Posts Tagged ‘London May Queen’

London Crowns 100th May Queen

Thursday, May 12th, 2022

London Crowns 100th May Queen – Hayes, Kent.

On Saturday 12 May 2012 I went by invitation from the family of the 100th May Queen to photograph her crowning on Hayes Common. Earlier I had photographed and written about the festival and other May Queen Festivals. Below is the text from my report on the event in My London Diary, with just a few minor corrections along with a few of the pictures. You can find more pictures on the web site.

London Crowns 100th May Queen

The Merrie England and London May Queen Festival was started by Joseph Deedy, usually described as a ‘Dulwich schoolmaster’ in 1913, and moved to its current location on Hayes Common soon after. Surprisingly it continued throughout both world wars, although in a somewhat truncated version, with no procession around the village. It was also felt that holding the ceremony in the open air would present too tempting a target for the enemy, and so it was moved from the common to the parish church. But continue it did, and every year since 1913, one girl has been crowned as the London May Queen, making this year’s Festival and Queen the 100th.

London Crowns 100th May Queen

Whitelands College in London started its May Queen festival rather earlier in 1881 at the prompting of John Ruskin, and this still continues at the college (now part of the University of Roehampton) although since the college now admits men, some years they have a May King in place of a queen. Talking to one of the organisers of the event yesterday I learnt that Deedy had worked at Whitelands – contrary to the published information on him, including that I retold in my own book and PDF on the festival. [You can read a little more about this book on >Re:PHOTO which also has has an e-pub link.) Copies of this and my other Blurb books are usually available to UK addresses more cheaply direct from me.

The London May Queen sits in her carriage

The ceremonies take place in a large roped off arena on Hayes Common, with the May Queens and their groups from various places on the fringes of south east London taking their places around it in alphabetical order. Each group has its own colour for the dresses and its own flower, and girls who may join as young as three make their way up through the various roles in the group until, if they remain long enough, they become the May Queen of their local realm. After this they can move on to join the London May Queen group, and again take the various roles by seniority until finally – usually when they are around 16 – they become London May Queen. As well as taking part in May Queen activities, May Queens and their groups also appear at various charity events in their local areas.

London Crowns 100th May Queen
Beckenham May Queen and retinue

I arrived just as the procession around Hayes was starting, with the uncrowned queen in a lightweight carriage pulled by Sea Cadets with the Prince of Merrie England walking beside her and preceded by a bagpiper. Behind her were the members of London May Queen, including the Joy Bells celebrating Music, Company, Life, Beauty, Flowers as well as the Fairy Queen, Bo-Peep, Robin Hood and several others.

London Crowns 100th May Queen
Bromley Common Queen and retinue

Behind them came the May Queen realms in alphabetical order – Beckenham, Beddington, Bletchingly, Bromley Common, Caterham, Chislehurst, Coney Hall, Downe, Eden Park, Elmers End, Green St Green, Hayes, Hayes Common, Hayes Village, Orpington, Petts Wood, Shortlands, Wallington, Warlingham and West Wickham. In the heyday of the event in the 1920s and 30s there were as many as 100 groups, and the event made the national newspapers and the cinema newsreels.

Little Sanctum - London Crowns 100th May Queen
At Hayes Parish Church for Little Sanctum

At the parish church, the London May Queen group made their way into the churchyard for a short service written by Deedy which he called ‘Little Sanctum’, before joining back on the end of the procession around the village and back to the common.

London Crowns 100th May Queen

There the 100th May Queen was crowned and the further pageant witten by Deedy performed, ending with the May Queen being led around the arena by BoPeep and scattering flowers towards the seated May Queen realms.

Many of the younger girls were quite tired by the walk around the village and were busy eating ice cream and sandwiches, which revived them considerably, and after the Chislehurst May Queen group had given a demonstration of ribbon dancing, all of the Merrie England children – including a few young boys who mainly take part as pages – came and took part in a lively circle dance around the large maypole.

All that was left was for the May Queen to draw the tickets for the raffle which helps to cover the expenses.

London Crowns 100th May Queen


You can read more about this and other May Queen ceremonies in London both in reports of the various events on My London Diary and from my book mentioned above. I had hoped that this would be followed by a major exhibition and a more scholarly work illustrated by my pictures but as yet this has not been possible.


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The Sultan’s Elephant, Buddha’s Birthday & May Queens

Friday, May 6th, 2022

The Sultan’s Elephant, Buddha’s Birthday & May Queens – Satiurday May 6th was another varied day for me.


The Sultan’s Elephant – Westminster

Just why does it take so many people to drive an elephant when one elephant can do it on its own?” was the question that came to me while watching the Sultan’s Elephant making its ponderous way around central London. The 12 metre high mechanical elephant, along with the Little Princess was constructed by French company Royal De Luxe and appeared to have around 20 drivers as well as a cast of under-employed actors.

And, as I commented, “it did occur to me to ask why the Arts Council was spending so much of our money on guys who wanted to play with big toys.” Rather than art it seemed to me to be “more or less a larger version of model railways to me, or perhaps even more a simplistic version of a computer game fantasy made manifiest” and little about art. “More Disneyland.”


Buddha’s 2550th Birthday – Leicester Square

A quarter of a mile to the north, celebrations were taking place in Chinatown of Buddha’s 2,550th birthday, organised by London Fo Guang Temple, one of two UK branches of the Taiwanese Fo Guang Shan Order who have a temple in Margaret St in a rather nice Grade II listed former Parish School and Church House designed by William Butterfield and built in 1868-70.

The festival was continuing over two days, but I only stayed for around an hour, photographing a colourful procession which included two lions and the Mayor of Westminster.


Chislehurst May Queen Ceremonies – Chislehurst

Chislehurst is around ten miles from the centre of London, in Kent until brought into Greater London on the edge of the London Borough of Bromley in 1965. Fortunately trains from Charing Cross go there in around half an hour, which makes it a popular commuter town, and took me there, where I had been invited by the organisers of the Chislehurst May Queen to photograph their May Queen Ceremonies.

Traditionally May had been a time when the New Year and Spring was celebrated, when young men and women danced together and often rather more, and a queen of the may was chosen to lead the event. Oliver Cromwell banned the celebrations as sinful pagan events, and although they came back after the restoration the events slowly died out or became more formal.

As I noted: “There was a revival of interest in old customs in the Victorian era, with various ‘Merrie England’ events being organised. Some schools had maypoles and learnt the dances and many Sunday Schools had their may queens who often took a leading part in Whit Walks.

I became interested in these continuing events in 2005, going to photograph the Merrie England and London May Queen Festival at Hayes, Kent (also in LB Bromley.) It was the start of a project that led to my self-published book London’s May Queens (ISBN: 978-1-909363-06-9) and almost to a major museum exhibition, plans for which fell through at the last hurdle.


London's May Queens

Book Preview

The book preview contains an essay on the history of London’s May Queens and a number of photographs from various May Queen events. Although print copies of the book are expensive you can purchase a reasonably priced PDF version.


But putting the pictures from this first event I photographed in 2005 on-line attracted a great deal of interest, particularly among the families involved, and led to me being invited to other events such as this at Chislehurst, who were particularly keen that I should photograph their proper maypole dancing.

Last year’s Queen crowns the new May Queen

As I explain on My London Diary, “Any girl five or over who lives or has grandparents who live in Chislehurst can join the retinue. They then work their way up the ranks, with the oldest girl of the year of joining having the choice of being Queen or Prince. Several months of twice-weekly rehearsals are required, and as well as the festival they also perform at other events.” From the various ‘realms’ such as Chislehurst, the girls then move on to become a part of the London May Queen group. The Chislehurst group is now open to both boys and girls.

Chislehurst first took part in the London May Queen festival in 1923, ten years after it was founded by Dulwich schoolmaster Joseph Deedy in 2013 – there is more of the history in my book. Their festival involved other groups in the area and seemed very much a community festival. It ended with a tea for the May Queen group in the Methodist church hall, and I waited for the May Queen to cut the cake with the help of her ‘Prince’ before leaving to catch the train back home.

I’m pleased to see that the Chislehust May Queen Society is still continuing – and has a Facebook group and a web site. They will be crowning their 99th May Queen tomorrow, as usual on the first Saturday of May.


More on all these events on the May 2006 page of My London Diary.


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8th May

Saturday, May 8th, 2021

Maypole Dance, Hayes, 2012

I sat for some time wondering what to write about today. Perhaps the obvious choice would be to point out that this is the 76th anniversary of VE Day – and I did attend some events to mark the 60th anniversary back in 2005, both on Saturday May 7th in Ilford and May 8th in Bromley. Sixty years on from the event itself, this was probably the last occasion when a significant number of actual veterans were still around in their 80s and 90s and able to take part.

‘Little Sanctum’, Hayes, 2005

But looking at the pictures I found it too depressing – and things now have got even worse when with none left who actually fought in WW2 to provide some realism celebrations related to the war have grown more militaristic and jingoistic, more based more on the propaganda of films and TV series and the claim “two world wars and one world cup” than the reality of a fight against fascism – and where Little Englander views have defeated the vision of a united Europe, particularly in the Brexit campaign.

Hayes, 2010

I needed something to cheer me up a little, so instead some pictures from the London May Queen crowning which takes place around this time of year on the second Saturday in May, which in 2010 was May 8th. It was an unusual year in that the weather was terrible, with cold driving rain making the usual outdoor ceremonies on Hayes Common and the parade around the village impracticable, and the event took place with a smaller number taking part inside the crowded village hall. So I’ve added a couple of pictures from other years which show a more normal view of the day.

Hayes, 2010

I’ve written about the event – with help from some of those involved – in various posts on My London Diary, and also in the book, London May Queens, still available as a reasonably priced download or expensively in print from Blurb. Getting to know some of the organisers and taking an interest in the history of the event enabled me to overcome some of the now inevitable suspicions around a male photographer photographing young girls and I was there in 2008 by invitation of some of the mothers involved.

Hayes, 2010

May Queens have a long history, although the traditional May festivities were rather different and bacchanalian. Like many English traditions, this was revived in a bowdlerised form by the Victorians, largely as a festival for children and young people. The ‘Merrie England And London May Queen Festival’ came a little later, founded in 1913 by Joseph Deedy, a master at Dulwich School, and at its peak, I think in the 1930s, involved 120 ‘realms’ from different areas mainly around south London each with their own May Queen, with well over a thousand children coming together for the crowning of the London May Queen at Hayes.

Hayes, 2010

Deedy wrote some rather quaint texts which are still used in the various stages of the ceremonies around Hayes, as well as setting the general principles and rules for the realms and the event. Girls work their way up through the organisation based on length of service, progressing though various roles, first in the local realms, and then in the London May Queen group. They can join from age three, and can remain involved until they are 18. Organisers see it as a way of encouraging social skills and developing self-confidence in the girls who take part. They often take part in local fetes, visits to care homes, and other activities as well as enjoying tea parties. The crowning of the London May Queen is the culmination of a series of events on previous Saturdays when the different realms crown their own Queens.

Hayes, 2010

Working inside the crowded hall in 2008 was difficult, but I was pleased to have the opportunity, and it provided some variety in my coverage of the event – as did the various crowning events in some of the local realms. Covid will doubtless have prevented the 2010 and 2021 events taking place but I hope it will resume for 2022. It’s a charming survival from an earlier age and one which invokes a community spirit which enriches local life.

Hayes, 2008

There are too many posts on My London Diary featuring May Queen Events between 2005 and 2013 to list them all, but you can find them easily on the web site as they are all on the pages from April and May. Here are just a few of them.

London May Queen 2005
London May Queen 2008
Merrie England & London May Queen 2010
London Crowns 100th May Queen 2012
London’s 101st May Queen 2013
I posted even more pictures than usual from these events as I wanted to share them with those who had taken part and tried to include everyone in the pictures.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.