They looked back to the midsummer processions and pageantries of old London. A time of ‘bonfires in the streets’ and tables ‘furnished with sweet bread and good drink… whereunto they would invite their neighbours… to sit and be merry with them in great familiarity.. These were called bonefires’ [i.e. good fires] because they ‘made of bitter enemies, loving friends; and also for the virtue that a great fire hath to purge the infection of the air’
A time of summer flowers in bloom, of doors ‘shadowed with green birch, long fennell, St John's wort, orpine, white lilies, and such like, garnished upon with beautiful flowers… also lamps of glass, with oil burning in them all the night’ (John Stow, A Survey of London, 1603).
‘Then doth the joyful feast of John The Baptist take his turne,
When bonfires great, with lofty flame, In everie towne doth burne;
And young men round about with mades, Do dance in everie street
With garlands wrought of Motherwort, Or else with Vervaine sweet’ (Barnabe Googe, 1570)
A time too of parades of ‘Sword players, Trumpeters on horsebacke’, archers, minstrels, morris dancers and Giants. And they too did gather behind a giant bedecked in the greenery of the season; some called him the Garlick Man for hadn’t this hill once been called Plow’d Garlick Hill, when it had been a place of fields and gardens?
And though many houses had been raised out of the London clay, there were parks and gardens here still, and places where the fruits of the earth were growing. It was a time to ‘wander everywhere’, ‘Over hill, over dale, Through bush, through briar, Over park, over pale, Through flood, through fire’ (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). And so off they wandered in their Telegraph Hill Solstice Parade, from pub to park, past schools and streets, climbing up to the top of the hill of the beacon where another Saint of the fiery wheel was remembered. And there they did make merry...'
(The Telegraph Hill Solstice Procession made its way this evening from the Telegraph Pub, round Telegraph Hill lower park, up Arbuthnot Road to Common Growth community garden, then via Jerningham and Kitto Road to Telegraph Hill Top Park. There were bemused motorists, drums, recorders, and a bit of dancing at the end, and the strange figure of 'The Garlick Man' - yes those are garlic bulbs for eyes).