Day of tradition marred by the smell of oil and the sound of engines

Published on by Oscar Pelling (author), Frank Cooper (photographer), Sarah Hannant (photographer), Kerry Davies (photographer)

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Man dressed as a dear to celebrate jack in the green (photo: © Sara Hannant)
Man dressed as a dear to celebrate jack in the green

Day of tradition marred by the smell of oil and the sound of engines

 

Bank holiday Monday saw the final day of the Jack in the Green festival and the May Day run which is a gathering of motorcyclists in Hastings.

For hundreds of years the town of Hastings has held the Jack in the Green festival. In England many towns celebrate May Day which is a day devoted to celebrating the coming of summer. The tradition of the ‘Jack in the Green’ came from the 18th century where chimney sweeps in London sought to outdo the garlands of flowers that were worn by milkmaids which were adorned with silvers spoons. The sweeps instead decided to cover their entire body in flowers and so the ‘Jack’ was born.

On the day an enormous procession of locals, dressed in mostly green, gather and follow the ‘Jack’ up to the top of West Hill. The procession also contains many marching bands with a wide array of instruments. The sound of the beating drums can be heard throughout the town. As the day progresses and the sound of the procession dies down the town becomes filled with the sound of motorcycle engines.

 There is a strange transition of atmosphere that occurs along the seafront. The crowds who gathered to celebrate the festival and enjoy the parade are now replaced with riders clad in leathers and perusing booths selling gear for motorcyclists. As the traditional slaying of the jack on west hill is happening at 3:30 the rest of the town is drowned in the sound of motorcycle engines and the smell of oil.

Harry Rogers from the Old Hastings Preservation Society spoke with me about the day, “I think it’s a real shame that the two events coincide. Some of the spirit of the day has been lost. I have nothing against the May Day run; I just feel it over-shadows a wonderful tradition.”

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