All Things Green Man & The Traditional Jack-in-the-Green

The Historical Jack in the Green

The Company of the Green Man gathers, archives and makes freely available information and images relating to the traditional Jack-in-the-Green. The Company supports and promotes current traditions that feature the Jack-in-the-Green.

The Jack-in-the-Green was (and indeed is) a traditional participant in May celebrations and May Day parades mainly in the U.K. A large framework is covered in combinations of foliage and flowers and is sometimes topped with an intricate crown of flowers. The Jack then parades or dances, often accompanied by attendants as well as Morris Dancers, musicians and assorted unusual characters.

For information about the revived Jacks in the Green use THIS LINK.

The earliest known record of a Jack-in-the-Green in The United Kingdom is from The Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser of 2 May 1775:

“Jack of the Green had made his garland by five in the morning, and got under his fhady building by seven…”

The true origins of the tradition of the Jack-in-the-Green are unknown. One theory is that it may stem from the creation of intricate garlands of flowers during the 17th century which were carried by milkmaids during May Day celebrations. Over time the garlands became more elaborate until milkmaids would sometimes be seen balancing garlands on their heads covered in huge quantities of silver household objects. As guilds and other trade groups became established they joined in and tried to outdo the other participants in an attempt to receive more coins from the watching crowds. May Day was traditionally a holiday for the Chimney Sweeps and became known as “Chimney Sweeper’s day.” It has been theorised that it was the Sweeps Guilds intent on earning as many coins as possible, to help them through what was traditionally the quietest part of their year, who first expanded the size of the garland to such an extent that they came up with the idea of the all covering structure, now known as the Jack-in-the-Green.

Bryan Hammersley questions the connection between the milkmaids and Jack in the Green stating that this is a misinterpretation of what Roy Judge states in his book ‘The Jack in the Green’. Bryan writes:

“Unfortunately this is nothing like what Judge actually says. He does mention the milkmaids. But he says that the only satisfactory answer to the question of the origins of the Jack is that he appears as an entity between 1775 and 1795 and in the shape and structure suggested in Sports and Pastimes of the People of England by Joseph Strutt (1801). Judge observes that George Phillips, writing in Folk-Lore (1951), deduced that the Jack developed from the Garland associated with the milkmaids. However Judge states that the resemblance between the Jack and the Garland is superficial, and he describes Phillips’ theory as “a theory that runs counter to all other available evidence”. He also refers to Phillips’ “bold and ill-founded assertion” (Judge 1979).  Clearly Judge did not believe there was good evidence to link the 17th century milkmaids with the Jack.”

Bryan Hammersley also writes:

“Frazer (Sir James George) points out that figures similar to the Jack-in-the-Green appear in customary practices in France, Switzerland and Germany. For instance “In some parts of Thüringen also they have a May King at Whitsun…A frame of wood is made in which a man can stand; it is completely covered with birch boughs and is surmounted by a crown of birch and flowers”. Frazer also gives examples from elsewhere, eg “in some parts of Russia on St. George’s Day…a youth is dressed up, like our Jack-in-the-Green, with leaves and flowers. The Slovenes call him the Green George”. There are also traditions of the Green George in Carinthia, Transylvania and Rumania. Similar figures are recognized among Whitsuntide mummers elsewhere. For Frazer, this leaf-clad person “represents the beneficent spirit of vegetation”. The activities of 17th century London milkmaids, whatever they were, cannot account for this widespread type of traditional practice. Judge states that Frazer’s Jack as a representative of the spirit of vegetation was “not to be supported within the English evidence”. But a possibility that might be considered here is that the Jack came to England from the continent in fairly recent centuries, in which case its true roots might be much older.”

And as for the connection with Chimney Sweeps Bryan writes:

The attribution of the earliest recorded instances of the custom to the sweeps alone also seems to be absent from Judge’s book. He refers to early evidence of Mayday festivities that involved bunters and cinder-sifters, as well as sweeps and milkmaids, though it contains the “clear implication” that the Jack-in-the-Green “was a different thing (or group) again.”

However a very strong connection between the Jack-in-the-Green and chimney sweeps did form and still continues today. Some organisers and participants still have direct or distant connections with the trade. The character of the sweep is a participant in many of the current Jack-in-the-Green parades or is represented by his accoutrements (the sweep’s brushes) or blackened sooty faces.  Varied musicians became involved as did dancers, mummers, Morris dancers and a host of strange characters including the Lord and Lady, clowns, men dressed as women, blind fiddlers, dragons, the “traditional” fairy on stilts and a number of named characters. These included Black Sal, Dusty Bob, May Day Moll, Grand Serag, Jim Crow, Master Merryman, St George, The May King and Queen, and of course Robin Hood and Maid Marian.

By the early 1800s the Jack-in-the-Green had spread from London following the rapid unregulated growth of the chimney sweep’s profession through the suburbs across the south of England and beyond. Most towns had at least one, and often many sweeps who paraded rival Jacks on May Day.  From the mid 1800s May Day celebrations and the Jack-in-the-Green began to die out. Victorian sensibilities clashed with the bawdy working class practices involving the Jack-in-the-Green. Newspaper reports of the events became increasingly negative and disparaging of the general mayhem and at times riotous behaviour that ensued at these events. In 1875 the Chimney Sweepers Act was passed. The practice of sending boys up chimneys was banned and all chimney sweeps had to be registered with the police. The Sweeps May Festivities were changed irrevocably and by 1875 the heyday of the Jack-in-the-Green was over. By the early years of the 20th Century the Jack-in-the-Green had all but died out across the UK. From the mid-1800s a number of Jacks were already tame ’revivals’ or even replacements created by the Victorians to become a part of their own more genteel May celebrations of the English Idyll.

The Jack-in-the-Green also emigrated during the 1800s, in many cases accompanying Sweeps’ families heading out to find work in the colonies. Jacks appeared and, in some cases flourished, as far away as Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania and Jamaica before eventually meeting the same fate as the Jack-in-the-Green in the UK.

 

GAZETTEER OF HISTORICAL & TRADITIONAL JACKS IN THE GREEN

This is a list of locations where a Jack-in-the-Green has been sighted at some point in history and where possible the dates mentioned. The main reference is Roy Judge’s The Jack in the Green. Please note that Roy’s index of locations includes mentions of other May Day customs including garlands as well as mentioning for example “The sweeps celebrated the day after their accustomed fashion”. The list below only details specific sightings of a Jack in the Green. I have also incorporated the wonderful work by Keith Chandler the music historian and “Professor of Morris Dancers” who was one of Roy Judges  correspondents. Keith’s Article “It is the First of May” http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/jack_gre.htm adds significantly to Roy’s work and includes more than a hundred new references. As with Roy’s list I have attempted to  include only specific sightings of a Jack in the Green. I’m also indebted to Keith Leech CBE (Keith Bogie) creator and guardian of the Hastings Traditional Jack in the Green for his book Jack-in-the-Green in Tasmania a great source of information on the overseas Jack-in-the-Green.

This page is a work in progress, more details of each Jack will be added but if you know of any errors or Jacks I have missed please don’t hesitate to contact me via the contact us tab above.

RJ – Roy Judge KC – Keith Chandler KL – Keith Leech

UNITED KINGDOM

Berkshire

Berkshire – undated and unidentified location (possibly Oare near Chievely or Chaddleworth)- RJ
Cookham Dean – Date unknown – RJ
Newbury – After the WW1 until early 20’s Children’s Jack – RJ
Reading – 1828 – KC

Buckinghamshire

Amersham – 1890 – RJ
Aylesbury – 1846, 1849, 1853, 1857, 1862, 1864, 1868, 1873, 1881, 1884, 1886, 1888, 1889 – RJ, KC
Beaconsfield – c.1860’s and early 1870’s – KC
Halton – 1910 RJ
High Wycombe – 1887 – RJ – Revived 2005
Marlow – pre 1886 date unknown – RJ
Marsworth – date unknown possible reference to the Tring chimney sweeps visiting Marsworth with a Jack-in-the-Green – RJ
Winslow – 1881 – KC

Cambridgeshire

Cambridge – c.1890,s, 1891 – RJ, KC
Melbourn – undated – RJ
Yaxley – Started 2013

Cheshire

Knutsford – 1889 and every year since, excepting the war years – Current

Cornwall

Lands End – Started 2011

Devon

Ilfracombe – Started in 2000
Plymouth – Undated pre 1881? – RJ
Tavistock – Undated and possibly unreliable – RJ

Dorset

Poole – Undated but Jack no longer seen 1852 – RJ

Essex

Chelmsford – 1837 – KC
Romford – Not recorded by Roy Judge this Jack is detailed in Romford Heritage by Brian Evans “An old Romfordian remembered his young days in 1875. ‘I recall the 1st of May. that being Sweeps week. Mr R Pinfold and his wife go out with a Jack-in-the-Green, Mr Pinfold playing the reeds and drum and his wife with a brush and pan dancing’
Walthamstow – 1892-93 – RJ
Wanstead Flats – A revival Jack was made by Mick Skrzytiec, taken round the locality, and then brought up to Liverpool Street and to the City of London. This continued as the City of London Jack-in-the-Green and can sometimes still be spotted on years when May Day falls on a City working day.

Gloucestershire

Bristol  – 1865 A Bristol Lady recalls seeing Jack, with a sweep and a Queen, on the outskirts of Bristol about 1865 – RJ, KC – Revived 1983
Cheltenham – 1830 (reference to sweeps carrying “ambulatory bowers”,1840’s, 1892, c.1900, 1912 – RJ
Winchcombe –  1890’s A Jack was recorded as visiting a local school by Emma Dent of Sudeley Castle – Revived 2009

Hampshire

Burley – 1852 – RJ
Farnborough – mid 1800’s? – RJ
Hurstbourne Priors, Hampshire – undated – RJ
Isle of Wight, Ryde – 1865
Oakhanger – In 1991 a Jack-in-the-Green was an addition to a new local tradition of Bower Decking that was started in 1988 by the local community and morris dancers. Jack led the procession.
Portsmouth – 1819, 1891 – KC
St Mary Bourne – c.1838 – RJ
Southampton ?

Herefordshire

Hereford – 1871 – RJ

Hertfordshire

Berkhamstead – 1882 – RJ
Much? Hadham – c.1896
Ware – 1890’s – RJ

Kent

Blackheath – 1890’s – KC
Bromley – 1907 The first Bromley and Hayes May Queen Festival was held on 4 May 1907. Master Edward Leblond was Jack-in-the-Green – RJ
Brompton – 1862, c. 1875 – KC
Chatham – c.1870 (mentioned with Rochester) RJ
Dartford – 1883 – RJ
Dover – 1842 – RJ
Faversham (see Whitstable)
Gravesend – 1880 regularly (a family tradition) and 1910 (Empire Day Festival) – RJ
Margate –  1860’s (possibly Brighton) – KC
Meopham – 1910 – RJ
Ramsgate – 1850’s, c.1890 – RJ
Rochester – c.1870 – RJ – Revived 1983 and continues to present day
St Mary Cray – 1889 (revival of an old custom), 1890, 1892, 1893 – RJ
Tunbridge Wells – Started 2010, paraded 2011 and 2012 but not sighted in 2013
Whitstable – 1895 – RJ Revived 1976 and continues to present day

Leicestershire

Leicester – 1839, 1844 – RJ, KC

London

Adelphi, Adam Street – 1850 – KC
Bermondsey – c.1900, 1907 – RJ
Blackfriars Road, London – 1828
Borough – 1923 – RJ
Catherine Street – 1899 – KC
Chancery Lane – 1864 – RJ, KC
Clapham – c.1887 – RJ
Chelsea – 1875, 1885, 1886 – RJ, KC
Deptford – 1886, c.1900 – RJ – Revived 1983
Dorset Square – 1888
Dulwich – early 1860’s – KC
Greenwich – 1910, 1913- Fowlers Troop (Deptford)  Jack Regularly parades in Greenwich
Holborn, Bedford Row – 1836 – KC
Lewisham – 1892, 1894, 1896, 1903 – RJ
A photograph entitled “May Day Lewisham High Street” taken by George Collis in 1903 shows a Jack in the Green over 8 feet tall decorated with flowers and a large intricate crown of flowers parading with various other characters.
Limehouse – c.1900 – RJ
Marleybone, Harley Street – c.1856, 1890 – KC
Millwall – c.1913 or 1914 – RJ
Moorfields – 1864 – KC
Notting Hill – 1870’s Jack seen till as late as 1890 – RJ
Paddington – Date unknown – RJ
Pall Mall – 1867 – KC
Peckham – 1880’s – RJ
Piccadilly – 1850 (picture by Thomas Sevestre), 1860’s, 1861,  1905 – RJ, KC
Primrose Hill – 1895 – RJ
Regent Street – 1833 – KC
St Giles London – 1850 – KC
St John’s Wood –  1870’s or 1880’s – RJ
St Marylebone – 1829-30, 1837-47, 1856, 1870’s, c.1885 – RJ – This is the Jack recorded by  E. H. Shephard in his autobiography Drawn from Memory
The Circus, Minories – 1858
Tooting – 1820 – RJ
Trafalgar Square – 1860’s – RJ
Wandsworth – c.1890 – RJ
Waterloo Bridge – 1832 – KC
Waterloo Road – 1858 – KC
Westminster – 1840’s, 1875, 1885, 1886  – RJ
West End – 1859 – KC
Whitehall – 1832, 1860, 1870, 1885 – RJ, KC
Unspecified London locations – 1775, 1825, 1832, 1835, 1839, 1842, 1844, 1848, c.1850, 1851, 1854, 1861, 1864, 1870’s, 1892?, 1897? 1900 – KC

 

Middlesex

Brentford- 1876 – KC
Brentham (see Ealing)
Chiswick – 1894, 1896 – RJ
Ealing (Brentham) early 1890’s, 1921 to current day
Uxbridge – c. 1850 – RJ
Northamptonshire
Northampton – 1835 – KC
Pitsford – 1880’s – RJ

Oxfordshire

Bampton – c.1850 – RJ
Banbury – 1854, 1894, 1890,s – RJ
Bicester – 1862, 1881, 1882 – RJ
Bloxham – 1883, 1889, 1890, 1892 – RJ
Burford – 1865, undated a mention that “they used to dance round Jack and the Green with handks. And bells, etc” – RJ, KC
Chislehampton – 1895, 1896 – RJ
Deddington – 1857, 1859, 1873 – RJ
Iffley – c.1895 – RJ
Kennington Oval – 1893 – RJ
Kensington – c.1913 – RJ
Kentish Town – 1860’s
Kilburn – John Pocock born in 1814 kept a diary and recorded on 1st May 1828 “Chimney sweepers day, plenty of Jacks in the Green like myself” (he was nicknamed Jack in the Green due to his green frock coat)
Oxford – 1828, 1853, c.1858, 1865, 1871, 1884, 1886, 1888, 1889, 1890, 1894, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1912, 1914, 1930’s REVIVED 1951 by Oxford University Morris Men and carried on to present day – RJ, KC
Thame – before 1880
Witney – c. 1840’s, 1850, 1896 and a dubious account of 1938 – RJ
Wormsley Park – 1840 – RJ

 

Staffordshire

Lichfield – 1892, 1913 – RJ

 

Suffolk

Bury St. Edmunds – 1802 – KC
Sudbury – 1881 – KC

 

Surrey

Camberwell – 1879, c.1860 – RJ, KC
Carshalton – Date not recorded – RJ
Chertsey – 1871 – RJ
Croydon – 1850’s (gone by 1887) – RJ
Dorking – c.1828 (gone by 1878) – RJ
Guildford –  A contemporary Jack was created in 1976
Kingston-upon-Thames – 1860’s, 1911 (Coronation festivities) – RJ
Kingston – In the mid-1970’s, Simon Garbutt  built a reconstruction of a traditional Jack for a May Day celebration in Kingston and Surbiton, Surrey. His Jack was based on a photograph of May Day Festivities at Oxford by Sir Benjamin Stone c.1900.
Lambeth – 1842, 1856 – KC
Merton – 1887 – RJ
Richmond-on-Thames – 1893 – RJ
Surbiton – see Kingston

 

Sussex

Brighton – 1831, 1860’s (possibly Margate) – KC
Hastings – 1848, 1861, 1866, 1871, 1873, 1880, 1882, 1884 – RJ – Revived 1983
Rye – 1847, 1863, gone by 1879? – RJ

 

Warwickshire

Birmingham – 1843 – RJ
Coventry – c.1850
Shipston-on-Stour ?
Stratford-upon-Avon – 1860- c. 1870 – RJ

 

Wiltshire

Highworth, Wiltshire – Started in 2006

 

TASMANIA

Hobart – 1845 to 1873 – KL
Launceston – 1844 – 1866 – KL

 

AUSTRALIA

Sydney – 1844, 1846 – KL
Adelaide – 1890

 

NEW ZEALAND

Sumner, near Christchurch – 1895 or 1896 – KL

 

JAMAICA

1806-22 – KL

 

CROATIA

A man dressed in foliage known as Zeleni Jura, Green Jarilo or Green George parades on St Georges day the beginning of the Summer festival.

 

SWITZERLAND

I have found a photograph of a very traditional looking modern Jack and am looking into the history of the Jack there. I would be  grateful for any information.

 

BELGIUM

 

Les Hommes de Feuile go out with the giants at the annual Ducasse festival held on the fourth weekend in August in Ath Belgium

For further reading I highly recommend the following publications which have been invaluable as source material for this article:

  • The Jack-in-the-Green by Roy Judge: ISBN: 0 903515 20 2
  • May Day in England An Introductory Bibliography by Roy Judge: ISBN: 0 85418 152 0
  • The Hastings traditional Jack in the Green by Keith Leech: ISBN: 078 0 901536 10 5
  • Jack-in-the-Green in Tasmania 1844-1873 by Keith Leech: ISBN: 1 8671903 00 9
  • Yesterday’s Country Customs: A History of English Folk Traditions By Henry Buckton: ISBN: 0752477374, 9780752477374
  • Fowlers Troop and the Deptford Jack in the Green by Sarah Crofts: ISBN: 0954266110 
  • May Day – The Coming of Spring by Doc Rowe: ISBN:1 85074 983 3

Another excellent source of information has been Keith Chandlers ‘It is the First of May’ – ‘Jack in the Green Revisited’ an online gazetteer of references to historical Jacks. Roy Judge’s own gazetteer included references sourced by himself and a network of correspondents (Keith Chandler included) and was updated and considerably expanded in the revised 1999 second edition of “The Jack-in-the-Green.” When Roy died in 2000 Keith took on the task of continuing to gather references for the next decade on the MUSTRAD website:
http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/jack_gre.htm Keith’s article adds significantly to Roy’s work and includes more than a hundred new references.

Bryan Hammersley’s fascinating paper “Ronald Hutton, Sir James Frazer and the Discrediting of Pagan Beliefs in “The Stations of the Sun” can be found here: https://www.pagansbeliefs.com/