Maypoles, Morris Dancing, Maidens and Martyrs

What do you think of when you think of May Day?  Maypoles, Morris Dancing, Maidens, Martyrs . . . this blog can promise them all!

But you might also think of it as one of a precious few UK bank holidays, so let’s deal with that first.

This year the Early May Bank Holiday (proper name!) is on Monday May 2nd with May 1st falling on a Sunday. If you are visiting us then (and there are a couple of rooms left!), we can discuss the rest over a pint of real ale or glass of wine in our cosy bar. But if you’ve missed out, don’t forget there is a second Spring Bank Holiday weekend at the end of May, so why not make a plan to give yourselves a well-earned break from the hurly-burly of modern life in the heart of Dorset?

May Day has been celebrated right across the UK for centuries. Derived from Anglo-Saxon and Celtic beginnings it morphed into as a festival of fertility heralding the beginning of Summer, but not just fertility of the kind the Carry On team might have been interested in, but of soil, livestock AND people!  Traditionally, springtime planting would be finished by this time of year and it was thought a good time to give the workers a day off for a bit of revelry.

Here in Ansty in Dorset (not to be confused with the Wiltshire village of the same name!), we love to celebrate these ancient traditions even though our life today is so different and there was, briefly, a resurrection of Randy Day round the corner in Melcombe Bingham, where a special pole was used by revellers to chase the unmarried women of the village. If they were touched they were “won”!  The revival appears to have been due to a Seventies trendy vicar but we’re not sure if the present-day maidens of the village would be so keen now?

When it comes to maypoles and Morris Men, we are lucky here in our neck of the woods to have our own Wessex Morris Men, who will be touring the nearby villages around us on both the Sunday and the Monday, beginning with a traditional ‘fertility stick dance’ at 5.15am on Sunday morning above the Cerne Abbas giant, before bringing the party to Cerne Abbas town square at the much more sociable hour of 7am! On 2nd May they will be at the nearby villages of Milton Abbas, Droop and Hazelbury Bryan at 12 noon, 1pm and 2pm respectively.

We promised you martyrs and we have six – The Tolpuddle Martyrs – sentenced to transportation to Australia in the 1830s for taking an ‘oath of secrecy’. May Day is also International Workers Day and there is always something going on in Tolpuddle to mark the day, although the Workers’ Memorial Day is on Thursday 28th April this year, for reasons we know not.  However, there is a great Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum there where you can gen up on the history of this famous story, so worth a visit at any time.

So there you go, Dorset May Day covered. We would love to hear your locality’s May Day traditions!

Wessex Morris Men
Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum