Jack in the green

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
May Day in Cheltenham, 1892, from Folk-Lore Vol 4 (1893)
A Jack in the Green in Kingston, London in the mid-1970s.

A Jack in the Green (also Jack in the green, Jack-in-the-green, Jack i' the Green , Jack o' the Green, etc.) is a participant of traditional English May Day parades and other May celebrations, who wears a large, foliage-covered, garland-like framework, usually pyramidal or conical in shape, which covers his body from head to foot. The name is also applied to the garland itself.


A chimney sweeps' Jack in the Green dances with the "Lord and Lady of the May" (probably both played by men) in 18th-century London.
Hastings Jack in the Green procession.
A Bogey at Jack in the Green, Hastings.

During the 16th and 17th centuries in England, people would make garlands of flowers and leaves for the May Day celebration. After becoming a source of competition between Works Guilds, these garlands became increasingly elaborate, to the extent that it covered men entirely. Such a costumed man became known as a Jack in the Green. For some reason the figure became associated particularly with chimney sweeps[1] as, for example, in Cheltenham;[2] there are several explanations thereof, but none has been proven conclusively.[3]

By the beginning of the 20th century the custom had started to wane as a result of disapproval of bawdy and anarchic behaviour. The Lord and Lady of the May,[1] with their practical jokes, were replaced by a pretty May Queen, while the noisy, drunken Jack in the Green vanished altogether from the parades.[4]


Jack in the Green was revived in Whitstable, Kent during 1976 and continues to lead an annual procession of Morris dancers through the town on the May Bank Holiday. Rochester, also in Kent, revived the May Day Jack tradition during 1980, as the Rochester Sweeps Festival[5] with an associated awakening of Jack-in-the-Green ceremony held on Blue Bell Hill at sunrise.

Another revival occurred in Hastings during 1983[6] and has become a major event of the Hastings Old Town calendar. Ilfracombe in North Devon has had a Jack in the Green procession and celebration since 2000. It is participated with by local schoolchildren, dancing around the May Pole on the sea front, and by local morris men and dance groups from in and around the district.

Jack is a colourful figure, almost 3m (nine feet) tall, covered in greenery and flowers. In Whitstable, he is accompanied by two attendants, representing the legendary figures of Robin Hood and Maid Marian. In Hastings, he is also accompanied by attendants, here known as Bogies, who are completely disguised in green rags, vegetation, and face paint. The attendants play music, dance and sing as they guide Jack through the streets to celebrate the coming of Summer.

Revivals of the custom have occurred in various parts of England; Jacks in the Green have been seen in Bristol, Oxford and Knutsford, among other places. Jacks also appear at May Fairs in North America. In Deptford the Fowler's Troop and Blackheath Morris have been parading the tallest and heaviest modern Jack for many decades, either in Greenwich, Bermondsey and the Borough or at Deptford itself, and at the end of May a Jack is an essential part of the Pagan Pride parade in Holborn.

Current Jacks in the Green[edit]

A large number of Jacks parade each year keeping the tradition alive. Some are revivals based on traditional customs that ended during the 19th century, whilst others are new, based on writings or pictures depicting earlier Jacks. The following list are all currently active:

  • Brentham Garden Suburb, London: Brentham has a big celebration every May which includes a Jack in the Green described as "a walking, talking bush" who sometimes parades barefoot.[7]
  • Bristol: A Jack in the Green was recorded in Bristol about 1865 by a lady who remembered seeing him with a sweep and a queen on the outskirts of the city. The revived Bristol Jack in the Green appears on the first Saturday in May starting from the historic Harbourside (outside M Shed museum) and leads a procession through the streets of Bristol, eventually ending the day on Horfield Common where he is "slain" (and ripped apart by onlookers) to "release the spirit of summer".[8]
  • Carshalton, London: A Celebration of Harvest, this occurs during September each year. A straw Jack is stripped in the evening so that all present can take a keepsake and the body is burnt in a brazier.[9]
  • Central London:The parade starts from the Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1, led by traditional giants, the Jack-in-the-Green and Bogies.[10]
  • City of London: Rather than a revival, the City of London Jack-in-the-Green is based on descriptions and illustrations from early writings. During the late 1970s Greenwood Morris, who danced at Alexandra Palace, would bring their Jack into the City for an evening tour of London Wall and Smithfield. One lunchtime an all day event was discussed and the City of London Jack was invented and was first paraded during 1984. Tradition has it that the City of London Jack only comes out on City working days.[11]
  • Deptford, London: The Fowlers Troop Jack was revived during the early 1980s by members of the Blackheath Morris Men and friends. It is a revival of a Jack in the Green from about 1906 which was paraded by the original Fowlers Troop. The Fowlers Jack goes out on the streets of South East London or the City of London each May Day. The Jack is usually dressed on 30 April and is paraded on May Day.[12]
  • Hastings, East Sussex: The Hastings Jack-in-the-Green festival was revived by local group Mad Jacks Morris Dancers during 1983 and is now one of the biggest annual gatherings of Morris Dancers in the country. The Jack is “released” every year and is important to the festival. The main procession of the Jack takes place on the May Bank Holiday Monday through the streets of Hastings Old Town, starting from the Fishermen's Museum. The Jack is accompanied by the Bogies, Black Sal, the Fat man with a drum and other character, Mad Jacks Morris, dancers, giants, drummers and various other Morris sides. The procession ends on the West Hill where Jack is "slain" to "release the spirit of summer". The current Bristol Jack is a direct descendant of the Hastings Jack.[13]
  • Ilfracombe, North Devon: Ilfracombe Jack-in-the-Green normally takes the streets the first Sunday of May accompanied by spectacular giants, The Humdrumconumdrum drummers and a host of wonderful mystical characters from fairies to horned stilt walkers, the day is truly magical. The parade starts from Wilder Road car park at 11:00 am lead by the Town Crier Roy Goodwin. Music and laughter filling the streets of Ilfracombe while crowds of people watch the happy green clad crews dancing via the High Street heading down the oldest Street in Ilfracombe "Fore Street". The crowds from Ilfracombe follow the crew to the clapping circle were they dance the maypole and "release the spirit of summer".
  • Knutsford, Cheshire: May Day in Knutsford is celebrated during the May Bank holiday weekend. The emphasis is the May Queen but there is a Jack in the Green.[14]
  • Oxford: A Jack in the Green appears in Oxford on May Day. A traditional Jack was famously photographed in Oxford by Sir Benjamin Stone.[15]
  • Rochester, Kent: The Rochester Sweeps festival was revived during 1981 and still has a Jack in the Green Ceremony where the Jack is awoken by dancers and sweeps on Blue Bell Hill at dawn on May Morning (approximately 5:32am) at the Bluebell Hill picnic area . The Jack is paraded through the street (usually on the Bank Holiday Monday) starting in Rochester Castle Gardens and taking a circular route. The festival is attended by hundreds of Morris sides.[16]
  • Whitstable, Kent: Oyster Morris have their own Green Man who combines the roles of Jester and announcer dressed in white and green. The Jack is central to the Whitstable May Day celebrations.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Mayhew 1861, p. 370
  2. ^ Wikisource: Folk-Lore Vol 4 "May Day in Cheltenham"
  3. ^ Pattie Lawler. "The Dirt on the Jack-in-the-Green". Adf.org. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 
  4. ^ Judge, Roy (1979). Jack in the Green. A May Day Custom. Cambridge: DS Brewer. 
  5. ^ "Medway Web Site:Sweeps". Medway.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 14 March 2012. Retrieved 26 January 2014. 
  6. ^ Leech, Keith (1989). The Hastings Jack in the Green. Hastings: Hastings Borough Council. 
  7. ^ "Brentham Jack-in-the-Green". Brentham.com. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 
  8. ^ "Bristol Jack in the Green". Home.freeuk.net. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 
  9. ^ "Carshalton Straw Jack". Strawjack.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 
  10. ^ "'''London Jack-in-the-Green (Beltane Bash)'''". Paganfestivals.com. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 
  11. ^ "City of London Jack-in-the-Green". Cityjackinthegreen.com. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 
  12. ^ "Deptford Jack-in-the-Green". Deptford-jack.org.uk. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 
  13. ^ "Hastings Traditional Jack-in-the-Green". Hastingsjack.co.uk. 2012-05-07. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 
  14. ^ "'''Knutsford Jack-in-the-Green'''". Virtual-knutsford.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 
  15. ^ uk2.net. "Oxford Jack-in-the-Green". Am39.com. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 
  16. ^ Rochester Jack-in-the-Green Archived 7 October 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ "Whitstable Jack-in-the-Green". Oystermorris.org.uk. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 



  • Magpie Lane Jack-in-the-Green: English songs and tunes 1998 Beautiful Records BEJOCD 22

External links[edit]