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Conscientious Objectors Day, 2017

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Since the late 1990s 15 May has been designated as Conscientious Objectors Day, when people gather to commemorate those who have suffered imprisonment, and sometimes death, for refusing to participate in war.

In London the main event takes place in Tavistock Square, in Bloomsbury, where a memorial stone, bearing the words ‘To all those who have established and are maintaining the right to refuse to kill’ was unveiled in 1994.  Over 100, mostly grey-haired people, gathered in the Square on 15 May 2017.  A a list of 79 conscientious objectors from a number of states dating back to the Roman Empire was read, and as each name was read a white carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) was placed on the memorial stone.  Later people were invited to place their own flowers (nearly all white carnations) on the stone.


St John of Beverley Festival, 2017

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

St John of Beverley, founder of Beverley Minster, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, was commemorated in the Minster on Sunday 7 May, his feast day, 2017.  Two services took place.  In the morning the Bishop of Beverley preached and ‘hallowed’ a new statue of the Saint, whose tomb was decorated with local flowers.

A rather grander service, involving a civic procession of robed dignitaries, was held at 5.30 p.m., and during this two posies of ‘wild flowers from Harpham, reputed birthplace of St John’ were placed on his grave by a choirboy and choir-girl.

Although bunches of primroses (Primula vulgaris) were traditionally placed on the grave,  in 2017 posies of mixed flowers were used, presumably because it would have been difficult to find any primroses still in flower.  Although the posies were said to be of wildflowers they contained a number of flowers, including lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) and forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica), which were probably of garden origin.

A rather faded, undated photograph in the church of St John of Beverley at Harpham has the caption:  ‘A token of appreciation for each generation of children who from your village each year have picked primroses to place on the tomb of St John of Beverley in Beverley Minster.’

On Thursday, 11 May, ‘the Minster Choir sings Choral Evensong at St John of Beverley, Harpham, birthplace of St John of Beverley.  The commemoration begins with prayer’s at St John’s Well at 7 p.m.’


Easter gardens

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

The display of Easter gardens, representing Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection,  seems to be ubiquitous in Anglican churches, and such gardens appear to be becoming larger and larger.  The example shown here was photographed in York Minster on 4 May, 18 days after Easter Sunday.  It includes a number of potted peace lilies (Spathiphyllum), presumably in place of the larger and similar altar lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica), and, rather incongruously, potted exotic orchids.

Rochester Sweeps Festival, 2017

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Throughout much of the nineteenth century chimney-sweeps would parade through urban areas with a Jack-in-the-Green on May Day.  In Rochester, Kent, in about 1870, ‘it was not considered May Day if we had not seen at least three Jacks-in-the-Green and their attendants’.  It is unknown when this custom died out, but it was revived early in the 1980s, and now the Rochester Sweeps Festival is a weekend-long event, with singing, dancing and music, food stalls, a fun fair and other attractions, which culminates in the Sweeps Procession on the Bank Holiday afternoon.

The Procession is led by people dressed as Victorian chimney-sweeps, followed by a Jack-in-the-Green, and a number of dance groups, mostly morris sides, but, in 2017, also belly-dancers, and a children’s Irish dance group.  Unlike other revivals, where the emphasis is on Jack, at Rochester the emphasis is on the sweeps, and the Jack is a simple, rudimentary structure – a frame covered in ivy (Hedera helix) with a man inside it.  Also, although it seems that other celebrations attract a number of people who feel they are participating in an ancient pagan festival, at Rochester it seems that no one regards it as anything more than a cheerful way of spending a bank holiday weekend.

REMINDER: Enjoying Plants

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

On Saturday 13 May Roy Vickery and members of the South London Botanical Institute – – will be visiting Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park to enjoy the many plants (over 80 were seen in bloom in May 2016) in an important urban oasis.  We invite others to join us for this free event; please meet at the Southern Grove entrance to the Cemetery (a short walk from Mile End underground station), at 2.00 p.m.  All welcome.

Report:  On an exploratory visit the day before the event 120 plants were seen in flower.  About 14 people gathered on a fine afternoon, and we spent two hours seeing, and enjoying, some of these, including  red valerian (Centranthus ruber), greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), fairy foxglove (Erinus alpinus), eastern gladiolus (Gladiolus communis) and many more.  For some participants this was their first visit to the Cemetery; we all agreed that we should return at other seasons to see plants which were not in bloom in May.  Thank you everyone for a pleasant afternoon.

Images:  upper, Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, 14 May 2016; lower fairy foxglove, 13 May 2017.

Plant-lore Archive: April 2017

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

April 2017 was an exceptionally successful month with 53 items of information being received from 47 contributors.  Thank you everyone!  The Archive now contains 7440 items from 2040 contributors.

A record 12,171 searches were made of the website, although, as usual, the number of contributions received from users as disappointing.

A number of trips were made to plant-lore events, and during a visit to Dublin to see how Easter (altar, or arum) lilies (Zanthedeschia aethiopica) are used at Easter, a day trip to Belfast provided an opportunity to see the city’s sectarian murals.  Plant-lore walks were held in East Hale Allotments and Brompton Cemetery, both in London.

Good progress was made on the preparation of A Folk Flora, and one minor publication was produced:                                                                                 Cemetery Plants:  Marvel of Peru, Mirabilis jalapaFriends of Brompton Cemetery Magazine, 56: 2-3.

Image:  Easter lilies placed on the burial plot of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, Arbour Hill Cemetery, Dublin, 15 April 2017.

Deptford Jack-in-the-Green, 2017

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

In about 1900 the photographer Thankful (sometimes spelled Thankfull) Sturdee took a photograph in Deptford, now in the London Borough of Lewisham, which he labelled ‘An Old May-Day Custom – Jack in the Green’.  About 80 years later, in 1983, a replica of his Jack was constructed in the garden of the Dog and Duck pub in Princes Sreet, Deptford, and paraded around the local streets.  This revival has continued on the May Day bank holiday ever since.

At about 6 o’clock on Sunday evening people gather at the Dog and Duck and start decorating the Jack, which consists of two parts, a lower frame, which is covered with twigs of cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) and a smaller, upper frame, which decorated with flowers.  There appears to be a division of labour with the men being responsible for decorating the lower frame, and women being responsible for the upper.  Most of the flowers used are florists chrysanthemums, but a few people responded to an appeal in publicity for the event, and brought along flowers from their gardens.

On the following day, the Monday bank holiday, people gather again at the Dog and Duck, and from 12 noon until 6 p.m. the Jack is paraded around the neighbouring streets in Deptford and Greenwich.

Although Jack-in-the-Green was, at one time, considered by folklorists be be a curious survival of an extremely ancient rite – ‘the annual victim of the vegetation drama’ – research by Roy Judge in the 1970s revealed that Jack evolved towards the end of the eighteenth century as one of a variety of begging activities practised on May Day.  These activities continued until early in the twentieth century, when they died out, to be revived by folk enthusiasts in the 1980s.

QUERY: Star-of-Bethlehem, John-go-to-bed-at-noon?

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) has a number of local names, such as Betty-go-to-bed-at-noon, morning star and nap-at-noon, which suggest that its flowers open in the morning but close at about mid-day.  And, indeed, another name is sleepy Dick, ‘from the early closing of its flowers’.  But star-of-Bethlehem flowers appear to remain open in the afternoon, as shown in this photograph taken on Tooting Common, London Borough of Wandsworth, at about 4.00 p.m. on 29 April 2017.

Any observations or comments would be appreciated; please send them to

Forget-me-nots and dementia

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Banner in St Mary the Virgin Parish Church, Witney, Oxfordshire.

The attached card reads:

‘Forget-me-nots [Myosotis sylvatica] are associated with Dementia.  They remind us to remember and support those who cannot remember for themselves.                             Dementia Oxfordshire is encouraging everyone to knit as many flowers as possible in the run up to Dementia Awareness week (15th May – 21st May).                                                            Thanks to everyone who has helped make this banner.’

(Although people are asked to knit flowers, most of the flowers appear to have been crocheted).

Photographed 23 April 2017.

Fritillary Sunday, Ducklington, 2017

Date of the post: Posted on by royvickery |

Since the 1980s the Oxfordshire village of Ducklington has held a Fritillary Sunday late in April to raise funds for its parish church.  In 2017 the event took place on Sunday 23 April.  A meadow a short walk from the village centre is open to the public and people are invited to enjoy the the fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) which grow there.  Although there are other sites which are better known and where fritillaries grow in greater abundance, it is said that it is only at Ducklington that people are not confined to set paths, but are free to wander amongst the flowers.  Each year the event attracts about 1,000 people.

The field is open from 11.30 a.m. until 5.00 p.m., and additional attractions include a plant stall, ploughman’s lunches and cream teas, displays by the local morris side, tours of the church tower, and handbell ringing –  a typical English village event.

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