Tag Archives: May

Custom demised: May Goslings


May Gosling’s dead and gone You’re the fool for thinking on

We all know of April Fool’s day but in many places, especially in the North, it was the first of May which was associated with pranks. The receivers of which were called May Goslings.

According to a contributor to the Gentleman’s magazine of 1791:

“A May gosling on the 1st of May is made with as much eagerness in the North of England, as an April noddy (noodle) or fool, on the first of April.”

Despite the unlikeliness of needing two fool’s days back to back it was apparently still current in the 1950s in Cumbria and north Yorkshire according to Opie in The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959)

Indeed Nicholas Rhea’s diary, a blog site records:

“One very popular May Day game when I was a child in Eskdale was May Gosling. It was rather like April Fool pranks played on April 1 because children played jokes upon each other. Anyone who fell victim was known as a May Gosling. Just like April Fool jokes, the pranks had to be perpetrated before noon.”

He notes he has not heard any reference to it recently suggesting its demise.  Like April Fool’s Day, as noted above one must do all the pranks by none otherwise you would be taunted with:

May Gosling’s dead and gone, You’re the fool for thinking on.”

Even TV celebrity and gardener Alan Titchmarsh notes in his 2012 Complete Countrymen illuminates and suggests it did indeed survive longest in Yorkshire:

“As a Yorkshire lad, born on 2 May, my Yorkshire grandmother would ask me ‘Have you been christened a May Gosling?” I wondered what she meant then I discovered there had been a Northern custom, akin to April Fooling, which took place on 1 May. Tricks were played and successful perpetrators would cry ‘May Gosling!’ presumably implying the victim was a silly as a young goose. The response would be: ‘May Gosling past and gone. You’re the fool for making me one!”

John Brand in his 1810 Observations on Popular antiquities noted a ritual associated with it:

“The following shews a custom of making fools on the first of May, like that on the first of April “U.P.K spells May Goslings” is an expression used by boys at play, as an insult to the losing party. U.P.K is up pick that is up with your pin or peg, the mark of the goal. An additional punishment was thus: the winner made a hole in the ground with his heel, into which a peg about three inches long was driven, its top being below the surface; the loser with his hands tied behind him, was to pull it up with his teeth, the boys buffeting with their hats and calling out “Up pick you May Gosling” or “U.P.K Goslings in May.”

Robert Chambers in 1843’s Everyday Book noted also that:

“There was also a practice of making fools on May-day, similar to what obtains on the first of the preceding month. The deluded were called May-goslings.”

Perhaps it is due for a revival for in response to the above’s Nicholas Rhea’s article a commenter notes:

May gosling mischief

Having been born and bred in Yorkshire, but lived all my married life in the Vale of Evesham, I could hardly believe my eyes on reading Nicholas Rhea’s tale in the May edition – someone actually knew of May Gosling! Fifty or so years ago when I tried to describe May Gosling Day to my husband, I got some very strange looks. I gave up in the end! Had you been caught out on April Fool’s Day, it was such a joy to get your own back on May Gosling Day. Thank you, Nicholas Rhea. Mrs E B Palfrey, Pershore”

What with Yorkshire’s continuation of Mischief Night perhaps another day of pranks might not be needed!


Custom demised: Empire Day



Empower the children!

The twelfth Earl of Meath, Reginald Brabazon, was largely behind the establishment of this custom and although it was first celebrated in 1902, it  soon became a main fixture of schools across the country. They observed the occasion with special events and these became a regular feature of the school calendar. Often it was taken officially or otherwise a half day holiday for schools:

“The twenty-fourth of May, The Queen’s Birthday; If you don’t give us a holiday, We’ll all run away.”

Another rhyme recorded at Boothby Pagnell near Grantham, Lincolnshire recorded:

“The 24th of May, Is our Royal Empire Day, Our Union Jack, Red, White and Blue, We all salute today”

The date is easily explained as being Queen Victoria’s birthday, but as a correspondent of Sutton (1996) notes an alternative name arose:

“the day was known as Daisy Day. You fastened a daisy to your dress with a red, white, and blue ribbon and wore it to school”

Queen Victoria’s favourite flower was a daisy. Opie and Opie in the Lore of the Playground note that a Staffordshire school teacher would noted that some of his children ‘wear red, white and blue and a daisy.’

Schools appeared to be the main celebrant of the custom, for example in Nottingham, the Evening Post of 1937 notes that all 120 of those schools controlled by the then educational committee in Nottingham, celebrated the day in some form ranging from Mass at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic school at the Cathedral to Maypole dancing and national dances at Arboretum Open air school. In Underwood, Nottinghamshire, a report in the Eastwood and Kimberley Advertiser describes what took place in 1908:

“The day was observed at Underwood mixed schools by the decoration of the school with flags, mottoes etc. The children had special lessons on matters relating to the Empire delivered to the Upper Standards V VI and VII by the headmaster Mr F. E. Lowe and the Lower Standards II, III and IV by the Principle Assistant Mr T B. Nix. Afterwards the children were drawn up in the playground in the form of a solid square under the baton of the headmaster sang the songs ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘God Save the King” in the presence of a good crowd of spectators. Afterwards the children gave hearty cheers for the King and the Flag and dispersed for an afternoon’s holiday”                               

empire%20day%20a5%20flyer%2072dpi%20(2)In Surrey, Reigate children too would go to the castle and sing patriot songs as they waved flags. Doel and Doel (1992) inform us that at Headley, Surrey the children would be entered by a hurdy-gurdy surmounted by a live monkey in the rectory gardens. Sutton in her Lincolnshire Calendar (1996) reports a Gainsborough informant notes:

“We always wore a daisy to school on Empire Day, it being ‘A Colour Day’. We had a party to celebrate the event, and the food tied up with the colour of the day: green and white for daisy day. We ate green jellies, cakes with green and white icing on them, cucumber sandwiches were popular, everything fitted in with the colour for the day. Our teacher helped us to make crepe paper hats in the colour, some of the girls had green and white paper dresses on. There were stories about ‘the Great British Empire’ and a map of the British Empire was put on the wall; all that was British was coloured pink.”

Often visiting lecturers would appear in assembly. Most though had talks from the local vicar or headmaster and mistress. An interesting example being from Claremont school for boys, Nottingham suggesting how attitudes may have been changing, where the Rev Lysons:

“stressed the importance of character in building up and maintaining the Empire. The coronation oath made necessary the self government of the Dominions and freedom was the watch word of the Empire. He appealed to the boys to use their opportunities to develop character, so that they might be ready to carry on the great traditions of the Empire, and to live and work for the Commonwealth of Nations. Selections were given by the school orchestra….and patriotic songs were song by the school choir..During the day a floral token on behalf of the schools was laid in the ‘Soldiers corner’ of the General cemetery by the school captain…in respect for all who have done so much for the future of the citizens of this Commonwealth of nations and for the world.”

Processions would occur, in Lolworth, Cambridgeshire Porter in her Cambridgeshire folklore in 1966 notes that the children would process, singing and bearing flags to the Huntingdon road, after which they were given oranges.


Red white and who!                                                     

Mention Empire Day today and few will know it. It appears to have declined during the Second World War, the focus appeared to be changing and interest was on recognising the conflict and its outcomes. Although in some places, Empire Day was still celebrated until at least the 1950s, its underlying theme of subjugation was perhaps ‘too close to home’ considering what had been fought over, a celebration of based on territorial expansion was no longer seen as appropriate. Therefore it was not surprising, it was replaced by Commonwealth Day in 1958 and then 1966 the date was moved to the 10th June the official birthday of Elizabeth II, and again in 1977 to the second Monday in March and as far as I am aware it is no longer celebrated.  Instead, St George’s Day has become the focus for patriotism and jingoism.