IN the past four weeks, we have taken a dive into the archives to get a glimpse of how the Royal May Day was celebrated 100 years ago.

This week we see the final instalment of Eric Barlow’s Guardian article from May 1 1914. Written in the build-up to May Day celebrations, ‘The Jubilee Year: Brief Retrospect’ gave readers an in-depth account of pageantry origins and development and explained how the town festival won the royal stamp of approval.


The procession of 1881 (the first I ever saw) was much simpler in character and surrounding, nor was it by any means as long as it is now. Also, there were not so many brilliant costumes as now. But still the more important features were all there, whilst some new additions have been made from time to time, and some of these additions have been withdrawn. Thus, what to most people’s mind are the chief characters were there in the far-off years. These are the Beefeaters (in their dress of the Yeomen of the Tower of London), Robin Hood, and his band of green, the Royal Footguards and a party of lively “bluejackets.” There were, I think, no lorries, carrying those interesting groups of children which form tableaux of the “nursery rhymes”.


The dances in the early eighties were quite as well performed as nowadays, though there was not such a variety as in the last few years. Mr Smith, of Sale, a well-known dancing master, trained the young folk perfectly, the reels, jigs and hornpipes were beyond praise. One year a small boy, as sailor, danced a hornpipe in the most perfect fashion it is possible to imagine, and though the crowds applauded continually, the agile youngster kept on dancing for over 10 minutes.


The Queen’s throne has been much improved in the middle eighties. There was in those days no projecting canopy over her head till about the year 1883. The writer can well remember the treacherous weather, which more than marred the May Day festival, nearly spoiling the coronation. At that moment a heavy downfall of hail occurred, and the ladies in attendance rushed to the throne and covered the Queen-elect with their umbrellas. The writer humbly suggested to the committee the utility of a projecting canopy overhead, which would not only add to the dignity of the throne – there was only a floral screen behind the chair – but if a sudden storm came the curtain could be utilised to protect the Queen.


In the year 1887, as the Prince of Wales and the Princess Alexandra were residing in the neighbouring mansion of Lord Egerton, they went in state to Manchester to open the great exhibition in honour of Queen Victoria. The Queen and her court etc were all drawn up to receive the Royal party. The present Queen Mother accepted a bouquet from the May Queen. At the same moment permission was asked and graciously granted to add the word “Royal” to the Knutsford May Festival.

Another slight change was made two years ago, when the writer had the pleasure and honour of being allowed to present to the committee a new sceptre, which was specially designed from the pattern used immemorially by our English Sovereign at their own coronation. It was accepted as more suitable than the one in use for the past 48 years.

Next week, we jump to May 5 1914 for the on-the-day Jubilee Royal May Day coverage from the Guardian’s roving reporter.

  • Thanks goes to volunteer Mary Gracie for meticulously transcribing the original articles.