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'Round the maypole - round and round
Men and maids and children bound
Show'ring as they halt between
Honours on their May Day Queen.'

 

Spring, the sweet spring,
Is the year's pleasant king,
Then blooms each thing,
Then maids dance in a ring.'
(Thomas Nash)

 

 

 

For she shall be Queen of the May
by

Joan Leach


Through the ages it has been many a young girl's dream to be chosen as queen of the May and crowned with a garland of flowers at the Maypole. Knutsford's May queens not only have a memorable, historic day but throughout their year of office participate in many events.

In 1864 the festival was celebrated by the children of the two parochial schoools . The queen, Sarah Ann Pollitt, seems to have been chosen by the boys, who were marched from their school at the foot of Adams Hill to the girls' school on Tatton Street, according to the memory of one of the boys.

Right : Madge Hamman as a Scotch Reel Dancer - she was later Queen in 1913

The new vicar, Rev. Henry Barnacle thought it much more seemly that he and his wife should do the choosing taking account of the girl's good conduct, work and attendance at school. They also chose the maids of honour, Maid Marion and the shepherdess.
 

'Pretty' May Queens
 
Perhaps not all May Queens were ideally pretty. The girls' school log book records in 1874: ' . . a sad accident in the playground to Kate Ellingham', a swing had 'cut her face open and knocked her teeth out'. She was the next year's queen. 1873 queen, Ann Hewitt was only 9 years old. Eleanor Toft in 1876 was chosen 'by the unanimous vote of her schoolmates'.

As the Festival grew it was managed by a committee with the Vicar as chairman until 1877 when problems accumulated. There had been a court case about the collapse of a stand which left a deficit in the funds; Cross Town for several years held its own May Day festival at Booths Hall and the Vicar refused to carry on as Chairman unless the event was held on his field and without all the side-shows. A new committee took over and, for the first time, included ladies! The parish church ceased to dominate the event and all the schools now took part . The married ladies chose the May Queen, from those who had previously been in the royal court and the unmarried ones selected the Maids of Honour. By the 1890's the committee met to ballot for the queen. Above: Committee Notice 1894
 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 Committee Members

 
There were murmurings from time to time that children of committee members got the starring roles but they had taken part more regularly than other children and surely no one begrudged Ida Jackson her place as May Queen in 1919? Her family had worked to make the festival a success and were to do so for many years. To avoid any doubts , in the 1920's, each school took it in turns to choose the Queen. The names of the schools were put in a hat and one drawn out; next year that school was not put in the hat. In 1924 when St Cross and St Vincents' were in the running, the latter came out of the hat. Two girls were chosen and their names put into the hat; Miss Murray, aged 11 and a half was chosen first but was disqualified because her sister had been queen in 1920 , so Kathleen Culleton was the next choice. St Cross next year chose 14 year old, Florence Ditchfield, who had been lady-in -wating the previous year. Ex -May queens often took this role, too.

Above: Ida Jackson May Queen 1919
 

Short haired May Queens

 
Left : May Day 1910
In 1923 three schools nominated a scholar leaving out St Cross because they had chosen the previous year.A further change was made in 1926 when the names of eight former maids of honour went into the hat. The winner, Amy Newton was a reluctant queen; her family coveted the honour and her name went in last in spite of her protests , then came out first. She later remembered her grandmother giving a sixpenny tip to the messenger who brought the news. She set a new fashion by being the first short haired queen. Her aunt had been queen in 1891 and her cousin was crown bearer in 1907.

Rules changed again and by the 1930's the committee ballotted for the queen and maids of honour. The choosing of the Queen and maids of honour only became public events in 1950.
 


Special thanks to Knutsford's resident Historian Joan Leach for textual and pictorial sources.  For a more detailed look at Knutsford's May Day traditions see 'The History of Knutsford's Royal May Day' available from Knutsford Heritage Centre.