Greengates Builders Merchants

History Of May Day

Have you ever wondered why we have May day (apart from it being a day off work)?

Well read on and find out the history.  

Many folklore customs have their roots planted firmly back in the Dark Ages, when the ancient Celts had divided their year by four major festivals. Beltane or ‘the fire of Bel’, had particular significance to the Celts as it represented the first day of summer and was celebrated with bonfires to welcome in the new season. Still celebrated today, we perhaps know Beltane better as May 1st or May Day.

Down through the centuries May Day has been associated with fun, revelry and perhaps most important of all, fertility. The Day would be marked with village folk cavorting round the maypole, the selection of the May Queen and the dancing figure of the Jack-in-the-Green at the head of the procession. Jack is thought to be a relic from those enlightened days when our ancient ancestors worshipped trees.

These pagan roots did little to endear these May Day festivities with either the established Church or State. In the sixteenth century riots followed when May Day celebrations were banned. Fourteen rioters were hanged, and Henry VIII is said to have pardoned a further 400 who had been sentenced to death.

The May Day festivities all but vanished following the Civil War when Oliver Cromwell and his Puritans took control of the country in 1645. Describing maypole dancing as ‘a heathenish vanity generally abused to superstition and wickedness’, legislation was passed which saw the end of village maypoles throughout the country.

Dancing did not return to the village greens until the restoration of Charles II. ‘The Merry Monarch’ helped ensure the support of his subjects with the erection of a massive 40 metre high maypole in London’s Strand. This pole signalled the return of the fun times, and remained standing for almost fifty years.

Maypoles can still be seen on the village greens at Welford-on-Avon and at Dunchurch, Warwickshire, both of which stand all year round. Barwick in Yorkshire, claims the largest maypole in England, standing some 30 meters in height.

May Day is still celebrated in many villages with the crowning of the May Queen. The gentlemen of the village may also been found celebrating with Jack-in-the-Green, otherwise found on the signs of pubs across the country called the Green Man.

It is important to remember that without ‘The Merry Monarch’ May Day celebrations might have come to a premature end in 1660.

Earlier this year Ministers  announced plans to move the May bank holiday in England and Wales to spread out the holidays and extend the tourist season.

Currently there are no bank holidays from September up until Christmas Day.


To remedy this, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has proposed moving the day to St George's Day on 23 April in England and St David's Day on 1 March in Wales, or creating a Trafalgar Day in October.

“It may be a good idea to have a bank holiday on St. Georges day as a lot of countries do for their saints days” say Greengates Builders Merchants Accrington, Lancashire.