All things Green Man & the traditional Jack-in-the-Green

Historical Jack-in-the-Green – December

May Day or Jack in the Green

Each month I publish a  newspaper article that featured the traditional Jack-in-the-Green along with a picture or photograph from the archive. Each of these articles is a fascinating window into a bygone era. For more information about the Jack in the Green both current and historical visit our main website at: www.thecompanyofthegreenman.co.uk

May 1st 1839: THE ENGLISH CARNIVAL

 The 1st of May is unquestionably a species of carnival in this country ; it comprises among Charles Lamb’s friends the chummies or sweeps, “fiddling, masking, dancing, and other things that may be had for asking” – that is, a few pence ; and, thanks be to this cold northern clime of ours, nothing more. Pity it is that they should be to the busy – those intent on worldly gain – a nuisance. They are so in the strait-built streets of the city, where the commerce of the world is transacted. But who of kindly heart, on the 1st day of May, cares for the growls of the obstructed merchant, or the curses of the hemmed importer? Look at the children how they flock together – how they run after “Jack-in-the-green,” and his masked, and piping, and fiddling, and drum-beating suite. Wednesday was a lovely May-day, and the streets of the metropolis profited by it. Jack-in-the-green had been seldom seen clad in greener or gayer colours, and rarely has he been followed by a more numerous or laughing cortège. Every lane and alley – hotbeds of population – poured out its juvenile and imitating admirers after him.

The Charter, 5 May 1839, page 230.

The picture featured this month is entitled “May Day or Jack in the Green” The artist and date are unknown 

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5 responses

  1. Interesting depiction. I have not seen the character with the bow and arrow (Eros?) included in the characters before. Although you say author and title unknown, can you say where it is from – is it the original illustration for the Charter article?

    December 26, 2014 at 7:52 am

  2. Hi Sarah,

    The picture is completely unconnected with the Charter article (very few JITG articles are accompanied by pictures it seems). I believe this is one that I came across a few years ago that was a complete mystery with regards to artist and original source. I suspect it might be much later, possibly 1880’s? But would welcome any other thoughts? The characters are fascinatingly, definately a sweep with shovel, an almost demonic clown! Drummers and a Napoleonic soldier? Eros? I must admit my first thought was that it was a very poor and slightly portly Robin Hood with a childs bow! Eros does seem more likely now.

    December 26, 2014 at 11:07 pm

  3. Yes, I would agree that it is probably much later. The artist has assembled all the standard characters although that Robin Hood/Eros character is a mystery. I notice that the artist’s initials are CJG, similar to the picture by Charles Green you featured, but it is rather a different style. There seems to be some type appearing behind the drawing so I guess it was most likely a newspaper or magazine illustration.

    You have just set me off looking through all my cuttings and pictures!

    December 27, 2014 at 7:47 pm

  4. Something else has occurred to me. If you look at the cover of the Roy Judge book with the illustration of Upper Lisson Street, 1840, your picture could almost be a reworking of this with everything reversed. The attitude of the clown is particularly similar in each.

    December 27, 2014 at 8:14 pm

  5. Absolutely! I’ll contact the Museum of London to see if they have any more information on the picture. Many thanks Sarah

    December 30, 2014 at 3:48 pm

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