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Castleton Garland


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This takes place on Oak Apple Day (29 May) in Castleton, Derbyshire, and in itself is unique although there are other garland customs. The main event is a procession, led by the King and the Lady, on horse-back, dressed in Stuart-looking costume, and, until 1955, the part of the Lady was played by a man dressed as a woman. Also in the procession are costumed Attendants who lead the horses, a number of village schoolgirls, dressed in white and carrying flowers and coloured ribbons, and a band. The centre of attention, however, is the Garland. This is made annually by each of the village pubs in turn. It is a large bell-shaped structure made up of a circular metal rim with upright wooden lathes meeting at the top. The whole thing is covered in garden and wild flowers and is large enough to fit over the King's head, with the aid of straps to rest on his shoulders. A separate, smaller bunch of flowers, called the Queen, is fixed to the top, and the complete garland is over three feet high. The procession sets off round the village, stopping outside each of the pubs, where the schoolgirls dance, and they then proceed to St Edmund's Church. The Queen is removed, and the Garland is then hoisted up the church tower by ropes and fixed to a pinnacle, where it will stay for a few weeks. The girls dance round a maypole set up in the village square. The King then places the Queen on the village war memorial, while the band plays the Last Post.

The earliest known reference is in the Churchwardens’ Accounts of 1749, with a payment for ‘an iron rod to hang ye Ringers Garland in’. The custom was organized by the church bell-ringers until 1897, and it was they who did the dancing. The war memorial visit, and the maypole, were introduced in 1916. As discussed elsewhere, Royal Oak Day is the day of celebration for the restoration of the monarchy in the person of Charles II in 1660. There are numerous oak-motifs at Castleton, the church tower is decorated with oak branches, many of the locals wear oak-leaves, and the modern costumes reflect the Stuart theme. However, most authorities presume that the custom is a hybrid of Royal Oak Day and a Jack-in-the-Green custom, and there is no doubt that the King looks remarkably similar to a Jack when he is underneath the Garland. However, Boyes argues persuasively for an origin in a village rushbearing custom, and she also documents the major changes which the custom has undergone over time.

S. O. Addy, Folk-Lore 12 (1901), 394–430;13 (1902), 313;Georgina Boyes, in Buckland and Wood, 1993: 105–18;Geoff Lester, Castleton Garland (1972): Shuel, 1985: 32;Kightly, 1986: 67–8.


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