Abbotsbury garland day

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(13 May).

Abbotsbury in Dorset has been famous for its garland day customs for many years, and they still continue, despite major alterations within living memory and before. Changes in the village, such as the decline of the local fishing industry, and the closure of local schools, have effected major changes in the way the custom is carried out, but locals have been sufficiently determined to meet those changes and to ensure its survival. A number of other villages in the area formerly had similar garland customs, but Abbotsbury is the only one that has survived. The way the custom was described in the 1980s was as follows: The children who attend the local school get the day off for the event and they construct two garlands—one of wild flowers and another of garden flowers. The flowers are fixed onto wire frames which are carried on poles. The children go from house to house round the village, displaying the garlands and receiving money, which they keep. Later in the day, the older children who have been at school in Weymouth get home and construct a third, more elaborate garland, which they also take round the houses. Two of the garlands are eventually laid on the local War Memorial (suggested by benefactor Lord Ilchester after the First World War). This is quite different to how things were one hundred years earlier. The custom was first described by Hutchins' History of Dorset (1867), and later by C. H. Mayo (1893). At that time the garlands were made and exhibited only by the children of fishing families. The garlands were blessed in a church service and some were rowed out to sea and thrown into the water. The rest of the day was spent in jollification on the beach. Around the time of the First World War, the first non-fishermen garlands appeared, and the number of garlands has since fluctuated a great deal. The local school closed in 1981, and as children no longer get a holiday on Garland Day there has been a tendency to move the custom further to the evening, or to the nearest Saturday.

C. H. Mayo, ‘Garland Days’, Somerset & Dorset N&Q 3 (1893);Peter Robson, ‘Dorset Garland Days on the Chesil Coast’, in Buckland & Wood, 1993: 155–66;Kightly, 1986: 43;Stone, 1906: 70–1.

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