Garland Day in Lewes looks set to be whole bunch of historic fun

Garland Day at Lewes Castle
Garland Day at Lewes Castle

A flower garland competition, morris dancing and a procession will all be part of the fun as Lewes celebrates Garland Day on Monday May 4.

The historic tradition was started in 1874 by the then mayor of Lewes Mr JF Verrall and was revived by the Knots of May in 1980.

Mr Verrall presented cash prizes for the best creations to encourage a love and knowledge of wild flowers and to channel into a respectable outlet the penny-begging of local children.

Garland Day organiser Mary Motley said: “It is a wonderful colourful event.

“Let’s pray for good weather. I am very keen on keeping traditions alive which the Knots of May have been doing for 35 years.

“Come and support this local tradition to herald the start of May and hopefully a lovely summer.”

Garlands made of fresh flowers will be brought to the Castle Gun Garden just off the High Street at 10am.

Prizes will be awarded for the most colourful and interesting designs, and every child will receive a certificate.

The garlands will be judged by the mayor of Lewes and the chair of the district council.

The crowds will be entertained with dancing by The Knots of May, Ditchling Morris and the children of Black Brook Morris, which is now based at Southover Primary School and includes children from Southover and Plumpton schools.

Around 70 children will take part in the dancing at the Gun Garden.

A procession with around 120 children and morris dancers will then make its way down the High Street towards the Cliffe Precinct, as hundreds of onlookers line the road to cheer on the dancers.

The High Street will be closed to traffic while the procession takes place. The procession will leave Lewes Castle at around 11am.

At Cliffe Precinct prizes and certificates will be awarded, followed by more dancing.

There will be further dancing outside The John Harvey Tavern at about 12.15pm and finally the Dorset at 1.15pm, where revellers will be joined by Black Powder Morris and their dragon.

Garland entries should be made with fresh flowers.

Most people use whatever is out in their gardens, though May blossom is traditional.

Last Entries 10.30pm. Entry fee £1 per child.

Organiser Mary Motley said: “For the first time in the 35 year history of modern Garland Day, unfortunately we need to charge each child £1 to enter the competition, payable at the gate.

“This is to try to cover some of the ever escalating costs of putting on the day.”

The Knots of May are a women’s Morris team formed in 1974 in Brighton.

They decided to concentrate on the dance traditions from the North West of England rather than Cotswold Morris.

The name is first recorded in the mid-15th century as Morisk dance, moreys daunce, morisse daunce, a Moorish dance.

The English dance came about as part of a 15th-century European fashion for the Moorish spectacle, which also left its mark on Spanish and Italian folk dance.

The earliest references place the Morris dance in a courtly setting in the 15th century.

It became part of performances for the lower classes by the late 16th century.

By the mid 17th century the working peasantry took part in morris dances, especially at Whitsun.

But the Puritan government of Oliver Cromwell banned Whistun ales and other festivities. Morris Dancing continued until the Industrial Revolution, fell into decline but was revived at the start of the 19th century.