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Morris Dancers, Mad Jack Morris, at Old Town, Hastings

History of Jack in the Green

History of Jack in the Green

The first of May is the start of the United Kingdom’s summer and has always been celebrated.

During their occupation, the Romans dedicated the day to the Goddess Flora and would cut down trees and decorate them with ribbons and flowers.  This is the origin of the ‘May Pole’.

In the 16th and 17th centuries people developed this practice by making garlands of flowers and leaves for the May Day celebration.

Over the years, these garlands became more and more elaborate with people trying to outdo each other.

By the late 18th century, the celebrations had become so competitive that London Milkmaids carried silver-studded garlands on their heads while the Chimney Sweeps’

Garland was so big it covered an entire man!

The Chimney Sweeps’ garland eventually becomes a costume character in its own right known as ‘Jack-in-the-Green’.

In Hastings there were at least two groups who paraded a Jack-in-the-Green until about 1889.

Shortly after this the celebrations were stopped because of a Parliamentary Act preventing boys from working as Chimney Sweeps (the procession’s main performers) and the Victorian’s dislike of drunken and promiscuous behaviour.

In 1983, Hastings celebrations were revived by our local group Mad Jacks Morris Dancers.

The ‘Jack-in-the-Green Festival of Morris Dancing’ has turned May Day into one of the most important and hotly anticipated dates on the town’s events calendar.

In an extraordinary collage of colour and movement, a continuous stream of dancers, drummers and performers make their way through the narrow twittens of the Old Town to the hilltop ruins of Hastings Castle.

Here the Jack is symbolically slain and the spirit of the summer released in a ceremony that’s enjoyed by thousands of people. 

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