highgate Cemetery July 2020

The Egyptian Avenue on a Highgate Cemetery ‘free range

One of the greatest cemeteries in London is Highgate in North London. Crammed with the great and good and also some of the not so good it contains some of the most dramatic funerary architecture to be found in the capital.

The cemetery is bisected by Swain’s Lane with Highgate West on one side and Highgate East on the other. Usually the West side can only be accessed by being on an official tour but this year it was a little different……

Social distancing, in this case, was a good thing!  As The Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust(FOHCT) were unable to hold tours during the summer they cunningly decided to offer ‘free range’ tours instead. For £10 you could book a time, agree to follow a few sensible rules on safety etc and then wander round the West side at will. And if you had the energy, as Highgate West is large, have a look round the East side as well. The West is very overgrown and FOHCT like their visitors to be safe.  They didn’t want their visitors to have a nasty accident and then haunt them forever more.

Please note that I have covered Highgate in a previous post – 16/2/2016 to be exact so some memorials mentioned here will have been covered more fully in that post.

So, on 10 July, I entered through the arch of the chapel and into the green cathedral of the West side.  The trees had linked arms above the graves, monuments and memorials to form a canopy over the entire site.  It felt as if everything was bathed in green light as I walked up the hill.  At its highest point Highgate is 375 feet above sea level. Cemeteries are often built on these as their permanent residents are nearer ‘my God to thee.’

I passed the empty chair memorial to a young actress and spotted a pelican in her piety symbol amongst the undergrowth. The overgrown nature of the West side gives it a real charm and mystery.  A helpful steward directed me to the Rossetti group of graves which I’d always wanted to see but he also pointed out the grave of a woman who had died when her dress had caught alight. Apparently this only ceased with the coming of the mini-skirt and possibly central heating.

The Rossettis have their own path named after them but the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti is not buried with them.  Instead his parents Gabriele (1783-1854) and Frances (1800-1886), his brother William (1829-1919) and William’s wife Lucy Madox Brown (1843-1894), who was the only daughter of Ford Madox Brown, his sister Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) and Dante’s wife Lizzie Siddal (1829-1862) occupy the plot.  

Lizzie features as the model in several of Dante’s paintings and the Victorian web points out that she died aged 32 instead of at 30.  She was addicted to laudanum which was derived from opium and was a Victorian cure-all. Laudanum was prescribed for morning sickness and cranky infants amongst others.  It was easy to become addicted and she succumbed.  Lizzie was pregnant at the time of her death, although she may not have known it, and had already had a stillborn child with Dante.   It is still not known  if she died of an overdose or a deliberate act of suicide. However, she was a talented artist in her own right and some of her work was featured in the 2019 exhibition ‘Pre-Raphaelite Sisters.’

But Lizzie has also been commemorated by an act that occurred after her death.  One of Dante’s early biographers  recorded it:

On the day of the funeral Rossetti walked into the chamber in which the body lay. In his hand was a book into which at her bidding he had copied his poems. Regardless of those present he spoke to her as though she were still living, telling her that the poems were written to her and were hers, and that she must take them with her. He then placed the volume beside her face in the coffin, leaving it to be buried with her in Highgate Cemetery. This touching scene will some day doubtless be the subject of a picture. Time, after its wont, hallowed and sanctified the memory of loss, but the bereavement was long and keenly felt. Meanwhile, the entombment of Rossetti’s poems had an effect upon which the writer had not calculated. They were familiar to many friends, and passages of them were retained in the recollection of some. These poems were during subsequent years the subject of much anxiety and wonderment, and the existence of the buried treasure was mentioned with reverence and sympathy, and with something of awe. Seven years later Rossetti, upon whom pressure to permit the exhumation of the volume had constantly been put, gave a reluctant consent With the permission of the Home Secretary the coffin was opened” by a friend of Rossetti and the volume was withdrawn. [Knight 76] from the Victorian Web site

It would haunt Dante for the rest of his life.   In one of his most famous paintings ‘Beata Beatrix’ painted in 1869, which is an amalgam of several drawings of Lizzie, a white poppy features. The red dove represents their love and the poppy the laudanum that hastened her death. It’s derived from poppies. Dante died in 1882 and is buried at Birchington-on- Sea.

Elizabeth Siddal circa 1860 unknown photographer shared under Wiki Commons
Beata Beatrix Dante Gabriel Rossetti completed 1870.

William Rossetti was a founder member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and wrote widely.  He was also the biographer of his family. One of Christina’s most famous poems was ‘Goblin Market’ and she also featured in ‘Pre-Raphaelite Sisters.’

I returned to the path but discovered a selection of the rich and famous as I walked up to the Circle of Lebanon. 

The epitaph says it all
Lucien Freud artist
Jean Simmons actress.- she starred with Kirk Douglas in Spartacus

Alas, the venerable 250 year old Cedar of Lebanon after which it was named succumbed to old age in 2019.   It was a survivor from the Ashurst estate on which Highgate West was built on and was an impressive sight.  Now a wildflower garden stands on the spot. I had come out onto the upper terrace and from there I could see the layout of the Circle much more clearly. There are some impressive monuments here: Nero the lion eternally slumbers on the Wombwell monument. George Wombwell was a Victorian menagarist who owned 3 travelling animal shows.  The monument to John Maple features low relief carvings from the life of Christ. He owned a very successful furniture business which occupied a large site on Tottenham Court Road.   It no longer exists.   The Circle is built in the Classical style and the inner circle contains 20 vaults and another 16 were added in 1870.

The Circle of Lebanon from the upper tier and note the wildflower garden that replaces the Cedar after which the Circle was named.
Nero, the lion, guarding the Wombwell monument.
The Maples monument on the upper tier of the Circle.

The Terrace catacombs were closed although I have been inside them on a previous visit. By contrast they are in the Gothic style and were built on an existing terrace from the Ashurst estate.  The frontage is 8 yards long with room for 825 people in 55 vaults each containing 15 loculi or coffin spaces.  I was reduced to peering through a doorway on this occasion before turning to the magnificent Beer mausoleum which was built for his 8 year old daughter, Ada.

The Gothic style terrace catacombs
The Beer mausoleum

As it was a self-guided tour I had time to admire the summer wildflowers which were growing in profusion.  Cemeteries are good places to find these; Acanthus, ragwort, verbena, Ladies Bedstraw, Vipers Bugloss, Rosemary Willowherb and also a buddleia in full bloom studded with Peacock butterflies on Faraday Path. 

Peacock tucking into a Budleia blossom on Faraday path.
Viper’s Bugloss
Acanthus

A sidepath from the Circle led me along another path which I’d not previously seen.  The atmosphere seemed different and it was certainly darker, perhaps due to a thicker tree canopy, as I walked along it to a gate at the other end.  This would have originally opened onto Swain’s Lane and there was what appeared to be a former gatekeeper’s lodge nearby. It still bore the monogram of the London Cemetery Company who were the original owners of Highgate cemetery.  Time slips have been reported along this path and I wondered if it was the gate through which a man is reported to look out at unwary passers-by.

A possible former gatekeepers lodge
The monogram of the London Cemetery Company

I retraced my steps towards the magnificent Egyptian Avenue one of Highgate’s highlights. Tom Sayer’s monument lay to my right with his faithful dog, Lion, eternally keeping guard and then the  Sleeping Angel.  This is dedicated to Mary Nichols who was a Londoner who died in 1909 from heart failure and diabetes.  It’s a lovely tribute.

Lion guarding the gave of bare knuckle fighter Tom Sayers
The Sleeping Angel on top of Mary Nichols
The Acheler memorial

The horse on top of the Acheler memorial records John Acheler who became wealthy and well known as a ‘Knacker’.  He called himself ‘horse slaughterer to Queen Victoria’.

The Egyptian Avenue!

And then the Egyptian Avenue!  The centrepiece of Highgate West in my opnion. It may be looking a little tired but it’s a magnificent example of how the Egyptian explorations of the 19th century influenced funerary architecture. Note the two large obelisks flanking the entrance and the stylised lotus flowers on the columns as you enter through the arch and into the passage that will take you into the lower tier of the Circle. 

The Avenue was also a catacomb but they were never really popular as other London cemeteries soon realised. After all if Highgate couldn’t sell all theirs then who could? The passage contains 16 vaults on either side which were each fitted with shelves to hold 12 coffins. These were bought by individual families for their own use.

The passage from the Avenue entrance into the Circle of Lebanon.
The vaults on either side of the passage.
The Circle of Lebanon as you emerge from teh Egyptian Avenue.

By then I thought it was time to explore the East cemetery while I still had the energy.   

Wildflowers were also in profusion here: clover, bird’s foot trefoil and vetch Butterflies flew about on the heat of a late summer afternoon. 

Bird’s Foot Trefoil – Highgate East

I saw my favourites; Jeremy Beadle, Malcolm McLaren, Karl Marx and Patrick Caulfield.   There was also the grand piano dedicated surprisingly enough to a pianist, Henry Thornton, who died in 1918 during the ’flu epidemic.

Jeremy Beadle – Highgate East
Patrick Caulfield – a sense of humour
Malcolm Mclaren
Henry Thornton, a pianist

The East side isn’t as overgrown as the West side and as I explored further I found a memorial which highlighted a dog. This was dedicated to Ann Jewson Crisp and her faithful dog Emperor. 

But as I left the East side I spotted another of its more celebrated residents settling down for a siesta behind the Great Train Robber, Bruce Reynolds’, memorial.  It was a cemetery cat who was soon hidden deep in the grass and I didn’t want to disturb him or her.  What a playground!

A cemetery cat having a kip in the last afternoon sunshine.

As I left the East Cemetery and walked down Swain’s Lane to Archway tube station I still had time to admire my ideal des res – Holly Village – which was built by Victorian philanthropist, Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts. It is said that she planned it with Charles Dickens. She built the Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial in St Pancras Old Burying ground.

Thj Gothic beauty of Holly Village

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell except where indicated

References and further reading

http://www.victorianweb.org/sculpture/funerary/216.html

https://highgatecemetery.org/about/the-friends

Highgate Cemetery – maps to East and West cemeteries.https://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/fascinating-history-of-unique-village-within-a-village-1-628284

Advertisement

Another afternoon with the dead and famous – a visit to St Pancras Old Church and churchyard Part 1

 

 

Old St Pancras church – note Victorian ‘improvement’ of additional tower.
©Carole Tyrrell

Part 1 The Church and the Hardy Tree

Despite their transformation into swish new, trendy areas of London,  Kings Cross and St Pancras still retain their historical origins if you know where to look.

However, I can remember when St Pancras was the station that time forgot. In fact if Stephenson’s Rocket had puffed its way along a platform at one time I wouldn’t have been surprised, The MIdland Grand, an enormous rabbit warren of a building was still awaiting its Cinderella like transformation in 2003/4.  Now, reborn as St Pancras Renaissance, it’s always a magnificent sight to see as you perambulate along the Euston Road.

But behind St Pancras International, as it’s now known,  there is still a part of London that has welcomed  visitors and immigrants from all over the world and is testament to the capital’s ever-changing history.

In this quiet part of North London, if you listen hard enough you can still hear the running feet of The Beatles or Mary and Percy Shelley discussing their elopement as they take a Sunday afternoon stroll. But, even more gruesomely, you might also hear body snatchers plying their trade.

This is St Pancras Old Church and churchyard.  But it’s not to be confused with St Pancras New Church which is the one with the weirdly proportioned caryatids that face the Euston Road.

The Research History Group of Brompton Cemetery visited on an overcast September afternoon when the churchyard, or park, as it’s now known seemed sombre and silent under the canopy of the 160 year old tress.  But it wasn’t always like this. Our knowledgeable guide, Lester Hillman, told us that during the 19th century, instead of the elegant iron railings that border the front of the churchyard , there had been pubs and adjacent to the church there had been a terrace of houses.

The famous music hall star Dan Leno had been born in one of them.  During the 1850‘s there had been balloon ascents as well and I did wonder how the permanent residents of St Pancras had ever got any of their eternal rest.

Charles Dickens who lived opposite the churchyard as a child described it as:

‘ a desolate place surrounded by little else but fields and ditches’

This seems incredible now as the area is so built up. Dickens featured St Pancras in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ in which one of the characters, Jerry Cruncher and his son, Jerry Jnr, visit the churchyard in order to ‘fishing’. This was a euphemism for body snatching which was rife at the time.

Jerry Cruncher’;s friends going fishing from A Tale of Two Cities.
©Goodreads

Although the churchyard is now much smaller, during 1689-1845 88,000 burials took place in it and It’s estimated that 1.5%  of the 66 million Londoners who have lived in the capital over the centuries have been buried here. It closed to burials in 1850 and was acquired by parish authorities becoming a public park in June 1877.

We first visited the church which is very attractive and to walk through its door is to walk into London’s past. Roman, Norman and Tudor brickwork are almost cheek by jowl with each other and the memorial of the very first burial is preserved on a wall near the altar.  This is to a Mary Berisford who was interred on a very auspicious day, 21 August 1588, which was the day of the Spanish Armada. On the opposite wall is the memorial to Daniel Clark (died 1613) and his wife, Katherine (died 1627) and he was cook to Elizabeth 1st.    This large monument is dedicated to William Platt and his wife and they look as if they’re sitting in a box at the theatre.

The memorial to William Platt and his wife inside the church
©Carole Tyrrell

A piece of a Roman altar is embedded in the top of the present one. It was found nearby and seems appropriate as St Pancras was a Roman saint.

According to the guidebook, the church:

‘may possibly date back to the 4th century…..the present building has been here since the 11th or 12th century  close to the River Fleet.’

A picture of the church in 1827 taken from an information board.
©Carole Tyrrell

The river now runs underground but continues to supply Highgate Ponds.  Lester informed us that the 17th generation descendant of Richard III swam in them daily. However, little remains of the medieval church.

A memorial to a bygone occupation that of pew opener
©Carole Tyrrell

As we left the church to enter the churchyard I spotted a wall memorial to a Amelia Rogers whose occupation was given as ‘pew-opener’. This undoubtedly referred to the days when there were box pews with doors and she was obviously greatly valued.

 

One of the features for which the churchyard is renowned is The Hardy Tree.  This is an ash tree which has grown in and around the headstones placed around it.  Sadly, the tree isn’t looking very healthy these days and an exclusion fence has had to be placed around it as branches have fallen from it. Fungus is clearly visible.  The Hardy connection comes from the novelist Thomas Hardy.

Thomas Hardy (1840-19280
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

During 1862-67, as a young man, he studied architecture under Arthur Blomfield, in London. At this time, the Midland Railway was being built over part of the churchyard and Hardy was given the task of supervising the proper exhumation of human remains and the dismantling of tombs.

In The Early Life, Hardy recounts being involved with the overseeing of churchyards that were being cut through by railroad companies. His employer, Arthur Blomfield, described “returning from visiting the site on which all the bodies were said by the railway companies to be reinterred; but there appeared to be nothing deposited, the surface of the ground quite level as before” In order to make sure the bodies were actually buried properly, Hardy was asked to check one such job at irregular intervals. One evening, accompanied by Blomfield, he watched as a coffin fell apart. Out dropped a skeleton and two skulls. When years later he met Arthur Blomfield again, “among the latter’s first words were: ‘Do you remember how we found the man with two heads at St. Pancras?'” http://casterbridge.blogspot.com/2009/05/levelled-churchyard.html

In 1882, 20 years later, he wrote the poem ‘The Levelled Churchyard’ which may refer to this period.

‘O passenger, pray list and catch
Our sighs and piteous groans,
Half stifled in this jumbled patch
Of wrenched memorial stones!

“We late-lamented, resting here,
Are mixed to human jam,
And each to each exclaims in fear,
‘I know not which I am!’

The wicked people have annexed
The verses on the good;
A roaring drunkard sports the text
Teetotal Tommy should!

“Where we are huddled none can trace,
And if our names remain,
They pave some path or p-ing place
Where we have never lain!

“There’s not a modest maiden elf
But dreads the final Trumpet,
Lest half of her should rise herself,
And half some local strumpet!

“From restorations of Thy fane,
From smoothings of Thy sward,
From zealous Churchmen’s pick and plane
Deliver us O Lord! Amen!”

 

The Hardy Tree is a London legend but no-one’s quite sure if Hardy himself placed the headstones there. However, it was certainly created at the right time. With the Eurostar coming to St Pancras in 2007, another part of the churchyard was lost and there has been a Hardy Homage.  A graceful swirl or half circle of headstones marks the spot

The homage to the Hardy Tree when Eurostar took a piece of the churchyard away.
©Carole Tyrrell

Part 2: Escape from the Black Hole, the inspiration for a British icon and Frankenstein

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

A Walk in the Past – a churchyard tour Of St Pancras Old Church – St Pancras Old church guidebook

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Pancras_Old_Church

 http://casterbridge.blogspot.com/2009/05/levelled-churchyard.html

https://www.theflyawayamerican.com/st-pancras-old-church-london/

http://thelondondead.blogspot.com/2014/06/polly-peachum-and-black-hole-of.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Wollstonecraft

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Never_Was

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angela_Burdett-Coutts,_1st_Baroness_Burdett-Coutts

https://www.historytoday.com/archive/months-past/angela-burdett-coutts-born-london

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-incredible-chevalier-deon-who-left-france-as-a-male-spy-and-returned-as-a-christian-woman

https://www.them.us/story/chevalier-d-eon-trans-woman

 

 

Highgate Cemetery mourns loss of 200-year-old cedar tree which ‘felt like the death of a relative’

Trees in cemeteries can live to ripe old ages and this tree in Highgate Cemetery predated the cemetery. It was a towering and beautiful presence within Highgate and I shall miss it.

This article is from London’s evening standard 10 August 2019

The Cedar of Lebanon has been cut down due to safety concerns ( Dr Ian Dungavell )

Locals are mourning the loss of a beloved tree which has stood at the centre of Highgate Cemetery for nearly 200 years.

The majestic Cedar of Lebanon has been in the middle of the site’s west side since its inception in the 1830s, bearing witness to hundreds of burials in that time.

Despite best efforts to keep it alive, the mighty cedar has been condemned by tree surgeons, amid fears it could collapse.

The decision was eventually made to cut it down, in what one trustee compared to the feeling of losing a “much-loved relative”.

Dr Ian Dungavell, chief executive of the Friends of Highgate Trust, told the Standard: “It was a bit like switching off the life system on a much-loved relative. This tree has seen so much.”

Staff at the cemetery had started to notice fungus on the tree, which has survived a lightning strike and deep winters throughout its life.

The tree is based above the Lebanon Catacombs (Rex Features)

Experts were called in, who said that large sections were beyond saving.

Dr Dungavell said they “did not want to believe” the report but took the decision to trust the experts.

One tree surgeon involved in cutting the Cedar down even visited the site to bid farewell to the tree before work commenced to remove it.

Meanwhile, volunteers were invited to visit and to witness it in its final days before it was felled.

“For any tree it’s upsetting if its been around for that period of time,” said Dr Dungavell, referencing the other longstanding trees at the site.

“It’s hard not to anthropomorphise them, to think, ‘what have they seen?'”

Sheldon Goodman, a tour guide and curator of the Cemetery Club website, also expressed his sadness at the situation.

“I’m a cemetery lover so the precedence this tree had is amplified in me, but knowing it’s fate, although unavoidable and necessary, doesn’t dispel that a little bit of London’s history is dying with it. You watch from the sidelines, powerless to do anything,” he told the Standard.

“Seeing the circle without the Lebanon would be like seeing Pisa without the tower, or Sydney without the bridge. The architecture becomes a nonsense without it.”

Mr Goodman said the Cedar deserved recognition as a famous tree of London, as he felt it was somewhat a “hidden secret”.

“It’s a guardian that has fallen on its sword and it’s silently watched over the fortunes of the cemetery for so many years; to see it succumb to disease and a climate it hadn’t really evolved for is such a shame,” he said.

The Cedar of Lebanon is based above the Lebanon Catacombs, which contain a number of burials in lead-lined coffins.

It is described as being like a “giant bonsai”, due to its unique placement and was part of the site when the land was part of Ashurst House, which was sold in 1830.

Dr Dungavell said a collapse would have been “horrific”, if branches had fell and smashed into them.

As well as being a constant presence in the cemetery and viewed by thousands of visitors in person, the tree has also been seen on screen.

Most recently it featured in the film Hampstead, with Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson sharing a picnic underneath its towering branches.

The west side of the cemetery is the site of hundreds of burials, including the private tomb of late music star George Michael.

Each side of the cemetery attracts thousands of visitors each year, with large numbers visiting the east side to see the final resting place of philosopher Karl Marx.

 

 

The annual Mayday murder of Jack…..coming soon to a town near you!

Jack going to his doom at Hastings Castle, Mayday 2012
©Carole Tyrrell

There is a murderous tradition associated with Mayday or May 1st.  For on this day the Jack or Jack in the Green must be slain and his body torn apart and thrown to a waiting crowd. Of course it an also happen on May 7th if that’s the date that the Mayday bank holiday falls on.

Jack’s murder marks the coming of Summer as  he is also seen as the Green Man or the embodiment of Nature.  There are also associations with Puck.  Mayday also coincides with the Celtic festival of Beltane which is a fire festival.  It burst forth with abundant fertility although Beltane is one of the names for the god of death. But there’s no blood spilt in Jack’s murder. Instead his large, tall body is formed from leaves and flowers which is why he’s known as Jack in the Green . You’ll find him being pulled apart at various locations within the UK.

According to The Living Myths Celtic Year website

‘Beltain is the origin of pagan May Day festivities such as that of the Padstow Hobby Horse, and maypole dancing, of the ‘Queen of the May’, and of ‘well dressing’ – decking holy wells with flowers, as still practised in some rural communities.’

The tradition carried on in England as, according to the Hastings Jack in the Green website:

‘In the 16th and 17th centuries in England people would make garlands of flowers and leaves for the May Day celebration, they became increasingly elaborate. Works Guilds would try to outdo each other, in the late 18th century this became a matter for competition, milkmaids in London carried garlands on their heads with silver objects on them, but the crown had to go to the chimney sweeps. Their garland was so big it covered the entire man. It became known as Jack in the Green.’

The Jack has a conical or pyramidal framework on which the greenery is entwined with a man inside to ‘walk’ it along streets and in procession.  Mayday celebrations were often rowdy, drunken affairs with the Maypole as a very obvious phallic symbol  in a festival dedicated to fertility.  It, the May Queen and the Jack are the only survivors.    I found this 17th century image of a Jack on Wikipedia.

A Jack in the Green from the 18th century – shared under Wiki Creative Commons

 

As you might imagine it was the Victorians who called time on Jack in the Green declaring it unruly and raucous (surely not).  They replaced the merry stumbling prance or stagger around the Maypole with a smaller one for children to skip round.  Then most of the celebrations vanished apart from the May Queen and well dressing in some regions.

 

But you can’t keep a good Jack down forever and in the 1980’s he was slowly brought back to life.

In 1983, the Hastings Jack in the Green was revived by Mad Jack’s Morris Men.  They take their name from Mad Jack Fuller with their symbol being that of his pyramidal mausoleum in Ditchling churchyard which is also known as the Sugarloaf.

The festival is a 4 day event in the town culminating in a parade of giant figures and the releasing  of Jack before he takes centre stage in the procession along the High Street and onto West Hill.  The Jack stands in waiting on his own stage with his attendants, known as ‘bogies’ or Green Men as morris dancers and singers take to the centre stage.  Here is a selection of images from the Hastings Jack in the Green from 2012 and 2018:

Morris dancing has been around for over 600 years and there are several regional variants. He wears a beautiful crown of flowers on top. The costumes have become more ornate and decorative over the years since I first came upon the celebration by chance on a visit to Hastings in 2001.  Then it was within the grounds of Hastings Castle and I sat and listened to Maddy Prior singing as the sapphire sea below glittered under the afternoon sun. The Hastings Mayday also coincides with hundreds of bikers descending on the town but there’s not trouble as they are much more interested in buying insurance or bathrooms.

 

The final event is the slaying of Jack and he is walked to the stage surrounded by his entourage and spun round to the sound of massed drums. Then the ripping apart of him begins in earnest and sprigs and branches of evergreens are tossed out to the eager crowd as having a piece of Jack is meant to ensure you good luck for the coming year.

My piecee of Jack’s body.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

I am indebted to Sarah Hannant’s invaluable book Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids – a Journey through the English Ritual Year for the information on my local Jack in the Green which takes place around Deptford.  There Jack’s slaughter takes place on May 1st regardless of whether its’s a working day or not. The group are still known as Fowlers Troop and their version took place from roughly 1906 until 1924 when the police stopped it.  Again it was associated with chimney sweeps.  A local photographer of the time, Thankfull Sturdee, (now there’s a name) took photos of the 1906 Jack and his work can be found on the Fowlers Troop website and also in Lewisham Borough photos archives.

Fowlers Troop, Deptford Jack in the Green, 1900’s by Thankfull Sturdee.
Used without permission

I saw it in 2017 and it followed a route through Greenwich which includes several pubs.  Outside each one there was morris dancing and singing and two old sea dogs relating various tall tales.  The Jack is very tall, roughly 3m, decorated with flowers at the top and has to have a guide to lead him forward as it must be difficult to see his way. I followed them through the wet grounds of the former Royal Naval College and enjoyed seeing the looks of amazement on car drivers and casual bystanders faces as we passed by.  Sadly, I missed the killing of Jack as I lost them at the Rose and Crown. Here is a selection of photos from the 2017 Deptford Jack – look at the size of the Jack!

 

A Jack in the Green is an event worth seeing as it’s always very lively and there’s a pub or two involved if that’s what you fancy. It’s a celebration of English culture, albeit slightly watered down these days, and an acknowledgement of the changing of the seasons.

 

So support your local Jack!

There are several Jack in the Greens in the UK:

Brentham, North Ealing, Guildford, Kuntsford, Oxford, Rochester, Whitstable, Bristol, Carshalton, Central London at Conway Hall, City of London, Highworth, Wilts, Ilfracombe, Knutsford, Oxford,,

©Text and photos Carole unless otherwise stated

 References and further reading

 Mummers, Mapypoles and Milkmaids, – A journey through the English ritual year,  Sarah Hannant,  Merrell Publishing, 2011

www.livingmyths.com/Celticyear.htm

http://www.deptford-jack.org.uk/

http://www.hastingsjitg.co.uk/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_in_the_Green

https://www.tripsavvy.com/jack-in-the-green-festival-1662665

http://www.countryfile.com/may-day-guide-history-traditions-events