… The may all coming out along the lanes … (Rosemary Sutcliff’s Diary, 10/5/88)

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Hawthorn or may tree blossomMay 10th Tuesday. Went along for the ride when Ray took Mrs Prosser home. The may all coming out along the lanes. Joan collecting my earrings and a white shirt for dying grey in Chichester today. Should be back in half-an-hour or so.
© Anthony Lawton 2012

The may refers to the  ‘may tree’, or hawthorn. The blossom appears on the tree at the beginning of May in the south of England. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, “until the calendar was changed in 1752, hawthorn would be in flower for May Day, which used to be 11 days later than it is now”.

At  the May Day celebrations people and houses used to be decked with may blossoms or boughs (‘bringing home the may’) which were traditional decorations, associated with the woodland spirit known as the Green Man.

I think of her writing this always in bed at night – I sometimes sat there when she did, as I recall. However, maybe my memory plays tricks, for this entry is apparently written during the day (‘Joan will be back’, from shopping, ‘in half-an-hour or so).

3 comments

  1. It is indeed “The Armourer’s House”, Ch 3 “May Day and Morris Dancers”.

    “There was a great throng of people pouring up the street in their gayest holiday clothes, shouting and singing as they came, and carrying great branches of flowering May and armfuls of bluebells and golden Mary-buds*, so that the whole street seemed full of the spring and sunshine and happiness. On they came, laughing, singing, shouting and waving their flowering branches, and at each door in the street people dropped out of the throng and began to set up the May branches above their lintels.”

    There’s a delightfull C.Walter Hodges illustration of the May day Morris.

    *”Mary-buds” are marigold flowers – it may have been a term current in Tudor times as Shakespeare used it in his play “Cymbeline”.

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  2. I was beginning to wonder, myself, about the date, because of the same references to devastation – I remember the 1987 storm very clearly, although I was in Oxford on the edge of it at the time: but my parents and grandmother were in Surrey and Kent where, like Sussex, it was pretty bad.

    Which of the books has the May celebrations including the blossom-bringing? Is it The Armourer’s House?

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