bristol jack in the green

saturday 4th may 2019



More about the Bristol Jack...

Jack's history

Jack's history

About 200 years ago, the people of Bristol and many other places celebrated the coming of Summer with a Jack in the Green. Jack was part of the May Day celebrations, often associated with processions of chimney sweeps, for whom the occasion was a special holiday.



 Today, Jack's procession takes him over Horfield Common

Today, Jack's procession takes him over Horfield Common






In early 19th century Bristol, May festivities centred on Durdham Downs and the Zoo. There was social dancing between 5 and 8 on May morning, and horse racing on the first Wednesday and Thursday of the month.

Local papers often reported May Day activities. In 1822, Felix Farley's Bristol Journal noted that kings and queens paraded the streets in the morning, and that chimney sweeps made a splendid appearance. Almost 40 years later, in 1861, the Western Daily Press reported that:

"Throughout the city and Clifton there was the usual visitation of Royalty - perhaps a more plentiful crop of Kings and Queens than in former years - and Jack in the Green, with a band of music and a cohort of gaily dressed fraternal spirits, paraded the thoroughfares and drew much attention."



 Travelling up Gloucester Road

Travelling up Gloucester Road






We don't have any pictures of the early Bristol Jacks in the Green, but in 1865 a possible description of a Jack in the Daily Times and Bristol Mirror talks of a "floral, half-sized sedan, which, having no handles, compelled [the sweep] to pay for the luxury of occupying it by carrying it himself". Pictures of early Jacks exist from other towns, and today's Jack is probably quite like his predecessors.

Apart from their description as "gaily dressed fraternal spirits", there is little to tell us what Jack's attendants wore in Bristol. The dress of the modern day followers is almost certainly nothing like what was originally worn.

The origin of the Jack in the Green before the time of the sweeps is unclear. Some people like to think he is linked to the Green Man of ancient pagan celebrations, who is often shown in medieval churches and on inn signs. While we reflect that in our event, there is little or no actual evidence for a link. Like many old traditions, we will probably never know.

Jack in the Green sadly disappeared from Bristol's May Day celebrations for much of the 20th century, but he has become a regular feature once again in recent years.



 Mingling with the greenness of Redland Grove

Amid the greenness of Redland Grove











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