As a female participant in the great May Day procession of Hastings Traditional Jack in the Green I know that to go near the door of the Fishermen’s Museum before Jack is released brings the risk of being grabbed by Jack’s bogeys and being dragged inside to have bits of me painted green.
In days gone past women had to be young and unmarried to suffer this fate but nowadays all women are at risk, no matter how old or fat or having had however many husbands. So I stay well back from the door and form up with my group (below right facing the camera) between the drummers, the morris men, the giants, the pecking crows and the creatures of the forest all processing behind the Hastings May queen and the Mayor.
Jack dances out amidst a cloud of green smoke to the frenzied beat of the drums and cheers of the spectators. He is accompanied by his Bogeys who push a path through the crowd with their wooden staffs. The sound and sight is amazing as we pass the net shops into All Saints Street with dense crowds either side of the road. In the narrow streets of the Old Town the sound and atmosphere intensifies.
Someone is passing round a hip flask and it tastes wonderful although I’ve no idea what it is. Cries of Merry May bounce around and everyone is smiling. There is cheering all along the procession route as we cross the Bourne and turn into the High Street. Here there is a break of about half an hour and everyone pours into the pubs.
I pop into my friend’s house for a hot chocolate with brandy. Countless morris sides show off their dancing and the most fabulous costumes get photographed. I’m delighted to be asked to pose more than once.
Then we are off again up to the West Hill via Croft Road and Collier Road. All around St Clements Church is a dense sea of people. Even the steep climb of Croft Road is lined with people clapping and cheering. It’s such a relief to arrive on the West Hill filing in between a police escort as there are many food stalls, beer tent and toilets.
The stage is set for different groups to perform dancing, singing, drumming and sometimes all at once. By late afternoon Jack is slain to release the spirit of summer and everyone lucky enough to take home some of his leafy coat can burn it in their grate to ensure prosperity and a fruitful harvest. By this time I’ve sipped from several hip flasks and visited the beer tent and the day having started at 6am, I’m very happy to say goodbye until next year although I can’t wait to do it all again. A terrific day.
Photos: Mags Ivatts, Sarah Faberge and library image Video: Justin Lycett