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Paulina
May Queen 2019

The 2021 May Day Festival has sadly been cancelled in the light of government and World Health Organisation advice regarding Covid-19.

May Day will next be held on Monday 2nd May 2022.

Visitor Information

Programme of Events

In Northill


May Day celebrations start in the car park of The Crown Public House, Northill.

11.30 am Morris Men dance.

12.45 pm Children assemble with their decorated hoops.

1 pm The judging of the decorated hoops takes place. The procession is assembled.

1.30 pm The procession leaves for Ickwell Green - a half mile walk down the village road.

This road is closed to vehicular traffic for the duration of the procession.

At Ickwell Green

A selection of stalls, refreshments and entertainments are available opposite the Maypole arena from 10 am onwards.

Seats in the arena are available from 12 noon. Adults £2, Children under 16 £1.

2 pm Crowning of the May Queen, followed by dancing by children and adults from within the Parish.

Car parking and toilets are available and there is disabled car parking close to the arena in Ickwell.

 
 

Information for Participants and Parents

 

May Day Dancing Practices

May Day practices for children aged seven and over are held in Northill Church Hall, Sand Lane on Monday evenings. Practices for 2022 will start on a date to be confirmed nearer the time.

If you are a child who would like to dance in the May Day, you should be of school age (ie 4-17) on May 1st and live in the villages of Caldecote, Old Warden, Ickwell, Northill, Thorncote or Hatch or have attended either Caldecote or Northill Lower School.

 

Decorated Hoop Competition

All children participating in the dancing on May Day can take part in the decorated hoop competition. Children are invited to decorate a hoop with flowers and ribbon or using their own imagination. Artificial flowers are not permitted. They then need to bring their hoop to the grounds of The Crown public house in Northill at 12.45 pm so that they can be judged. The dancers with the best hoops in each dancing category are then presented with a small prize when they reach the Arena at Ickwell.

All children participating in May Day should be assembled at The Crown Public House car park in Northill by 1 pm ready for the procession to take place.

In Case of Bad Weather

In Case of bad weather, the procession and crowning ceremony will still take place, but if conditions underfoot are too bad the dancing may have to be cancelled and rescheduled for later in the month. This decision will be taken after the crowning ceremony.

 

At the Green

If your child requires a drink of water while waiting to dance then please give this to them once they are seated in the arena – not during the procession. A performers’ gate will be available behind the Queen’s throne to give access to the children and also to facilitate toilet trips.

Collecting the Dancers

After having danced, the children will be taken to the tea tent, sited at the back of the arena (next to Ickwell Bury Entrance). They may be collected from there, or from the enclosure at the Maypole, immediately upon their return. In the case of little ones and country dancers please notify the person in charge before you take your child away. 

All children who take part in May Day are thanked for their participation by being invited to a party, or outing, depending on their age, which takes place in October.

Like to be a May Queen?

If you would like to stand for election as May Queen, click here for the details regarding eligibility.

History

In Celtic times, May Day was celebrated with the festival of Beltane (the Anglicised spelling of the Gaelic god Bealtaine) whose name meant good fire or God of Light. 


Our old documents show that celebrating May Day was an established custom at Ickwell as far back as 1563. Payments are listed in the Church Wardens’ accounts for the purchase of shoes for the dancers, bells for the shoes, food and drink. Payments were also made to various people for their paynes (efforts) and to mysnstrells. It was obviously a day of feasting and dancing.

A traditional feature of the Festival is the half-mile procession from the Church at Northill to Ickwell Green, which still continues today. In pre-Puritan times, the religious character was denoted by the custom of carrying at the head of the procession statues of Our Lady and the infant Christ - to displace the heathenish ideas associated with the maypole. When the Puritans objected to these images, the people substituted dolls, which they secreted in a basket, covered by a napkin, and devout supporters were invited to have a peep.

Up to the 19th century the maypole was erected each year and the usual practice was to cut down a tree - often a larch - and to bring the pole to the village and set it up to be festooned with greenery as a centre for the festivities. A permanent maypole (a ship’s mast according to one account) was erected in 1872 by the Squire John Harvey to celebrate the birth of his son. When the Squire died he left instructions in his will for the sum of £2 and 10 shillings to be paid every year for the upkeep of the festival. A bunch of mayflower (hawthorn) is tied around the pole every year before the May Day festivities start.

The ‘moggies’ with their blackened faces are another traditional feature of May Day. They are the sweep and his wife. Today we still have a ‘chimney sweep’s wife’ or ‘moggie’ as part of our celebrations. As in times past, ‘she’ plays an important part in collecting the funds to enable the ancient custom of our May Day celebrations to be perpetuated. You may also see ‘My Lord and Lady’ dressed in their gay finery.

In the 1880s the May Day at Ickwell underwent a change. A new style of celebration was introduced by Professor John Ruskin at Whitelands College in London. He had been inspired by European celebrations where a Queen of May was elected and coloured ribbons attached to the pole and woven and plaited by dancers. His pupils spread this new style of May Day throughout England. One of his pupils was Mrs Hodges, who became headmistress of Northill School in 1894.

The school in the adjacent village of Caldecote has had a half day's holiday at least since 1864 (when the school log book was started) to go and watch the festivities at Ickwell. In 1911, they were invited to send dancers to take part. Subsequently, Old Warden also joined in and it is residents from these three villages who perform the celebrations today and from whom the May Queen and her attendants, flower girls and page boys are selected. In 1945, the Ickwell and District May Day Committee was formed and it is that committee which currently organises the event.


May Day 2000 was a particularly joyous occasion with 50 former May Queens present. The presentation of the locket to the May Queen 2000, Stephanie Turner was made by Mrs Vera Randall, nee Wagstaff, who had been May Queen in 1920.
What may well be unique to Ickwell is that we have twenty-four adult dancers - the Old Scholars - who also plait ribbons around the maypole. Almost without exception they are former pupils of the village school and many of them have children and grandchildren also performing on the day.

Thanks to Rene Welch for the information relating to the history of May Day.

 
 

How to find us


Use postcode SG18 9EE for satellite navigation
Ickwell Green is 3.5 miles from the A1 at Biggleswade.  This is about 30 miles from Junction 23 of the M25.
Trains - There are train stations at Biggleswade and Sandy

(both about 3.5 miles away) and also at Bedford (about 11 miles away).
Car parking and toilets are available and there is disabled car parking close to the arena in Ickwell.