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English Diary

British Customs, British Culture and British Traditions in May

1st May

May Day

May Day, a call for help, a pagan festival of Spring, a Roman import or a date in the socialist diary? Find out here

1st May

On This Day

On this day in 1707, the United Kingdom of Great Britain was formed when Scotland and England were joined together under a common flag, the Grand Union Flag aka the Union Jack. The Scottish legal system remained intact but the Scottish parliament was abolished and the members merged into the British parliament in London. I wonder what will happen to the flag if Scotland votes for Independence.

15th May

Whit Sunday

Whit Sunday and Whit Monday are a celebration of Pentecost also known as Whitsuntide, which in Greek, means the fiftieth day.  Pentecost takes place 50 days after Easter, which is the Jewish feast of Shavuot.  Whit Sunday and Monday have been celebrated since  the 3rd Century AD.  Modern scholars believe that many of the traditions and celebrations we enjoy today were 'borrowed' from pagan celebrations of spring.

16th May

Whit Monday

A religious bank holiday in the UK. For an explanation see above.

22nd May

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, was born on 22 May 1859. He was a Scottish author most noted for his stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes. His other works include science fiction stories, historical novels, plays and romances, poetry, and non-fiction. He died on 7 July 1930. Learn More

24th May to 28th May

Chelsea Flower Show

In an English country garden. From the sublime to the ridiculous, how seriously we Brits take our gardening can be seen on this RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) web site. This year they are hoping to "Green Grey Britain"! Learn More

26th May to 5th June

The Hay Festival of Literature & Arts

This is an annual literature festival held in Hay-on-Wye, Powys, Wales, for ten days from May to June. It started in 1988, and went from strength to strength, gaining international acclaim. The festival was described by Bill Clinton in 2001 as "The Woodstock of the mind".

29th May

Oak Apple Day

This day was the turning point for the monarchy in 1660. King Charles II escaped being captured by the roundheads by hiding in an oak tree after the battle of Worchester, to return on May 29th. Learn More

May to June

Glyndebourne

Glyndebourne is a 700-year old country house and opera house near Lewes in East Sussex, England. Since 1934 it has been the venue of the annual Glyndebourne Festival Opera. The festival is regarded as part of the London/English summer season. Performances, which start in the afternoon, enable Londoners to leave town after lunch, and finish in time for them to catch the last train back. A long interval allows opera-goers the opportunity for picnic dinners on the extensive lawns or in one of the restaurants in the grounds.

May Onwards

Well Dressing

In order to celebrate the springs that have provided fresh water for centuries, well dressing is an ancient art carried out in the county of Derbyshire, especially the Peak District. Every year from around May to August wells in the area are beautifully decorated with natural objects (usually petals from flowers) to form elaborate pictures, often nowadays with a religious theme.

The origins of well dressing are something of a mystery, but it is thought to predate Roman times. It was most likely a form of sacrifice to give thanks for the supply of water supplied by wells in the community. Learn More

30th May

Spring Bank Holiday

Each Spring Bank Holiday there is a plethora of events to take part in. Just be warned, the traffic can be abysmal.

The Westward Ho! Potwalloping Festival

The bank holiday weekend sees dedicated volunteers from the community gather together for a 3 day festival of potwalloping. Potwalloping is a tradition that dates back to the reign of Edward VII where everyone gets together to replace the rocks and pebbles, which protect on the historic ridge around Westward Ho. The 3 days include music, sports, stalls and other events, not just rock carrying.

Hunting the Earl of Rone

You won't want to go down to the woods, at least not in Combe Martin, North Devon. Here people scour the forests for the whole weekend searching for the Irish Earl of Rone, (who is always caught on the Monday), once he's caught he is forced to ride backwards on a donkey and then tossed into the sea - poor bloke! Learn More

Woolsack Race

Every Spring Bank Holiday in Tetbury they hold the annual woolsack race (60lb of wool in a sack).

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