Jack in the Green Hastings 2019 - May Day Bank Holiday Festival

One of Jack's Bogeys from the Hastings parade. Image courtesy of Nicklott

With the festivities of Christmas and the New Year now firmly out of the way, the months leading up to May can be a bit of a dull and slightly depressing time of year.

With still quite a few bleak weeks ahead of us before the sun climbs higher in the sky and warms us up, we thought we'd try and cheer ourselves up by focusing on something a bit more positive.

With that in mind, we decided to look at what's happening in our area to mark the beginning of summer.

Jack in the Green - Hastings May Day Festival 2019

If you live in or around the Hastings area, you'll probably already be familiar with the Jack in the Green festival. This year, the festival runs over a four day period beginning on Friday 3rd May (2019) and ends on Bank Holiday Monday 6th May (also known as May Day).

If you're not in Hastings, then it's still well worth the effort to make the journey there (especially on Bank Holiday Monday) when the festival culminates with the Jack in the Green Parade itself. It's an ideal way to spend the long weekend and there's a whole heap of things to see and do for all the family.

In case you're not aware, the weekend is choc a bloc with a broad spectrum of music, historic activities and a range of social events. The Jack in the Green runs as a registered charity so please take a moment to visit the official website for more details about what's happening this year.


May Day Jack in the Green timetable

According to the Hastings Jack in the Green website, the day should start off with a hearty breakfast, which sounds like an excellent idea!

The below timings are approximate but will give you an idea of the general planning of the day. If the festival is something you're not familiar with, have a quick read of what's happening, and when.

7.30am to 9.00am - Breakfast - St. Mary Star of the Sea Church Crypt, The Bourne Hastings TN34 3BD. This is a 'not for profit' breakfast, with all proceeds going to the Two Towers Trust.

9.45am - The Gathering - Hastings Fishermen's Museum, Rock-A-Nore Rd, Hastings TN34 3DW. This is where the characters taking part in the procession will be gathering to wait for Jack.

10.15am - Jack is Released - This is where the fun really begins. Jack first appears in his familiar giant green leafed cloak and flower crown, accompanied by his Bogies. The Bogies are Jack's protectors and their job is to keep him safe whilst he creates his mischief in Hastings. After dancing with 'Mad Jack's Women', his next move is to start the procession by leading everyone along Rock-a-Nore Road and up the very narrow All Saints Street.

11.30am - Time for a pause in The High Street - Whilst everyone has the opportunity for dancing and some refreshments, Jack travels back through the procession to meet all of his followers. Once he's ready, the procession re-gathers behind him so he can lead them up towards the West Hill at around midday.

11.45am - Entertainment for the crowd - This is a 45-minute slot where guest entertainers keep the crowd buzzing as the procession moves onwards towards the West Hill.

12.30pm - The procession winds its way up Croft Road and Collier Road in order to arrive at the Main Stage, West Hill - This is where everyone can really let their hair down. Throughout the afternoon, they'll be a range of musicians and folk groups along with Morris dancers and drummers performing on the stage. There will also be an entertainment area for the kids, plenty of delicious food stalls and refreshments tents with plenty of Real Ale for those that fancy a decent pint from local brewers.

3.30pm - Slaying of the Jack - After all the merriments and the dancing, it's time for the Bogies to parade Jack down to the main stage where he is symbolically slain. His demise signifies the release of the Spirit of Summer for the coming year.

This colourful festival has a rich and illustrious history; to find out more and get the full details of this wonderful and traditional event, head on over to the Hastings Jack in the Green website by clicking on the button further up this page.

General History of The Jack in the Green

The Jack in the Green festival dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries in England. Originally it was a May Day celebration where people would make garlands with flowers and greenery. The garlands became increasingly elaborate as work's guilds would compete against each other, eventually so extravagantly that they covered the body entirely. The garlands were originally carried by milkmaids during May Day Parades - They became larger and more intricate to the point where they would balance them on their heads whilst the rest of their bodies would be adorned with silver houseware.

History of Jack in the Green London, 18th CenturyA chimney sweeps' Jack in the Green dances with the "Lord and Lady of the May in 18th century London -courtesy of SA

The Chimney Sweep's guild, not to be outdone by this and also to earn more coins from the watching crowds, upped their game to the point of covering their whole bodies in a framework covered in foliage and flowers. This became known as The Jack in the Green, a familiar participant in May Day Parades. The garlands are made out of a framework usually conical or pyramid in shape, covered in different types of fauna and flora.

May Day was traditionally a holiday for the Chimney Sweeps and became known as “Chimney Sweeper’s day”. If you live in Kent, you'll probably be aware of the Rochester Sweeps Festival which takes place at the same time as the Hastings event. The association between the Jack in the Green and chimney sweeps continues today. Jack in the Green became known as a practical joker associated with licentious and bawdy behavior which soon became disapproved of in Victorian England.

Popularity dwindled by the mid-1800s and was replaced with a more manageable and sober pretty May Queen and naughty Jack pretty much disappeared from parades. This was largely due to rival sweeps competing with each other, becoming unruly and being reported upon negatively in newspapers.

Cheltenham May Day Jack in the Green 1892Cheltenham May Day Jack in the Green 1892

Jack in the Green did emigrate during the 1800s along with Chimney sweeps and their families looking for work overseas but quickly met the same fate as those in England.

Knutsford is said to be the oldest continual Jack in the Green Parade as part of the May Day celebrations since 1890 but was a more Victorian well-behaved affair.

History of the Hastings Jack

Jack in the Green Hastings 2019Image courtesy of Janet Richardson

According to The Company of the Green Man (an excellent resource for all things Jack related), the Hastings Jack in the Green festival was revived in 1983. Prior to this, there were at least two groups who paraded a Jack in the Green until about 1889, though the earliest mention of an already established Jack in the area dates back to 1848 “Clowns, shovels, dust and noise, Jack in the Green, a sooty queen, And half-a-dozen boys.”

The latter-day Hastings four day event is one of the biggest gathering of Morris Dancers in the UK. Alongside the East Sussex 'Mad Jacks Morris' and 'Hannah’s Cat Morris', Jack is also accompanied by the Bogies, the Gay Bogies, Black Sal, the Fat Man with a Drum, sweeps, a milkmaid, giants, dancers, musicians and a large group of others dressed in elaborate green costumes. At the end of the May Day festivities, Jack is slain and his foliage is taken and distributed to the crowds to release the spirit of summer.

Many of the traditions originating from the Hastings parade have since been adopted in other parts of the UK. These include the waking of the Jack in the morning and slaying of the Jack at the end of the day, the distributing of Jacks leaves to the crowd for good luck and the burning of distributed leaves on a bonfire in the autumn.

The Bogies

The Bogies (see image at the top of this page) were the brainchild of Dave Lobb and their job was to escort the Jack through the crowds, protecting him from any members of the crowd trying to take home a souvenir. The Hasting Bogies are also well known for painting the faces of crowd members with green face paint. There are twelve official Bogies protecting Jack and it's recommended never to get caught in their gaze!

Jack's attire

The Hastings Jack is made from long-lasting Rhododendron and his crown consists of red blue and gold flowers to represent the Cinque Ports.

Jack's mask

The original mask was made by Dave Lobb and a subsequent mask made by artist Clive Hicks Jenkins disappeared one year during Jack's slaying. As far as we're aware, it's never been recovered.

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