Deptford Jack in the Green May Day Celebrations Greenwich

The streets of Deptford and Greenwich were yesterday taken over by The Jack in the Green May Day celebrations, led by Fowlers Troop and the Deptford Jack. A great cacophony of instruments filled the air peppered with shrieks and yells as the Jack processed along the banks of the Thames to the Cutty Sark where Morris Dancers pranced around the Jack and a Mummers Play was performed. A bright pink Oss gambolled through crowd. Two hurdy-gurdy players duelled in front of watching tourists.

I asked great film-maker Andrew Kötting, who’d been inside the Jack along the riverside, what it’s all about, “fecundity, awareness, what was, what isn’t, and what yet might be”, he said.
Deptford Jack in the Green
The Jack in the Green is a framework adorned with laurel leaves and flowers (dressed the night before in the Dog and Bell in Deptford), that is paraded through the streets accompanied by musicians, Morris dancers and Mummers. It’s said to date from the 17th Century as an evolution of traditional May Day celebrations, a time of cavorting and revelry with deep pagan roots.

Deptford Jack in the Green

I’m told the Jack went ‘rogue’ in Greenwich Park, as Jack in the Green is compelled to do on May Day. It doesn’t surprise me, the atmosphere was alive with the spirit of Spring.

3 Comments

  1. Rupert   •  

    Found this reference to the Fowlers Troop Jack in the Green on another blog John. It would appear that this is a 1980s revival of a seventeenth century tradition that was stamped out during the early twentieth century by local ‘worthies’ anxous to curtail the riotous behaviour of the ‘lower orders':

    https://www.ianvisits.co.uk/blog/2019/04/26/see-a-green-man-parade-through-deptford-and-greenwich/

    A history of the tradition and its origins can be found here on the Fowlers Troop’s own website:

    https://www.deptford-jack.org.uk/

    The tune they appear to be marching to is the so called ‘Rogue’s March’, which was played when cashiered soldiers were kicked out of the Army for stealing and otherwise misbehaving. A version of the tune, with words sung to it can be found here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaplEF4w9RY

    The lyrics which are being sung are transcribed below:

    Fifty I got for selling me coat,
    Fifty for selling me blankets,
    If ever I ‘list for a soldier again
    The devil shall be me sergeant.

    Poor old soldier, poor old soldier!

    Fifty I got for selling me coat,
    Fifty for selling me blankets,
    If ever I ‘list for a soldier again
    The devil shall be me sergeant.

    Fifty I got for selling me coat,
    Fifty for selling me blankets,
    If ever I ‘list for a soldier again
    The devil shall be me sergeant.

    Interestingly enough, the Folk Play that is performed outside the Gipsy Moth is very similar to the Marshfield Mummers Play from Marshfield in Gloucester; which down there is performed on Boxing Day. More here:

    http://www.marshfieldparish.org.uk/wp/marshfield-history/mummers.htm

    Given yoour collaborator Mr. Sincliar’s fixation with London rogues such as the late lamented David Litvinoff it is perhaps appropriate that Mr. Kötting should be marching along to the tune of ‘The Rogue’s March’ on this particular occasion.

  2. Mick McTiernan   •  

    The Mummers’ Play was performed by The (Insert Name Here) Mummers, a bunch of scrimshanking ne’re-do-wells currently based in and around South West London.

    The play was written in 1999 and is based on a large number of traditional, such as Marchfield, and some not so traditional plays. Mumming plays used to be relatively common up until the outbreak of the First World War and were a way for young men and boys to collect money without actually begging for it, since traditionally all the faces of the performers would be hidden or disguised. Typically the plays would be performed around holiday times: Christmas, Whitsun, Easter.

    The various types of mumming play all date from chapbooks distributed, at the earliest, in the late 17th early 18th century; there is NO RECORD WHATSOEVER that mumming plays have any so called ‘pagan’ roots.

    • JohnR   •     Author

      many thanks for the info. The village where I grew up, Wooburn Green in Bucks, has a rather odd version of a Mummers Play dating from the 18th Century featuring the Duke of Cumberland (‘Butcher of Culloden’) as the bad guy

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