May Day: Falconer's Lure by Antonia Forest

published 1957  chapter 8

caption reads: Dancing the maypole before wedding party, milkmaids in background, morris dancers on left

[Nicola and Lawrie, youngest of a family of siblings, are at the local Show/Festival watching the folk dancing]

“…Why didn’t we all enter for the folk dancing? We could have done Old Mole.”

“I don’t suppose Kay would have. Nor Binks.”

“Why not? Men do?”

“Not Binks. Sword, he might. But not ordinary country.”

“Then I call it very selfish of him…. We can’t be a set of six without him. And if it’s five to one - ”

“But we never even thought of it, so neither of them ever did say they wouldn’t. Honestly, Lawrie… You are an ass.”

Lawrie had one of her unexpected moments of looking at herself objectively and finding the sight awfully funny…

“We could certainly have won something here,” said Lawrie critically, as a mixed team of schoolchildren lost its collective head in Gathering Peascods and cannoned into one another all the way round the Grand Chain. “Ooh look, Nick! Look what’s coming out now! Green women! Aren’t they frightful!”

They were, rather. They wore ankle length frocks of green cotton, tied at the waist with velvet ribbon, and they danced with great refinement, pointing their toes and curtseying. Lawrie was entranced.

observations: It’s May Day, so the green women in the extract are standing in for those who allegedly dance today on their village greens. It’s probably best not to enquire too closely into the tradition in the UK – there are strong suggestions that there wasn’t ever all that much in the way of maypole dancing in England in the Middle Ages, that it is more an East European thing, and that maypole dancing was introduced as a fake tradition during folk revivals much more recently. There are probably plenty of people ready to argue with that, but that’s what I’ve heard….

Antonia Forest is one of my favourite children’s writers, and this book is probably her least well-known, and hardest to categorize. It is the story of a family of middle class Londoners spending the summer on a family farm, seen mostly through the eyes of the youngest girls, the two above. A lot will happen in that time – there are swimming competitions, new friendships, and falconry, but also death, sadness, and changed careers. It’s hard to explain what makes it such a good book, and one that is still of interest more than 50 years later, despite its apparently limited palette. But it is an excellent, fascinating, highly enjoyable book.

Links on the blog: Antonia Forest’s End of Term gave the blog two Christmas entries. Morris dancing, another strange dance tradition, features here.

Both pictures are from a favourite resource: the Builth Wells Historical Pageant Album, an asset to the blog several times already.


  1. Cromwell banned maypoles as pagan (which they must be). I remember a tale of people hiding the maypole in their rafters (as they genuinely hid medieval sculpture under another Cromwell). What does James Frazer say?

  2. You see that's another example Lucy - I read an article once dismissing The Golden Bough as being highly suspect, so I've never felt I had to take it seriously since. But then maybe the article was suspect, along with the one I read about maypoles....

  3. Moira - So interesting how that maypole thing became part of the mythology of the Middle Ages. Whether the custom started then, recently or some other time, I really think it's fascinating the way people have these visions of life at that time.

    The book does sound well worth a read, and I like those 'photos (as ever).


Post a Comment