Dec 14 2011: Twelve Images From The Ancient Customs Of Derbyshire by Crichton Porteous (Derbyshire Countryside, 1976)

Following yesterday’s sequence of images showing well-dressings in Derbyshire, here are a further dozen photographs presenting some far more curious goings on in the same geographic area. Taken fom Crichton Porteous’ 1976 booklet, The Ancient Customs of Derbyshire, the pictures offer Morris dancers, mummers’ plays, the authorised street battles of the Ashbourne shrovetide football game, a variety of thanksgivings, clyppings and gallups, and – most peculiar and Wicker Man-like of all – the Garland Day at Castleton which falls on Oak Apple Day, 29 May, each year: unless the 29 May is a Sunday, in which case it moves to the day before. It seems, like so many of these things, to be a fertility ceremony designed to propitiate the Spring with token Christian influences absorbed into it, making the Garland King’s fertility a quality symbolic of Christ’s resurrection, much as John Barleycorn seems to transmute from Dionysian figure into Christ-like bringer of life in his own, often very similar, later manifestations. As so often, the hybrid of ancient ritual and recent reconstruction (recent, in these cases, sometimes meaning a mere two or three centuries of near-continuous re-enactment) makes for a compellingly strange spectacle, and even detached from the natural cycles these ceremonies mark, it’s odd how primally resonant they sometimes can still seem: standing on the sidelines of even a familiar version, like a Morris dance, we often start off amused by the daftness of it all, but find an effective team can quickly take that bemusement and freight it with something unexpectedly forceful.


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