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

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2017 Jack-in-the-Green update

Jack in the Green © Dan Pearce 2017

In a spectacular start to this years Jack in the Green season I can confirm that fifteen Jacks have been spotted so far! They are:

  • The Hastings Traditional Jack-in-the-Green
  • The Oxford Jack-in-the-Green
  • The Whitstable Jack-in-the-Green
  • The Ilfracombe Jack-in-the-Green
  • The Bovey Tracey (Grimspound Morris) Jack-in-the-Green
  • The Fowlers Troop (Deptford) Jack-in-the-Green
  • The Hever Castle Jack-in-the-Green
  • The Hammersmith Jack-in-the-Green
  • The Guildford Bush
  • The Bluebell Hill (Rochester Sweeps) Jack-in-the-Green
  • The Highworth Jack-in-the-Green
  • The Winchcombe Jack-in-the-Green
  • The Dead Horse Morris (Whitstable) Jack-in-the-Green
  • Kentwell Hall (Suffolk) Jack O’Green
  • Wythenshawe Hall (Manchester) Jack ‘O’ Green

There are still at least three Jacks to come including:

  • The Bristol Jack-in-the-Green
  • The Knutsford Jack-in-the-Green
  • The Brentham Jack-in-the-Green

Full details and links can be found on our Annual Events Page

As you will see from the posts below I’ve received pictures of a number of Jacks for which I am extremely grateful, but please do keep them coming. I’m more than happy to receive multiple pictures of each Jack for our online photographic archive to help record these wonderful events. It is my intention to create an archive of pictures of every Jack from every year.

There are a few Jacks that I’ve not yet received pictures for and would be extremely grateful if any readers can help to source. They are:

  • The Hammersmith Jack-in-the-Green
  • The Winchcombe Jack-in-the-Green
  • The Dead Horse Morris (Whitstable) Jack-in-the-Green
  • The Hever Castle Jack-in-the-Green
  • Kentwell Hall (Suffolk) Jack O’Green
  • Wythenshawe Hall (Manchester) Jack ‘O’ Green

And if you know of another Jack in the Green that I’ve missed please do get in touch.

And as a magical May Day ends for those who missed it this morning above is Hastings Artist Dan Pearce’s incredibly atmospheric picture “Jack in the Green” To see more of Dan’s art go to http://www.danpearce.graphics/ I am extremely grateful to Dan for allowing me to reproduce his picture here on our blog.

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Whitstable Jack-in-the-Green

The wonderful Whitstable (Oyster Morris) Jack in the Green paraded through the town of Whitstable in Kent today. My thanks to Barry O’Brien for letting me use his pictures here.

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!

Hastings Traditional Jack-in-the-Green

The spectacular Hastings Traditional Jack-in-the-Green awoke this morning and paraded through the streets of Hastings.

My thanks to The Crown in Hastings for allowing me to reproduce their pictures here.

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. There are always only twelve official Bogies and they can always be found near the Jack-in-the-Green protecting and guiding him. 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.

Guildford Jack-in-the-Green

I’m pleased to announce that the Guildford Bush or Jack in the Green was spotted out and about on the streets of Guildford on Saturday 29th April. My thanks to Helena for allowing me to reproduce these pictures.

Known as The Guildford Bush, this Jack was revived by the Pilgrim Morris Men in 1979 and is built from Laurel. For many years the Jack was carried by folklorist  George Frampton. The parade commences at 10:30 outside The Star on the High Street. The Jack processes with the Pilgrim Morris Men to Castle Green where the Maypole is erected and the dancing involving guest Morris sides begins. 2016 marked the 40th Summerpole.

Deptford (Fowlers Troop) Jack-in-the-Green

The magical Fowler’s Troop (Deptford) Jack-in-the-Green was spotted today parading in Deptford and Greenwich. My thanks to Janita Drew for allowing me to reproduce this wonderful picture.

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.

If you spot a Jack in the Green please do send me in a picture for us to share on our blog and add to our free online Flickr archive where I hope to be able to add a picture of every Traditional Jack in the Green from every year.

Bluebell Hill (Rochester Sweeps) Jack-in-the-Green

I’m delighted to be able to report that the Bluebell Hill (Rochester Sweeps) Jack in the Green was sighted on Bluebell Hill at dawn this morning. Jack then travelled down to Rochester to take part in the Sweeps Festival. My thanks to ianfmcl for permission to reproduce his pictures of the event.

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.”

Highworth Jack-in-the-Green

I’m very pleased to be able to report that the Highworth Jack-in-the-Green paraded through Highworth in Wiltshire on Saturday 29th April. My thanks to Paul Baskerville of the Bang to Rites Drummers for letting me reproduce his pictures.

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.

Bovey Tracey (Grimspound Morris) Jack-in-the-Green

The wonderful Bovey Tracey (Grimspound Morris) Jack in the Green was spotted at the Green Man Spring Festival in Bovey Tracey yesterday. My thanks to Martyn Hillstead for this brilliant picture and for sending me this link to his video of the event: Bovey Tracey 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.

If you spot a Jack in the Green please do send me in a picture for us to share on our blog and add to our free online Flickr archive where I hope to be able to add a picture of every Traditional Jack in the Green from every year.

Oxford Jack-in-the-Green

I’m pleased to announce that the Oxford Jack-in-the-Green was spotted earlier today. He was accompanied by The Oxford University Morris Men.

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.

My thanks to John Spiers for tracking down the Oxford Jack and for allowing me to use the accompanying picture. John Spiers, better known in folk circles as Squeezy, is well known as being a member of Bellowhead. John was also a member of Eliza Carthy’s band. You can find out more about John and his music at: squeezyjohn.com

If you spot a Jack in the Green please do send me in a picture for us to share on our blog and add to our free online Flickr archive where I hope to be able to add a picture of every Traditional Jack in the Green from every year.

Merry May Day!

A Riddle

I am born on May Morning by sticks, bells, and ribbons
I am the sap in the dark root
I am the dancer with his six fools
I am the tump behind the old church
I am the lost soul under the misericord
I am the oak against the stars
I am the face that peers through the leaves
I am the fear in a childs mind
I am the demon on the roof-boss
I am killed in October and laid on church altars
I am the guiser on the bright bonfire
I am the old grain sown with the seed
I am the flame in the pumpkins grin
I am the spirit in the kern-baby’s bosom

A Merry May Day to you all from The Company of the Green Man

At the exact time that this post appears, as the sun rises on May 1st 2017 a number of Jacks-in -the-Green will be waking across the UK. They will parade around towns, villages and cities bringing the summer and “Jacks Magic” with them.

If you are lucky enough to see a Jack in the Green please do take a picture and send it to me to share with visitors to our blog from around the world.

The incredible picture below is “Jack in the Green” by Hastings artist Dan Pearce, it is oil on board 155 x 105 cms. To see more of Dan’s art go to http://www.danpearce.graphics/ I am extremely grateful to Dan for allowing me to reproduce his picture here on our blog.

Jack in the Green © Dan Pearce 2017

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