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Knutsford's Royal May Day 1902

May Day Festival 38th Year

The 1902 May Queen was 12 year old Julia Wragg.

Below is a description of May Day from 1902 - today things seem to have changed very little.

The Morris Dancers

Nowhere, perhaps, is May Day celebrated more prettily that at Knutsford. Revived in the quaint old Cheshire town (Mrs. Gaskell's "Cranford") in the early sixties, the festival of Maia and of Flora has ever since been the principal event of the year in the local calendar.

Long before the earliest visitors arrive the townsfolk begin "sanding" their two main streets - an observance reserved for special occasions, such as the May festival, a wedding, or a royal visit. "Sanding," which is peculiar to Knutsford, consists in forming hearts, crown, true lovers' knots, and other designs, some of them much more elaborate, with sand as it runs through a funnel. For weddings homely mottoes are added to the devices, as:

"Long may they live, and happy may they be,
Blest with content and from misfortune free."

Two colours of sand are used, brown and white; and the effect produced is very curious.

Knutsford's Royal May Day 1902

It was in connection with weddings, according to tradition, that the custom originated. A plan was introduced of making such known by sweeping the street in front of the house of the bride's father, and sprinkling it with sand. Then the "sanding" gradually extended, till now it covers two streets.

Later in the morning, as the time for the procession draws nigh, one-half the town is busily engaged in dressing the other half. The Morris Dancers, who - headed by the master of ceremonies on horseback - make a brave show in their snow-white shirts and floral chaplets, require a good deal of attention, and even more, of course, has to be given to the large number of children who take part in the procession.

The Children

Many characters do the children represent; indeed, their number and variety astonish most visitors. Besides many of a stock type, it is customary to have a novel set every year. Robin Hood and Maid Marian, Boy Blue, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and other fairy tale heroes and heroines; milkmaids, gleaners, shepherdesses, historical personages, a group of Spanish ladies, representatives of the seasons - these and the like are repeated every year.

Knutsford's Royal May Day 1902

But every May brings forth new figures as well. At one festival the novelty consisted of a group of characters from "Cranford" - a very happy idea; and some years ago there was introduced a set of chess figures in red and white.

The Queen & Attendants

The procession starts from the Town Hall, and is at times nearly a mile long. At the end of the long train comes the uncrowned Queen in a carriage, preceded by the Sword Bearer, the Sceptre Bearer, the Crown Bearer, ladies-in-waiting etc., and followed by the pages, train bearers, maids of honour, and a body of Beefeaters.

Knutsford's Royal May Day 1902

She who is the principal figure in the procession is to be "Queen of the May," by virtue of a ballot of the Committee. Formerly the Queen was always a scholar at the parish school, the Crown being given as a reward for regular attendance, as it still is in most places where the May festival is held; but now she is chosen by the votes of the ladies and gentlemen who manage the celebration.

The Crown, it should be noted, is literally given to the girl of their choice. A new one is purchased every year, and this becomes the property of the maid on whose head it is placed.

Crowning the Queen

After making a circuit of the town, with the bands playing and banners flying, the procession proceeds to the fine expanse know as the Heath, where, in the presence of an enormous crowd of spectators from Manchester, Liverpool and other towns, the Coronation takes place with elaborate ceremonial.

The Queen having ascended the Throne, the Crown Bearer advances with obeisance at every third step. She then rises, whereupon he takes the diadem from the purple cushion he bears, and places it on her head, saying:

"I crown the Queen of the May!"

Knutsford's Royal May Day 1902

After he has retired backwards, the Sceptre Bearer steps forward, and, proceeding to the Throne with a series of bows, invests the Queen with the symbol of royal power. Upon this the children sing the crowning song.

This concludes the ceremony, but not the festival. Old English revels follow, including a dance round the Maypole and the Morris Dance, which is seldom omitted from a Cheshire Festival; and it is late in the afternoon when the Queen descends from the Throne.


Many thanks to Joan Leach for her research and unearthing of the above information.

May Day Poem
  'Round the maypole - round and round
Men and maids and children bound
Show'ring as they halt between
Honours on their May Day Queen.'
May Day Poem
  Spring, the sweet spring,
Is the year's pleasant king,
Then blooms each thing,
Then maids dance in a ring.'
(Thomas Nash)