Traditional celebrations of the arrival of Summer had a rich cast of characters, not least the foliate and mysterious figure of the sinister Jack-in-the-Green, who wore a large, foliage-covered, garland-like framework, usually pyramidal or conical in shape, covering the body from head to foot.
The costume was a development of the 16th and 17th century custom of decorating homes (and people) with garlands of flowers and leaves for the May Day celebration.
After becoming a source of competition between Works Guilds, the garlands became increasingly elaborate, to the extent that they covered the entire man. This figure of extreme garlanding became known as Jack-in-the-Green.
For some reason the figure became particularly associated with chimney sweeps, though quite why is disputed.
By the turn of the 19th century the custom had started to wane, as a result of the Victorian disapproval of bawdy and anarchic behaviour. The cross-dressing Lord & Lady of the May, with their practical jokes and excesses, were replaced by the chaste tableau of the May Queen, whilst the noisy, drunken Jack-in-the-Green vanished from parades…
Until the 1970’s when increased interest in English folk heritage saw Jack revived in celebrations across the country, from Whitstable, Rochester and Hastings, to Ilfracombe and London.
The modern Jacks are equally ribald and colourful figures, often huge, up to 3m tall, covered in greenery and flowers, forming the centre piece of hugely popular reinvigorated celebrations.
In Whitstable, he is accompanied by two attendants, representing the legendary figures of Robin Hood and Maid Marian. In Hastings, he is also accompanied by attendants, known as Bogies, who are completely disguised in green rags, vegetation, and face paint. The attendants play music, dance and sing as they guide Jack through the streets to celebrate the coming of Summer.
Welcome to Summer 2014 – enjoy!