Posts Tagged ‘May Queen’

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.