Monday, May 2, 2016

1767 May printed for Robert Sayer, London.

1767 Printed for Robert Sayer, London. 

18C May Day celebration at Weybridge near London

This painting is a copy of a painted wooden overmantle, possibly showing the village of Weybridge c 1699-1801. In 1571, commissioners were appointed to report on the condition of the bridge across the Wey. They stated that for some years it had been so decayed as to be "unsafe for passengers, and that it was now ruinous...if the queen (Elizabeth I of England) should be at her house at Oatlands and the waters should rise, 'as often they do,' she could not pass to her forest to hunt."  It was accordingly ordered that a new bridge – a horse-bridge like the last – should be built, wood being used for its construction, as stonework would be too costly. The expense was to be born by the queen, as the land on either side belonged to her.  In this painting, many figures in 18C costume are depicted dancing around a painted wooden maypole. The painting is alleged to show the maypole set up on near the Ship Inn with the High Street in background.  Until the late 18C, Weybridge was as a very small village with a river crossing, seed milling to make flour & nurseries which would continue to provide the major source of home-grown income for the village until the 20C.

May Day 1500s in London

Woodcut 16C May - Herald the spring its Garland Day - the custom of Abbotsbury's Garland

May Day in London - From the Survey of London
By John Stow (c 1525-1605)

In the month of May, namely on May-day in the morning, every man, except impediment, would walk into the sweet meadows and green woods, there to rejoice their spirits with the beauty and savour of sweet flowers, and with the harmony of birds, praising God in their kind; and for example hereof, Edward Hall hath noted, that King Henry VIII., as in the 3rd of his reign, and divers other years, so namely, in the 7th of his reign, on May-day in the morning, with Queen Katherine his wife, accompanied with many lords and ladies, rode a-Maying from Greenwich to the high ground of Shooter’s Hill, where, as they passed by the way, they espied a company of tall yeomen, clothed all in green, with green hoods, and bows and arrows, to the number of two hundred; one being their chieftain, was called Robin Hood, who required the king and his company to stay and see his men shoot; whereunto the king granting, Robin Hood whistled and all the two hundred archers shot off, loosing all at once; and when he whistled again they likewise shot again; their arrows whistled by craft of the head, so that the noise was strange and loud, which greatly delighted the king, queen, and their company. Moreover, this Robin Hood desired the king and queen with their retinue, to enter the green wood, where, in harbours made of boughs, and decked with flowers, they were set and served plentifully with venison and wine by Robin Hood and his men, to their great contentment, and had other pageants and pastimes, as ye may read in my said author.  
I find also, that in the month of May, the citizens of London of all estates, lightly in every parish, or sometimes two or three parishes joining together, had their several mayings, and did fetch in May-poles, with divers warlike shows, with good archers, morris dancers, and other devices, for pastime all the day long; and toward the evening they had stage plays, and bonfires in the streets. Of these mayings we read, in the reign of Henry VI., that the aldermen and sheriffs of London, being on May-day at the Bishop of London’s wood, in the parish of Stebunheath, and having there a worshipful dinner for themselves and other commoners, Lydgate the poet, that was a monk of Bury, sent to them, by a pursuivant, a joyful commendation of that season, containing sixteen staves of metre royal, beginning thus:—

        “Mighty Flora! goddess of fresh flowers—

      Which clothed hath the soil in lusty green,
Made buds spring, with her swete showers,
      By the influence of the sunne shine:
To doe pleasance of intent full cleane,
      Unto the States which now sit here,
Hath Vere down sent her owne daughter dear:
Making the vertue, that dared in the roote,
      Called of clarks the vertue vegetable,
For to transcend, most holsome and most soote,
      Into the crop, this season so agreeable,
The bawmy liquor is so commendable,
      That it rejoiceth with his fresh moisture,
Man, beast, and fowle, and every creature,” etc.

Woodcut 16C Elizabethan maypole