The Traditional Jack-in-the-Green
The Company of the Green Man gathers, archives and makes available information and images relating to the traditional Jack-in-the-Green. The Company supports current traditions that feature the Jack-in-the-Green.
The Jack-in-the-Green was (and indeed is) a traditional participant in May celebrations and May Day parades in the UK. A large framework is covered in combinations of foliage and flowers and is often topped with an intricate crown of flowers. The Jack then parades or dances, often accompanied by attendants as well as Morris Dancers, musicians and assorted unusual characters.
The tradition of the Jack-in-the-Green most likely stems from the creation of intricate garlands of flowers during the 17th century which were carried by milkmaids during May Day celebrations. Over time the garlands became more elaborate until milkmaids would sometimes be seen balancing garlands on their heads covered in huge quantities of silver household objects. As guilds and other trade groups became established they joined in and tried to outdo the other participants in an attempt to receive more coins from the watching crowds. It was probably the Sweeps Guilds intent on earning as many coins as possible, to help them through what was traditionally the quietest part of their year, who first expanded the size of the garland to such an extent that they came up with the idea of the all covering structure, now known as the Jack-in-the-Green. May Day was traditionally a holiday for the Chimney Sweeps and became known as “Chimney Sweeper’s day.” The connection between the Jack-in-the-Green and chimney sweeps continues today. Some organisers and participants still have direct or distant connections with the trade. The character of the sweep is a participant in many of the current Jack-in-the-Green parades or is represented by his accoutrements (the sweep’s brushes) or blackened sooty faces. Varied musicians became involved as did dancers, mummers, Morris dancers and a host of strange characters including the Lord and Lady, clowns, men dressed as women, blind fiddlers, dragons, the “traditional” fairy on stilts and a number of named characters. These included Black Sal, Dusty Bob, May Day Moll, Grand Serag, Jim Crow, Master Merryman, St George, The May King and Queen, and of course Robin Hood and Maid Marian.
The earliest known record of a Jack-in-the-Green is from The Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser of 2 May 1775:
“Jack of the Green had made his garland by five in the morning, and got under his fhady building by seven…”
By the early 1800s the Jack-in-the-Green had spread from London following the rapid unregulated growth of the chimney sweep’s profession through the suburbs across the south of England and beyond. Most towns had at least one, and often many sweeps who paraded rival Jacks on May Day. From the mid 1800s May Day celebrations and the Jack-in-the-Green began to die out. Victorian sensibilities clashed with the bawdy working class practices involving the Jack-in-the-Green. Newspaper reports of the events became increasingly negative and disparaging of the general mayhem and at times riotous behaviour that ensued at these events. In 1875 the Chimney Sweepers Act was passed. The practice of sending boys up chimneys was banned and all chimney sweeps had to be registered with the police. The Sweeps May Festivities were changed irrevocably and by 1875 the heyday of the Jack-in-the-Green was over. By the early years of the 20th Century the Jack-in-the-Green had all but died out across the UK. From the mid-1800s a number of Jacks were already tame ’revivals’ or even replacements created by the Victorians to become a part of their own more genteel May celebrations of the English Idyll.
The Jack-in-the-Green also emigrated during the 1800s, in many cases accompanying Sweeps’ families heading out to find work in the colonies. Jacks appeared and, in some cases flourished, as far away as Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania and Jamaica before eventually meeting the same fate as the Jack-in-the-Green in the UK.
The Knutsford Jack is probably the oldest continual annual Jack-in-the-Green. Apart from the war years it has paraded as part of Knutsford’s Royal May Day every year since 1890. However the Knutsford Jack was not one of the early Jacks but like many others in the late 19th Century was a much tamed Victorian revival having first appeared in May 1864 “based on earlier traditions and festivities” by the Rev. Robert Clowes the Vicar of Knutsford.
Brentham’s May Day tradition became established in 1919, after the end of the First World War, and expanded considerably for 1920 when the first Jack-in-the-Green appeared. The time between the wars up to 1951 seem to be the dark ages with regards to information about Jacks. Apart from Knutsford and Brentham there are illusive reports of a Jack sighted opposite Guy’s Hospital in Borough, London in 1923 and a Sweeps’ Jack in St Ebb’s, Oxford that went out until 1939. A number of other sightings appear to be smaller Jacks created by children, including one at Ely.
The Oxford Jack was revived in 1951 by The Oxford University Morris Men. At the time they were unaware that it was a revival and that a Jack had appeared in Oxford before.
Another revival appeared as a one-off in Hollington, near Hastings in the 1950s. This Jack was a small one built for a child as part of the May Day celebrations.
1974 saw the publication of Lionel Bacon’s ‘Handbook of Morris dancing’ which actively encouraged the revival and evolution of Morris traditions. Then in 1976 the Labour Government announced the introduction of a new May bank Holiday to start in 1978. May Day in 1976 was on a Saturday and in 1977, the year of the Jubilee, on a Sunday. All these factors provided the impetus for new Morris sides to form and for existing Morris sides to do something bigger and better than before. A number of revivals occurred seemingly independently within the space of a few years.
In the mid-1970’s, Simon Garbutt built a reconstruction of a traditional Jack for a May Day celebration in Kingston and Surbiton, Surrey. His Jack was based on a photograph of May Day Festivities at Oxford by Sir Benjamin Stone c.1900.
In 1976 Pilgrim Morris of Guildford created a contemporary May Day celebration using a number of traditional elements from various sources including a Jack-in-the-Green known as “The Guildford Bush”.
The Whitstable Jack-in-the-Green was revived in 1976 by Dixie Lee, Oyster Morris and a local folk group for their folk festival. Independently around this time a Jack in the Green was also briefly revived in Rye by Daisy Roots Morris from Hastings.
In the late 1970’s Dave Lobb of The Greenwood Morris Men and later The Earls of Essex Morris formed GOG (The Grand Order of Guisers). As well as reviving dancing giants that can still be seen parading to this day (including Gogmagog the London Giant), GOG also revived the Islington Milkmaid’s Garland Morris and a Jack in the Green that paraded in Covent Garden.
Around this time Greenwood Morris used to dance at dawn at Alexandra Palace, then bring their Jack-in-the-Green into the City for an evening tour of London Wall and the Smithfield area and Mick Skrzipiec and the Earls of Essex Morris Men would parade a Jack-in-the-Green around the City of London.
The Bluebell Hill or Rochester’s Sweeps Jack was revived in 1981 by Gordon Newton as part of the Rochester Sweeps Festival. The Rochester Jack was based on accounts written by Charles Dickens in his ‘Sketches by Boz.’ The revived Rochester Jack-in-the-Green is brought to life during a fantastic ceremony that takes place at Dawn on May 1st at the top of Bluebell Hill. Jack is woken by Morris dancers whilst surrounded by twelve “bonfires”
In 1983 Mo Johnson made a Jack-in-the-Green in the back garden of the ‘Dog and Bell’ and Blackheath Morris (a side morphed from the Blackheath Foot’n’Death Men who used to dance at events featuring bands like Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies) revived the Deptford (Fowlers Troop) Jack. Mo was inspired by one of Thankful Sturdee’s photographs c.1900 of the original troop and Jack.
Also in 1983 as May Day fell on a Sunday a number of Jacks were paraded in London. Dave Lobb and Mick Skrzypiec of The Earls of Essex Morris were discussing old May Day customs over a pint one lunchtime and decided to create an all-day event and the concept of the City of London Jack-in-the-Green was born.
On May Day in 1984 the Earls of Essex Morris, with Mick Skrzypiec in the Jack, met at dawn on Wanstead Flats to see the sun rise. After breakfast they travelled by commuter train into Liverpool Street and started the first City of London Jack-in-the-Green procession. They were joined at the Magog’s pub in Milk Street by Blackheath Morris’s Deptford (Fowlers Troop) Jack and a Jack carried by Mike Mullen of Hammersmith Morris. On subsequent occasions they were joined by the Jack from Royal Liberty Morris, the Jack from Greenwood Morris (Carried by Alan Pearson) and members of other Morris teams and the Grand Order of Guisers (GOG)
The Hastings Jack was revived by Keith Leech MBE (formally of GOG and the Earls of Essex) and Mad Jack’s Morris in 1983 after he moved from London to Hastings. Working with Folklorist Roy Judge Keith pieced together late 19th century references to the Hastings (or as Roy would correct him) The St Leonards on Sea Jack in the Green.
In Tasmania the Hobart Jack in the Green was revived by The Jolley Hatters of Hobart Morris Team in 1987 and was still known to be parading in 1998. I have been unable to ascertain whether the Hobart Jack it is still active and would love to hear from anyone with any information.
In Oakhanger, Hampshire in 1991 a Jack-in-the-Green was an addition to a new local tradition of Bower Decking that was started in 1988 by the local community and Morris dancers and Jack led the procession. Bristol (a scion of the Hastings Jack) was revived by Pigsty Morris in 1992.
John Major’s Conservative Government tried to remove the new Bank Holiday in 1993. A group made up of representatives of all the active Jacks protested at Parliament. The Rochester Jack danced in Downing Street and the Hastings Bogies (Jack’s mischevious attendants) were allowed access to Parliament in full Bogie costume. It was most likely the appearance of the Bogies that caused the government to back down (I like to think so anyway).
Ilfracombe (another scion of Hastings) has had a Jack since 2000. Many other places have since followed suit including High Wycombe, Highworth, Winchcombe, Tunbridge Wells, and Lands End some of which have become annual events. A Jack has also been known to parade in the Pagan Pride Parade or Beltane Bash. A May Day celebration was established briefly from 2006 to 2011 at Edwinstowe, Nottingham which included a Jack in the Green. 2013 saw a brand new Jack go out in Yaxley Cambridgeshire. A Hop Jack appeared as a one off at the Faversham Hop Festival in August 2013 and 2014 saw a revival of the Cheltenham Sweeps Jack.
In 2016 Hever Castle in Kent started their own annual Jack in the Green as part of their May Day celebrations. In 2016 Kentwell Hall in Suffolk started an annual Jack O’Green as part of their Tudor May Day Celebrations. In 2016 Wythenshawe Hall in Manchester started an annual Jack ‘O’ Green accompanied by bogies as part of their Summer wake up to raise funds for the Hall.
In May 2017 Grand Hama Morris paraded a Jack in the Green in the city of Isehara in Japan accompanied by the Grand Hama Morris team who are based in Kanagawa, Japan and were established in 2015. I’m having a little bit of trouble translating information about Grand Hama Morris but would love to know more if any members of Grand Hama Morris read this article and could get in touch with me please.
There are also a small number of Jacks who parade privately in the UK each year.
The modern Jacks are often accompanied by musicians and Morris dancers or attendants sometimes known as Bogies dressed in green rags adorned with leaves and flowers and with their faces arms and hands covered in green paint. Some Bogies interact with those watching the proceedings as the Jack is paraded by handing out small gifts to children or by adorning the watchers faces with some of “Jacks magic” which to the uninitiated may look remarkably similar to green face paint! Some Bogies like those at Hastings are particularly fierce and will protect Jack from the unwanted attentions of those who get too close to Jack before he wakes or try to steal leaves from him during the procession.
Jack often dances and cavorts along, sometimes chasing those he takes a fancy to or who simply get in his way. He has also been known to have a voice on occasions and has been heard by the author to shout the words “bogey, bogey, bogey” before trying to invite himself into someone’s house.
Many argue that the Jack is in no way connected with the Green Men of Churches, particularly because there is no evidence of any extra attention being paid to the Green Men residing inside and outside places of Christian worship at this time of the year. Others are convinced that the connection is a strong one, and that they are merely different aspects of the ancient spirit of the wildwood, of re-birth and renewal and of the coming of summer.
For further reading I highly recommend the following publications which have been invaluable as source material for this article:
- The Jack-in-the-Green by Roy Judge: ISBN: 0 903515 20 2
- May Day in England An Introductory Bibliography by Roy Judge: ISBN: 0 85418 152 0
- The Hastings traditional Jack in the Green by Keith Leech: ISBN: 078 0 901536 10 5
- Jack-in-the-Green in Tasmania 1844-1873 by Keith Leech: ISBN: 1 8671903 00 9
- Yesterday’s Country Customs: A History of English Folk Traditions By Henry Buckton: ISBN: 0752477374, 9780752477374
- Fowlers Troop and the Deptford Jack in the Green by Sarah Crofts: ISBN: 0954266110
- May Day – The Coming of Spring by Doc Rowe: ISBN:1 85074 983 3
Another excellent source of information has been Keith Chandlers ‘It is the First of May’ – ‘Jack in the Green Revisited’ an online gazetteer of references to historical Jacks. Roy Judge’s own gazetteer included references sourced by himself and a network of correspondents (Keith Chandler included) and was updated and considerably expanded in the revised 1999 second edition of “The Jack-in-the-Green.” When Roy died in 2000 Keith took on the task of continuing to gather references for the next decade on the MUSTRAD website:
http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/jack_gre.htm Keith’s article adds significantly to Roy’s work and includes more than a hundred new references.
The continuation of these traditions is extremely important and I encourage everyone to head along to support their nearest Jack. I am in the process of visiting and photographing every Jack in the UK to create an archive of information and images and to provide as much publicity to these events as possible. If anyone knows of any current Jacks I may have missed I would love to know. I would also be very interested in receiving photographs and finding out more information about all the existing Jacks and the traditions that surround them.
This article is very much a work in progress and the author would be very grateful to hear from anyone with any corrections or further information about historical or modern Jacks especially from those who “were there”. The advantage of publishing via this blog is that the information contained is organic and can take seconds to update or correct when required.
Knutsford Jack-in-the-Green (Since 1890)
The Knutsford Jack in the Green is probably the oldest continual annual Jack in the Green. Apart from the war years and one recent year it has paraded every year since 1889. May Day in Knutsford (Cheshire) is celebrated over the May Bank holiday weekend. The main focus is the May Queen. The person who plays Jack is chosen each year and is now played by a youngster rather than an adult as it used to be. The Knutsford Jack was not one of the early Jacks but like many others in the late 19th Century was a much tamed Victorian revival having first appeared in May 1864 “based on earlier traditions and festivities” by the Rev. Robert Clowes the Vicar of Knutsford.
Brentham Jack-in-the-Green (Since 1919)
Brentham has a big celebration every May which includes a Jack in the Green described as a walking talking bush who sometimes parades barefoot and is often formed of exotic foliage. Brentham’s May Day tradition became established in 1919 after the end of the First World War and expanded considerably for 1921 when the first Jack-in-the-Green appeared. May Day wasn’t celebrated in Brentham between 1927 and 1930 but from 1931 except for the war years, Brentham May Day has had an uninterrupted run. In 1981 the procession very nearly did not take place. “With just one day to go to the celebrations, the organisers received a letter from Scotland Yard instructing them to observe a 28-day ban on marches in London. Ironically, it seems that “May Day procession” had suggested extreme leftwing intentions to Scotland Yard. With extraordinary speed the May Day organisers arranged a High Court hearing, where the judge was shown photographs of past May Day processions. He concluded that the children “did not look like a very subversive lot”, and he gave permission for the procession to go ahead. In the meantime the police had exempted the procession from the ban, though, curiously, on “religious” grounds. May Day that year will be remembered as the first and only time in the history of the Brentham tradition that prayers were said at the beginning and the end of the proceedings.
Oxford Jack-in-the-Green (Revived 1951)
The Oxford Jack-in-the-Green appears every year in Oxford on May Morning. OUMM (Oxford University Morris Men) introduced Jack-in-the-Green to their May Morning festivities in 1951. At that time they were unaware that a Jack-in-the-Green was a common sight in and around Oxford in the 19th century. The Oxford Jack is usually first seen near Magdalen Tower just before 6am and leads an informal procession up ‘The High’ to Radcliffe Square, where the first dance of the day: “Bonny Green” from Bucknell, starts at about 6.25am. Jack then moves through New College Lane and Broad Street, concluding with a massed ‘Bonny Green Garters’ outside St. John’s College in St. Giles around 8.30am. After breakfast the University & City Men usually take Jack to a display for the children of St. Ebbe’s school when May Morning falls on a weekday.
Guildford Jack-in-the-Green (Revived 1976)
Known as The Guildford Bush, this Jack is accompanied by the Pilgrim Morris Men of Guildford during the annual Summerpole all day event in Guildford. They meet at the bottom of the High street and process to Holy Trinity Church with the Maypole. The Maypole is erected on Castle Green and the dancing involving guest Morris sides begins. This Jack was revived in 1976 by Pilgrim Morris. For many years the Jack was carried by folklorist George Frampton. Pilgrim Morris were founded in 1972, during the summer months they dance around Surrey and north-east Hampshire, and occasionally further afield. The Guildford Jack is built from Laurel and usually stands just ten inches higher than the occupant who is “Usually somebody of less than average height.” “The activity of the bush depends on the inclination of the carrier. Sometimes it gets in the way of the dancers and entertains the public and at other times it just stands around”
Whitstable (Oyster Morris) Jack-in-the-Green (Revived 1976)
A Jack-in-the-Green was revived for the Whitstable Folk Festival in 1976 and is now central to the Whitstable May Day celebrations. The Jack is supported by Oyster Morris who also have their own Green Man who combines the roles of Jester and announcer dressed in white and green. The Whitstable Jack is accompanied by two attendants dressed as Robin Hood and Maid Marian. Dixie Lee one of the original organisers said in 1992 “At the time it just seemed like the Jack was looking for a reason to come out again, and I must say that every year when Jack makes his appearance on the street I get such a feeling of power from him that I know it was the right thing to do” After 40 years of reviving the Whitstable Jack, Dixie Lee retired in 2016 at the age of 80 and Oyster Morris took over the Jack and the procession.
The Whitstable Times of 4th May 1895 included a report about a Jack in the Green catching fire on Whitstable High Street. Stephen Penn was in the Jack “encased in a pyramid of evergreens covered with thin colour paper…. “Jack” thought he would have a pipe and proceeded to light up” A spark from the pipe ascended to the upper part of the casing and caught alight. “He was instantly enveloped in flames” Fortunately the evergreens seem to have protected him and he only had his whiskers burnt off. His son Stephen Penn Jnr. however became ignited whilst attempting to help his father and was badly burnt, he was treated by the newly formed ambulance corps. A story circulated in 1977 that in 1912 the Whitstable Jack in the Green caught fire and the man inside burnt to death putting a stop to the tradition. There is no evidence of this and perhaps it is more than likely that the writer was in fact referring to the 1895 incident and perhaps embellishing it with their own memories of the 1973 film “The Wicker Man” for dramatic effect. In May 2016 Dixie Lee informed me of an addition to this story from a local lady that she knows well. Her Grandmother (whilst heavily pregnant) was walking to the shops when see saw the Jack catch fire. This caused such a shock that she went into labour. The result was a baby girl called May. May seems to have been unaffected by the incident and lived to the ripe old age of 99!
Deptford (Fowlers Troop) Jack-in-the-Green (Revived early 1980’s)
In 1983 Mo Johnson built a Jack-in-the-Green in the back garden of the ‘Dog and Bell’ pub . An off shoot of the Covent Garden Jack Mo was inspired by a photograph taken by contemporary historian Thankful Sturdee of the original Fowlers troop with their Jack in the Green c.1900. The revived Jack was paraded with Blackheath Morris (a side morphed from the Blackheath Foot’n’Death Men who used to dance at events featuring bands like Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies).
The current Fowlers Troop Jack goes out on the streets of South East London or the City of London each May Day accompanied by the current Fowler’s Troop a wonderful collection of costumed figures. The Deptford Jack often used to meet up with the now rarely sighted City of London Jack in the Green on May Day. When May Day fell on the Bank Holiday Monday both the Deptford and City of London Jacks often went to Hastings to join with the Hastings Jack in the Green in the celebrations. This last occurred in 2012. The Jack stands at around 11 feet tall when lifted. Graham Newson who took on the mantle as keeper and main carrier of the Jack in the early 90’s customised the interior of the Jack to include storage space for essentials including cigarettes, beer tankard a repair kit, a change of clothes and on occasions a set of morris sticks. After 30 years the original frame for the Deptford Jack in the Green was past its best and so, in 2015, a new metal frame was created specially and paid for from a fund left by Doug Adams who was the lead musician of Fowler’s Troop. The Jack was christened at the start of the 2015 May Day procession. The Jack is usually dressed on April 30th at the Dog & Bell pub.
Rochester (Blue Bell Hill) Jack-in-the-Green (Revived 1981)
The Rochester Jack was revived in 1981 by Gordon Newton and based on accounts written by Charles Dickens in his ‘Sketches by Boz.’ The Rochester Jack-in-the-Green is brought to life during a fantastic ceremony that takes place at Dawn on May 1st at the top of Bluebell Hill each year. Originally revived by Boughton Monchelsea Morris, custodianship of Jack was passed to Motley Morris in 1984 who now Wake Jack with various other Morris sides at dawn on May Morning (approximately 5:32am) at the Bluebell Hill picnic area surrounded by twelve bonfires. Jack is paraded through the streets of Rochester usually on the bank holiday Monday as part of the very popular three day Sweeps Festival. An article in the Chatham and Rochester Observer in 1932 states that ” Sixty years ago (the 1870’s) it was not considered May Day if we had not seen at least three Jacks-in-the-Green and their attendants from Rochester and Chatham.”
Hastings Traditional Jack-in-the-Green (Revived 1983)
The Hastings Jack-in-the-Green festival was revived by Keith Leech MBE (formally of GOG and the Earls of Essex) and Mad Jack’s Morris in 1983 after he moved from London to Hastings. Working with Folklorist Roy Judge, Keith pieced together late 19th century references to the Hastings (or as Roy would correct him) The St Leonards on Sea Jack in the Green. There were at least two groups who paraded a Jack in the Green until about 1889, though the earliest mention of an already established Jack in the area dates back to 1848 “Clowns, shovels, dust and noise, Jack in the Green, a sooty queen, And half-a-dozen boys.”.
The revived Hastings Traditional Jack-in-the-Green event now spans four days and is one of the biggest annual gatherings of Morris Dancers in the country. It is a spectacular and magical event. The Jack is “released” from the Fisherman’s Museum every year in a wonderful ceremony and is central to the festival. The main procession or parade of the Jack takes place on the bank holiday Monday through the streets of Hastings Old Town starting from the Fisherman’s Museum. The Jack is accompanied by Mad Jacks Morris, Hannah’s Cat Morris, the Bogies, the Gay Bogies, sweeps, Black Sal, a milkmaid, the Fat Man with a Drum, dancers, giants, musicians and an incredible array of green participants who create elaborate costumes for the event. It has been described as one of the most bizarre parades in Britain and really has to be seen to be believed. At the end of the day Jack is slain and his foliage distributed to the crowds to release the spirit of summer. On some years other Jacks have been known to travel to Hastings to join in the festivities including The Fowlers Troop Jack and The City of London Jack. The Hastings Bogies have become a folkloric legend in their own lifetime.
The Bogies were originally thought up by Dave Lobb as an escort for the Jack to see him safely through the increasingly crowded streets and were camouflaged in green leaf suits to allow those carrying the Jack to swap places more discreetly. When not carrying or protecting Jack the Hastings Bogies paint the faces (and occasionally other parts of the body) of as many people as possible with green face paint. It is considered bad practice to try to take pieces of the Jack while it is processing and if caught the wrath of the Bogies is swift and may involve debagging and painting the back side of the offender. To be caught in the steely gaze of a Bogie is a fearful thing and to be avoided at all costs. At one point there were only twelve official Bogies that could always be found near the Jack-in-the-Green protecting and guiding him. One of the Bogies with twenty years service “in the green” commented “That may have been true once upon a time, but there are considerably more of us now. In the last two years some younger bogies have been recruited due to a lot of us nearing pensionable age. Nothing like young legs to carry the Jack up the hill.” The Hastings Jack is formed from Rhododendron which keeps green for longer than many other leaves. The crown of flowers worn by the Jack is often formed of red blue and gold flowers to represent the Cinque Ports of which Hastings is the first.
Rather than an open hole for the carrier to see out of the Hastings Jack’s “portal” is covered with an ornate mask. The original mask was made by Dave Lobb and since then other masks made by varying artists have been used. Between in 1993 and 1994 the mask used was created by artist Clive Hicks Jenkins and was based on the face of his late Father Trevor. Clive explained “After his death I was asked to provide a mask for the ‘Jack’ to wear at the Hastings Green Man Festival, and thereafter for a couple of years Trevor’s likeness was at the centre of that magnificent spectacle, an honour he would have delighted in.” The mask disappeared during Jacks demise one year and Clive would love to hear from anyone who knows where it might have ended up. A new mask was made by Marti Dean for the twenty fifth year of the Hastings Jack in 2008. The use of a mask has since been taken up by some other revived Jacks. Many of the “traditions” surrounding the Jacks in the Green that parade throughout the UK originated with the Hastings Jack including the waking of the Jack in the morning and slaying of the Jack at the end of the day, the distributing of Jacks leaves to the crowd for “good luck” and the burning of distributed leaves on a bonfire in the autumn.
For anybody interested in more information about The Hastings Traditional Jack in the Green and indeed the history of the Jack in general I would highly recommend Keith Leech’s excellent book, The Hastings Traditional Jack in the Green.
Hammersmith Jack-in-the-Green (Revived 1984 and again in 2009)
On May Day in 1984 a Jack carried by Mike Mullen of Hammersmith Morris joined a number of other Jacks at the Magog’s pub in Milk Street. The trail of the Hammersmith Jack then goes cold for 25 years until 2009 when Members of Hammersmith Morris created their Jack in it’s current form possibly unaware of its earlier incarnation. The Hammersmith Jack, is largely covered with artificial foliage, although it does have a crown of fresh flowers on May 1st. The leaves are made in a variety of materials, some created by children at local schools that the Jack visits as part of its May Day perambulations. As well as leaves made of paper,fabric and plastic, the Jack has other items attached that have some significance to either Hammersmith, the team, or the person who attached it. These can be almost anything, as long as they are small and easily attached to the bamboo and net frame. The overall appearance of the Hammersmith Jack is quite spectacular. The Jack is paraded through Hammersmith on May 1st, regardless of which day of the week this falls, and wherever else the Jack visits on this day. This included 2016 when The Hammersmith Jack travelled west by train to appear at dawn in Sherborne, Dorset on May 1st. Jack was back home parading through Hammersmith by lunchtime. When May 1st is a normal weekday then Jack and the team will visit schools, in some of which the children will have made leaves out of paper to attach to Jack. There are no attendants other than the Morris Dancers and musicians. The rest of the year the Hammersmith Jack is stored at Cecil Sharp House the home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society where he sometimes takes part in events.
Bristol Jack in the Green (Revived 1992)
The Bristol Jack in the Green was revived by Pigsty Morris in 1992 and is a scion of the Hastings Traditional Jack. The Bristol Jack appears on the first Saturday in May starting from the historic harbourside (outside the M Shed). Jack is “awoken” by his green clad attendants in an evocative ceremony on the harbourside and then leads a magical six hour procession through the streets of Bristol. The Bristol Jack is nine feet tall and is top with a crown of flowers, he can be difficult to control, his attendants often have to keep him from chasing members of the public. Jacks attendants distribute Jacks magic (often mistaken for green face paint) amongst those watching him along the route. The Bristol Jack in the Green’s route varies slightly each year but he normally passes through St Nicholas Market where he dances before pausing for a well earned pint at The Crown. The day always ends on Horfield Common where large crowds gather to witness the slaying of Jack to release the spirit of summer. Jacks leaves are then distributed to the watching crowd. In 1861, the Western Daily Press reported that: “Throughout the city and Clifton there was the usual visitation of Royalty – perhaps a more plentiful crop of Kings and Queens than in former years – and Jack in the Green, with a band of music and a cohort of gaily dressed fraternal spirits, paraded the thoroughfares and drew much attention.” A Jack-in-the-Green was also recorded in Bristol around 1865 by a lady who remembered seeing him with a sweep and a queen on the outskirts.
Ilfracombe Jack-in-the-Green (Started 2000)
Ilfracombe’s Jack-in-the-Green procession was started in 2000 by Lisa Sture. Local children were involved and it was supported by local morris teams. Another descendant of the Hastings Jack, the Ilfracombe Jack event also finished with the release of the spirit of summer and the distribution of leaves often on Ilfracombe beach. The Ilfracombe Jack did not appear in 2015 after the previous committee were unable to continue. Kelly Raveney stepped in to help and Ilfracombe’s May Day Celebrations returned in 2016. In 2017 the parade will be held on Sunday 30th April starting at 11:30am from the Pier Tavern Pub heading down St. James place, through Ropery road, up Fore Street via the High Street and down Northfield road straight to the clapping circle where ‘Jack-in-the-Green’ will be “Stripped of his leafy coverings to release the ‘spirit of summer.'” This years parade will also feature a horned god giant as well as seeing the return of a maypole.
Whitstable (Dead Horse Morris) Jack-in-the-Green
Dead Horse Morris have a Jack-in-the-Green clad entirely in Ivy who takes part in the Dawn Rising celebrations on Whitstable Beach on May 1st each year. He then takes part in the Whitstable May celebrations. The Jack is built of ivy leaves tied together in bunches and then fixed to a light-weight frame. In it’s final form it also boasts a crown. Dead Horse Morris was formed in 1986 they dance in heavy hob-nailed boots, use short blackthorn sticks and their kit is based on the ordinary working clothes of a local fisherman or dredger of the late 19th Century.
Highworth Jack-in-the-Green (Started 2006)
Highworth in Wiltshire celebrated the 800th anniversary of it’s market charter with a Jack in the Green on 22nd April 2006. The Highworth Jack in the Green is now an annual tradition as part of the annual May Market. The Jack is accompanied by the Bang to Rites Drummers a group of community based performance drummers, based around the borders of Wiltshire, Oxfordshire & Gloucestershire who formed in the summer of 2013.
Winchcombe Jack-in-the-Green (Revived 2009)
The Winchcombe (Gloucestershire) Jack was revived on August 31st 2009 as part of “Marking the Year.” A Jack was recorded as visiting a local school by Emma Dent of Sudeley Castle in the 1890’s. The Jack was then resurrected for May Day 2010 and a local May bank holiday village fete and is now awoken every year at dawn on May Day by Happenstance Border Morris and appears at various events in the following days often joining the Cheltenham Jack-in-the-Green.
Yaxley (Cambridgeshire) Jack-in-the-Green (Started 2013)
The Yaxley Jack-in-the-Green is a brand new Jack. He lead the traditional May parade on May 18th 2013 accompanied by Sap-Engro and Copperface as well as an attendant wearing the original Ancient Order of the Foresters sash, worn in the village’s parades in the nineteenth and early twentieth century and a host of boggarts – the mischievous imps of Fenland lore. He appeared in 2013 and 2014 but not in 2015. From 2016 he will appear every two years at the Yaxley Festival and may also make appearances elsewhere on other years.
Cheltenham Sweeps Jack-in-the-Green (Revived 2014)
The Cheltenham Sweeps Jack appears in a photograph taken of May Day in Cheltenham in 1892. A Jack was first recorded in Cheltenham in 1830 and intermittently up until 1912. The 2014 revived Jack joined the Winchcombe Jack at Sudeley Castle on May 5th 2014 and is now an annual Jack. In 2016 The Cheltenham Jack-in-the-Green returned to the streets of Cheltenham for the first time in over 100 years parading through Cheltenham and recreating the photograph taken 124 years earlier. The Cheltenham Jack did not appear in 2017.
This 1891 description of the Cheltenham Jack-in-the-Green was written by W.H.D. Rouse who was President of The Folklore Society 1904-1906 and is reproduced in Roy Judge’s wonderful book “The Jack-in-the-Green” available from The Folklore Society.
‘The dancers are the chimney-sweeps of the town, two of whom, dressed in ordinary clothes, but with faces blacked, play on a fiddle and a tin-whistle for the dancing. The centre of the group is formed by a large bush: on a framework of wood leaves are fastened, so as to make a thick cone of them, about six feet high, topped with a crown made out of two hoops of wood covered with flowers, fastened crosswise. The mass of leaves is only broken at one place where there is an opening contained by a straight line and the arc of a circle, like a ticket office, through which peers the face of Jack-I’-the-Green, or the Bush-carrier. Jack advances halfway down the street, and then sets down the bush. Three young men of the party are attached, so to speak, to the bush, and now begin to dance round it. Their faces are blackened; they are crowned with complete caps (not garlands) made of all manner of leaves and flowers. Their dresses are red, blue, and yellow respectively, each of one colour; loose-fitting bodies and trousers of calico, with flower-patterns upon them. These dance lightly round the bush, turning always to their left, in a tripping polka-step, three trips and a pause, mostly straightforward, but with a turn round now and then. I am informed that they always dance in the same direction.
‘The rest of the party are boys and two men, most fantastically dressed; it is almost impossible to describe the dresses. The leader of the whole procession – the Clown – wears a tall hat, whose crown has been cut almost round, and turned back, like the lid of a meat-tin. To this flapping crown is fastened what looks like a bird or a bundle of feathers, and a few ribbons hang from it; there is a wide pink ribbon fastened round the hat by the brim, with a large blue bird’s wing in front, the feather end rising to the crown. Over a dress of chequered calico and trousers of red and black stripes, is a very large pinafore, reaching from the neck to the knees, and fastened by one or two knots behind. Across the front run two fringes of coloured stuff, below the waist; and at the bottom is a yellow frill. This he used to flap and make quaint gestures with, now and again fanning himself languidly; indeed this personage greatly fancies himself. His face is stained by large black rings round the eyes, and a red dab over mouth and chin.
The second man wears a red fool’s-cap, with a tassel, all stuck with flowers. On the right and left breast of his white pinafore are stuck or painted black figures, meant for human beings; and behind, a large pattern in the shape of a gridiron, with a red bar crossing it diagonally.
‘The two boys have white pinafores, with similar figures, or stars, on the breast, and a fish on the back; their white pinafores are cut away in the shape of swallow-tail coats, the tails flying out behind. One wore a girl’s hat stuck with flowers.
‘Most or all of these last five carried in the left hand an iron ladle or spoon with holes pierced in the bowl, which they held out for contributions; in the right they had a stick, with some kind of bladder hung on to the end. Whirling this, they ran about, and tried to strike the passers-by, who scampered off shrieking as hard as they could go. They sometimes danced, sometimes roared, and pretended to bite any child who ventured too near. Their faces, like their leader’s , were painted in divers colours, fearful and wonderful to behold.
Bovey Tracey/Grimspound Morris Jack-in-the-Green
The Bovey Tracey Jack-in-the-Green goes out with Grimspound Morris. He can be seen greeting the Mayday dawn up on Haytor and then afterwards puts in an appearance in Bovey Tracey. I would love to receive more information about this Jack and its history.
Chagford Jack-in-the-Green (Started 2015)
The Chagford (Devon) Jack-in-the-Green appeared as part of a May Day revival in 2015. It has not yet appeared again since.
Horsley Primary School Jack-in-the-Green
Horsley Primary School in Stroud has an annual May Day event. The oldest boy in the school plays Jack dressed in Beech leaves. Accompanied by the May Queen. Jack in the Green opens the door of the parish church to let in the morning light and welcome the day.
Carshalton Straw Jack
A Celebration of Harvest this takes place in September each year. The Straw Jack is made from the last straw of the harvest and is ritually stripped in the evening so that all present can take a keepsake and then he is burnt in a brazier. It is hoped that he will be burnt as a complete figure one year. The Straw Jack is more closely related to the Jack in the Green than to traditional straw bears having no legs and being built around a frame.
Grand Hama Morris Jack-in-the-Green (Started 2017?)
The Grand Hama Morris Jack-in-the-Green paraded in the city of Isehara in Japan in May 2017 accompanied by the Grand Hama Morris team who are based in Kanagawa, Japan and were established in 2015. I’m having a little bit of trouble translating information about Grand Hama Morris but would love to know more if any members of Grand Hama Morris read this article and could get in touch with me please.
Hobart (Tasmania) Jack-in-the-Green (Started 1987 – Last sighted 1998)
The Hobart Jack in the Green was revived by The Jolley Hatters of Hobart Morris Team in 1987 and was still known to be parading in 1998. I have been unable to ascertain whether the Hobart Jack it is still active and would love to hear from anyone with any information.
City of London Jack-in-the-Green (Started 1984 – Last sighted 2012)
Rather than a revival, The City of London Jack-in-the-Green is based on descriptions and illustrations from early writings. The City of London Jack was first paraded in 1984. Tradition has it that the City of London Jack only comes out on City working days, on years when this is not the case it is rumoured that the City of London Jack may occasionally be spotted elsewhere. The City Jack was last sighted when he joined the Hastings and Fowlers Troop Jacks in Hastings in 2012.
Beltane Bash/Pagan Pride Jack-in-the-Green (Last sighted 2010)
The Beltane Bash Jack-in-the-Green has not paraded since 2010. The parade used to start from the Conway Hall Red Lion Square London WC1 led by traditional giants, the Jack-in-the-Green and Bogies. There have been rumours that a Jack might take part in other Pagan Pride Parades.
High Wycombe Jack-in-the-Green (Revived 2005 – Last sighted 2012)
The High Wycombe Jack appeared in one form or another on Holywell Mead between 2005 and 2010 he did not appear in 2011 and was last sighted on Naphill Common in 2012.
Lands End Jack-in-the-Green (Started 2011 – Last sighted 2013)
The Lands End Jack-in-the-Green went out between 2011 & 2013 He greeted the Dawn at Chapel Carn Brea on May Day accompanied by Boekka Border Morris and sometimes by Penkevyll, the Lands End Obby Oss. The Lands End Jack-in-the-Green was last sighted in 2013.
Tunbridge Wells Jack-in-the-Green (Started 2010 – Last sighted 2012)
The Tunbridge Wells Jack-in-the-Green first went out on 30th April 2010 Jack (wearing a crown of May blossom) He lead a procession around the commons of Rusthall and Tunbridge Wells and was then slain to release the spirit of summer. He was accompanied by a number of drums and was flanked by a red flag and a flag of Kent. He was seen out and about beating the bounds in 2011 and 2012 but has not been sighted since then.
Hever Castle Jack-in-the-Green (2016?)
Hever Castle in Kent had their own Jack-in-the-Green and Green Man over the early May Bank Holiday weekend of 2016 joined by the Lord and Lady of the May on the Castle forecourt. The Green Man led a procession through the gardens waking up the plants for summer. I would love to hear more about this Jack from anyone who saw it. In particular I’d like to know if this was a one off.
Kentwell Hall Jack O’Green (2016?)
Kentwell Hall in Suffolk had their own Jack O’Green over the early May Bank Holiday weekend as part of their Tudor May Day Celebrations. The bringing in of the tree was led by a Jack O’Green, covered in Greenery, and processing the May Queen. I would love to hear more about this Jack from anyone who saw it. In particular I’d like to know if this was a one off.
Wythenshawe Hall Jack ‘O’ Green (2016?)
Wythenshawe Hall in Manchester had a Jack ‘O’ Green on May 2nd weekend as part of their ‘Summer Wake Up’ to raise funds for the hall. People were encouraged to dress in green and become one of Jack’s Bogies for the day. I would love to hear more about this Jack from anyone who saw it. In particular I’d like to know if this was a one off.
Royal Liberty Morris Jack-in-the-Green
In the 1980’s the City of London Jack-in-the-Green was often joined by other Jacks including the Jack from Royal Liberty Morris. I have very little information about this Jack in the Green and would love to know more.
The Greenwood Jack-in-the-Green
In the 1980’s the City of London Jack-in-the-Green was often joined by other Jacks including the Greenwood Jack-in-the-Green with Alan Pearson carrying the Greenwood Jack. I have very little information about this Jack in the Green and would love to know more.
The Earls of Essex Jack-in-the-Green
In the late 1970’s The Earls of Essex Morris Men would parade a Jack-in-the-Green around the City of London. On May Day in 1984 the Earls of Essex Morris, with Mick Skrzypiec in the Jack, met at dawn on Wanstead Flats to see the sun rise. After breakfast they travelled by commuter train into Liverpool Street and started the first City of London Jack-in-the-Green procession. It is my assumption that the Earls of Essex Jack-in-the-Green and the City of London Jack-in-the-Green are one in the same but I would love to know more.
The Covent Garden Jack-in-the-Green
In the late 1970’s Dave Lobb of The Greenwood Morris Men and later The Earls of Essex Morris formed GOG (The Grand Order of Guisers). As well as reviving dancing giants that can still be seen parading to this day (including Gogmagog the London Giant), GOG also revived the Islington Milkmaid’s Garland Morris and a Jack in the Green that paraded in Covent Garden. I’m assuming that the Covent Garden Jack-in -the-Green was a predecessor of The City of London Jack in the Green but would love to know more.
In Oakhanger, Hampshire in 1991 a Jack-in-the-Green was an addition to a new local tradition of Bower Decking that was started in 1988 by the local community and Morris dancers and Jack led the procession. I would appreciate any more information about this Jack.
A May Day celebration was established briefly from 2006 to 2011 at Edwinstowe, Nottingham which included a Jack in the Green. I would appreciate any more information about this Jack.
Sometime around 1976 a Jack in the Green was briefly revived in Rye by Daisy Roots Morris from Hastings. Again, more information would be gratefully received.
Barry O’Brien is hoping to start a Jack in the Green in the Parish of Coldred, near Dover. A Jack was recorded in Dover around 1842.
A Facebook page for the Sheffield Jack in the Green was started in March 2016. Planning looked to be in the early stages and so far there have been no updates.