Posts Tagged ‘maypole’

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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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.


More from May Days: 2009

Monday, May 4th, 2020

Another year, another May Day. 2009 was just a little different with more happening at Clerkenwell Green than usual, though some things remained the same. Although in my very early years Stalin was known through our press as ‘Uncle Joe’ and it was certainly the case that it was the Russian Army that played the major role in the defeat of Hitler, it does seem to me somehow obscene to be continuing a cult of his personality with what we now know about him.

As always the Turkish and Kurdish community were out in force – here the KGÖ (Komünist Gençlik Örgütü), the youth wing of the Marxist Leninist Communist Party (Turkey) MLKP.

Unusually there was a maypole, brought and erected by Chris Knight and others from G20 Meltdown, and a few people tried to dance around it.

There were the usual collection of trade union banners, with pride of place going to a couple carried by Ford workers following the Visteon dispute, as well as various other left-wing groups from the UK and abroad.

As in previous years the rally at Trafalgar Square failed to acknowledge the predominant presence of various minority communities on the march and was dominated by speakers from the large unions and Labour party. The star of the event was undoubtedly Tony Benn. At his left a Tamil holds a placard with a picture of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who was killed in an ambush by Sri Lankan government forces only a few days later on May 18.

Earlier there had been heated arguments on the march against the participation by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), a Sinhalese communist and Marxist–Leninist party which is a part of the government oppressing and fighting the Tamils.

More at May Day March & Rally


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.