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May Garlands

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Performer: Howman, Jessie
Place Collected: Stow-on-the-Wold
Date collected: 1966 (11 Aug)
Collector: Palmer, Roy
Roud Number: 22940

Although this song has a ring of being a Victorian composition, it does appear regularly in tradition, usually accompanying a May Day ceremony organised by adults. Most versions start “All around the Maypole, trit, trit, trot”, but vary widely from there on. In Paxford, a mere 2 miles from Draycott, the Ilmington Morris fiddler Sam Bennett played for the Maypole dancers, whilst in Moreton-in-Marsh, the words were:

All around the Maypole, trit trit trot,
See what a pretty maypole we have got.
Fine and gay, skip away, happy is our new May day
Gentlemen and ladies we wish you a happy day,
We’ve only come to tell you it is May day.

Children go to and fro’ in a very pretty row,
Footstep light, faces bright, it is a pretty sight.
Swift, light, twirling round and round,
Do not look upon the ground,

Follow me full of glee singing merrily.
We bow to the Queen of May,
We bow to the Queen of May,
The birds will sing and bells will ring,
We bow to the Queen of May,

Hail all hail the merry month of May,
Away to the woods and way,
And we will be as bright as day,
Away through all the merry month of May.

[From a letter to Gwilym Davies from Mrs E. M. Prosser who obtained the words from her sister in Moreton-in-Marsh.]

Mrs Neal from Aston-sub-Edge gave these words to the collector James Madison Carpenter in about 1930. She obtained the words from an aunt who may have learnt them in Warwickshire:

Dance around the Maypole, trit, trit, trot,
See what a Maypole we have got.
Fine and gay as a pim-posay
Happy is our New May Day.

I remember a lesson that was not thrown away
Early learn to be of use.
Not spend too much time in play
Work away while you’re able
Work away while you may.

This latter verse may have been added by teachers as a moral lesson to their pupils!

A slightly different version of the Paxford song was given to the collector Fred Hamer by Don Ellis of Chipping Campden in 1954 with the note “Don Ellis provided the music as provided by the old schoolmistress at Paxton [sic – means Paxford].”   This version gave 2 further opening lines, viz:

Here we form a merry ring
Dancing round awhile we sing

All around the maypole, etc  The tune given by Mr Ellis has not been traced.

A Gloucestershire version was reported in 1874 in Aunt Judy’s Magazine.

Although often noted, it has rarely been published, and Mrs Digweed’s version, with its changing tune and rhythm, is the fullest ever noted.

Notes by Gwilym Davies