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May Day – The Coming of Spring

May Day - The Coming of Spring

Book - Published by English Heritage
ISBN: I0-1-85074-983-7

Over the past forty years or so, Doc Rowe has amassed an archive of material on cultural traditions - folk and popular culture which has become the stuff of legend. The archive now 'lives' in Sheffield after having a somewhat rootless existence over the past few years. Doc Rowe spends much of his time traveling the country documenting the seasonal calendar customs of the diverse communities of Britain and Ireland. The ongoing nature of this 'field work' is both a reason for the length of time it has taken for the archive to put down roots, and a contributory factor to the strength and value of this delightful book.

Most of us know that legions of Morris dancers welcome the spring on May Day (though I doubt many of us have the fortitude to be up early enough to join them!). We've all heard of the Padstow Mayday celebrations. We've all seen the Gloucester Cheese rolling on the TV, haven't we? But how much do we really know about these customs? How many of us can claim to have knowledge of the Whitby Penny Hedge ceremony or the Corby Pole Fair, for example? In this small book Doc Rowe tries to fill the gaps in our knowledge by "sharing his passion" (as Billy Bragg says on the cover) without resorting to the heavyweight academic writing that is often used to deal with cultural, historical and social subjects.

In the first forty or so pages Doc sets May Day into a historical context in an eminently readable way and then takes a tour around Britain giving a brief but informative description of each of the May Day customs in turn accompanied by Doc's own wonderful colour photographs of the ceremonies. These photos alone are testimony to the time and effort put in to this book over a number of years, which deals with real places, real events and conversations with real people.

Published by English Heritage in association with EFDSS (I guess you could order it through Cecil Sharp House or through Doc's website at At only half an inch thick and a price of £8.99 I think it is worthy of space on any folkie's bookshelf.

Phil Thomas

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