|The painting of |
"Garland Day, Dorsetshire Coast" by P. R. Morris,
exhibited at the 1893 Royal Academy summer show
and since lost to view
|Herald the spring its Garland Day|
So please remember the garland.
We don't come here but once a year,
So please remember the garland.
The Abbotsbury village school closed in 1981 and the children no longer get a day's holiday. This has led to the celebrations taking place in the evening or on the nearest Saturday.
On 14th May 1954, The Daily Express reported that the village constable of Abbotsbury had stopped the children's Garland-Day Procession as it danced its way through the fishing village to the sea, on the ground that it was "begging" and was against the law. He also confiscated the collection amounting to £1 1s. 7 1/2d. The uproar reached Mr. John Fox-Strangways, Chairman of the parish council and son of the Earl of Ilchester, lord of the manor. He rang up a solicitor and said that the village would take steps to preserve its ancient and picturesque custom. The Thanksgiving Garland is blessed annually and thrown into the sea from whence comes their livelihood. In the evening the children put the Garland on its pole and again danced down to the sea, while the police were busy preparing a legal action.
On 20th May, The Times announced that the Chief Constable of Dorset had expressed his sincere apologies for the "unfortunate occurrence" to the Abbotsbury parish council and said that the constable had acted on his own initiative, without the knowledge of the divisional superintendent. "It is no part of my policy to interfere with old village customs," he stated. Mr. Fox-Strangways was authorised to take any necessary action to establish the legality of the Garland Day custom.
However, a determination amongst the villagers has ensured that this English tradition survives, albeit in a form slightly different from the original.
Below: The procession of the Abbotsbury Garland, 13th May 2005
Dorset Folklorist, John Symonds Udal wrote in his book 'Dorsetshire Folklore' published in 1922 about the Abbotsbury Garland Day custom:
"Flower Custom (Garland Day). — They refer to a pleasing custom which still obtains on Old May Day (13th May). The children belonging to the crew of each boat build up a large garland of handsome flowers upon a frame, and carry it from house to house, usually getting a few pence apiece from those who can afford it. The people throng the beach, weather permitting, in the afternoon, when the garlands are taken out in boats and thrown into the sea. The late Lord Ilchester, the lord of the manor, had of late years provided an entertainment for the children, often close upon 200 in number, and was accustomed to attend them to the beach, where the vicar read a suitable portion of scripture, a psalm was sung, and prayer offered for the general welfare.
This custom is alluded to at somewhat greater length by Canon Mayo in a communication to Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries, vol. iii, p. 231 (1893), entitled " Garland Day ", in which he states that it is also observed in the neighbouring villages of Swyre and Puncknoll, but that in them only one garland is provided, not one for each boat."