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Photo Feature: Morris Dancers Keep Up A 392 Year Old Mayday Tradition With Summerpole 2022

Published on: 1 May, 2022
Updated on: 15 May, 2022

By Hugh Coakley

On a wonderfully bright and sunny Saturday (April 30), the Pilgrim Morris Men from Guildford held the annual Summerpole procession with a Summer King and Swordbearer and some fantastic old Surrey mayday characters.

Dancing around the Summerpole 2022 on the Castle Green.

A King with a swan on his crown, zebras, a horse, a Jack in the Green, fools and a soothsayer, all joined in the merry madness outside Holy Trinity Church in the High Street with morris dancers, entertaining a good crowd of around 100 shoppers and visitors to the town.

One American visitor called out: “I don’t know what it is but I like it”.

Re-enacting Iwo Jima, the Summerpole was raised by the youthful Pilgrim Morris Men on Castle Green. A ribald comment from one of the female dancers: “It takes so much longer to get it up when you’re older”.

They processed down the High Street, onto Tunsgate and then raised the Summerpole on Castle Green.

The Summer King and Queen (Matthew and Henriette Alexander) with the Sword Bearer and their court process up Tunsgate towards Castle Green.

The Summerpole is carried up Tunsgate with the cake bearer, ‘Mac’ McLaren holding the Guildford plum cake, a fertility symbol.

You can have your sooth sayed by the local soothsayer in the Summerpole 22 procession.

Ewell St Mary’s Morris Men joined in the fun…

…as did the Mayflower Morris women’s team from Ash Vale…

and the Fleur de Lys Morris dancers from Godalming.

It’s never too young to start morris dancing. 14-month-old Florence showing everybody how it is done.

The Royal Court of the Summer King and Queen assembled on the steps of Holy Trinity church in the High Street. From the left: The Governess (Roma Robb), The Summer King and Queen (Matthew and Henriette Alexander) and The Sword Bearer (Richard Kirby).

A princess in attendance at The Royal Court (Alice Knight). Princess Alice said her role was to be beautiful. The Summer King is the one in the background with a swan on his head.

from the left, The Tarborers, Ewell St Mary’s Morris Men, Pilgrims Morris Men, The Royal Court, Mayflowers Morris women’s team and Fleur de Lys Morris dancers on Castle Green, Guildford.

Matthew Alexander, Guildford Remembrancer, writes: “The people of old Guildford welcomed the coming of the warmer weather with fund-raising community revels. These were based on the parishes, and by 1530 Holy Trinity had its own Morris dancers.

“Summer Kings were appointed, escorted by Sword Bearers, and in 1536 the Corporation ruled that if anyone nominated for these roles refused they would have to pay five shillings to their parish.

“Rather than a maypole, Guildford had a Summerpole near St Mary’s church. This attracted the disapproval of the puritans in the town and in 1611 it was cut down.

“After Charles II’s restoration in 1660, customs banned under Cromwell were revived. A massive permanent maypole was set up at the junction of the London and Epsom roads, standing until such revels once more fell out of fashion and it was removed in the 1840s.

“In 1976 the Pilgrim Morris Men of Guildford revived the annual Summerpole tradition, with a Summer King and Swordbearer and other characters associated in old Surrey with mayday traditions. At first, the pole was set up by the river, but soon the site was moved to Castle Green. The Pilgrims have continued this tradition, with a few exceptions, ever since.”

A reminder of modern times, the Summerpole 2022 with the Ukrainian flag flying over the castle.

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test 2 Responses to Photo Feature: Morris Dancers Keep Up A 392 Year Old Mayday Tradition With Summerpole 2022

  1. Peta Malthouse Reply

    May 2, 2022 at 8:28 am

    Wonderful to see our Pilgrim Morris Men dancing up the High Street and to be joined by so many other groups.

    Thank you Dragon for this article and the wonderful pictures. Thank you to Matthew Alexander also the “Guildford History Man”.

  2. Ben Blunden Reply

    May 2, 2022 at 11:01 am

    A wonderful article from Hugh Coakley. It’s great to keep these traditions alive.

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