Friday, May 01, 2020

Deptford Jack in the Green 1889 & 2020 (and a frightful death at Camberwell)

There will be no May Day demonstration or procession of the Deptford Jack in the Green this socially distancing May Day. The Jack though has been spotted in garden somewhere in South London...

I wrote a whole pamphlet about the history of May Day in South London a while ago, which you can download here. I'm still finding new nuggets though, especially now that you can search newspapers online - that pamphlet was the result of many hours in libraries and archives.

Here's a report I hadn't come across before of the Jack in the Green in Deptford in 1889 (from Woolwich Gazette - Friday 03 May 1889):

'A wild scene of revelry was witnessed in the streets of Deptford on Tuesday night. A motley band of present day Bacchanals kept up the festivities which have, from time immemorable. been observed at the advent of 'That very merry month of May, For music made, so poets say'.  The revellers were, indeed, as merry as could be and their music was— well, loud. Round a conical wicker work frame, prettily dressed with flowers and leaves, and which was carried on the sturdy shoulders of an outwardly invisible being, the dancers careered. "Jack in the Green" was fain to join in the fun and skoppadiddle-like he would at times spin round with amazing rapidity upon his well shod feet. The fantastic dresses and curious masks of the merry men and rustic maids were well worth seeing, and brought to mind recollection of the Nini Moulins of Parisian routs in the carnivals of gay July. Merrily sounded the drum, and shrill shrieked the fife as the Broadway was crossed. Round about "Jack" the dancers skipped, and when the throng came within the far reaching rays of a chemist's crimson globe, it was possible to imagine the weird effect of the scene so graphically described by Poe in "The Dance of the Red Death."

The Deptford Jack is also mentioned in a rather sad 1886 report of a child abuse case: 'Joseph 0'Hara, 32, of 48, Charles- street, Deptford, was charged with violently assaulting his daughter Rose, aged ten years, by beating her. The child said that that morning, about eight O'clock. she was sent for a haddock. She went to look at a "Jack-in-the- Green" and did not get home for two hours. Her father then put her on the bed, and caned her... She had a very severe beating [and] The neighbours were "up in arms " against him... Mr. Marsham remanded the prisoner in custody, and sent the child to the workhouse (Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper - Sunday 02 May 1886).

A Jack in the Green in Camberwell had even more serious consequences in 1879, leading to a child apparently being frightened to death in Camberwell: 'DEATH THROUGH FRIGHT. On Saturdav Mr. W. Carter held an inquiry at the Lord Raglan, Camden-grove, Peckham, respecting the death of William Thomas Coker, aged nine years, of 78, East Surrey-grove, Camberwell. From the evidence of the mother it appeared that on Saturday a "Jack-in-the-green" was dancing in the road, which frightened her children very much. A few minutes afterwards a man dressed in a burlesque costume, with his face painted red, came into the passage, where deceased was, and directly the child saw the man he gave a scream and fell backwards, When picked up it was found that he was vomiting blood. A doctor was sent for, but the child died soon after his arrival. Medical evidence having been given showing that death had resulted from the rupture of a blood vessel caused by fright, the jury returned a verdict of 'Death from natural causes' (Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper - Sunday 18 May 1879).

1 comment:

Sarah Crofts said...

Thank you for that 1889 reference which I did not know about. I wonder if this was an earlier sighting of Fowlers Troop before the Sturdee photo and the Mercury report?

I am pleased you found the video produced by John and Janine Hannah and Peter and Alison Judge. Fowlers Troop and the Depford Jack in the Green participants did get together online today via Zoom, but it was all rather different from usual!