THE May Day has arrived and festival fever is rumbling in the sleeping streets of Knutsford.
For some days before the festival the most discussed question in Knutsford is the weather, and many are the expressions, hopeful of course, that this would be of the right order. The glasses are consulted repeatedly and prophecies made, but while these are cheering for the time being, yet they are never taken in the light of a warranty, as the festival has experienced all sorts of weather, even to snow falling on the eventful morning. It must, therefore, have been with a gleam of satisfaction that Mr. George Pemberton, the Queen’s father, put away slumber at 3.45 on the eventful morning, welcoming wakefulness and a cloudless sky almost simultaneously. His hopes and the hopes of thousands of others – for Knutsford is early astir – must have been high with the prospect of a gloriously fine and warm day.
Mr. Pemberton and a few of his willing friends were early at their labours decorating his home in honour of the great occasion; and the work soon became infectious, for his next-door neighbour was not long in commencing to work out the scheme of beauty in his mind, and when their labours in this direction were ended the premises of Mr. Pemberton and Mr. Massey were among the many interesting displays in King-street. As the morning advanced others began to decorate, and by ten o’clock the town was bright and gay.
The residents in Princess-street had not to the same extent caught the enthusiasm, which was so prevalent in King-street, and although in parts of the former street there was a fairly liberal display of bunting, taken from end to end the scheme was rather on the meagre side. Of course, in the matter of pavement decoration there was a much better show than was the case overhead, but even in this respect Princess-street was far behind King-Street. It is difficult to explain why this should be so, but invariably it is the case that the King-street residents display a far greater loyalty to the town’s gala than do the residents in other parts of the district.
A much more general scheme of decoration was looked for on this occasion, especially as it was the jubilee year, and that the Management Committee had endeavoured to stimulate interest by offering prizes for the best decorated premises. The embellishments in King-street marked the high pitch of enthusiasm which must have been behind the numerous examples of most excellent work, the establishments of Mr. A. Garner, florist, and Mr. Stell, stationer, after the Queen’s home, perhaps attracting the most attention. There was a very attractive scheme carried out at the Liberal Club (designed by Mr. Duncan, the hon. Secretary) and worked out by Mr. R. W. Harris and the club steward, (Mr. Johnson).
The Conservative Club was also tastefully adorned, this being the best decorated building in the vicinity of Canute-place. At the Lord Eldon, where the original Queen formerly resided, the decorations were of a very effective order, and were executed by Mr. Sam Taylor.
The prizes for the best decorated premises went to Mr. A. Garner (first prize), Mr. Herbert Stell (second prize) and Mr. James Massey (third prize).
There were many artistic designs worked in vari-coloured sands on the pavements, and probably the most artistic was that in front of Mr. Shaw’s large tailoring establishment, the home of a former May Queen. These pavement designs were a source of much interest, especially to the visitors, for Knutsford is one of the very few places where this old custom is carried out.
Originally this singular practice was observed on the occasion of weddings. As to when it was introduced and the origin of it there is no authentic record, but one tradition is that a certain tramp, whilst wending his way through the town many generations ago, suddenly came upon a wedding party. No flowers had he with which to strew the path of the happy bride; but Nature had endowed him with ready wit, and stooping down he gallantly took off his shabby shoes, filled them with sand and scattered it along a fair bride’s path, since which event, the custom has been religiously observed.
Whether this is authentic or not it is quite true that whenever a wedding is celebrated at Knutsford the pavements are adorned with very pretty designs and mottoes in sand thus making the occasion one of public rejoicing.
It is also said that the custom was introduced more than a hundred years ago as the result of a peculiar circumstance. In the lower street stood the Chapel-of-ease with a small tinkling bell, which was out of repair, probably cracked, so that its tone jarred upon the joyous feelings on a wedding morning.
The bells of the Parochial Chapel were too far away, and the plan was introduced on the occasion of a wedding to sweep the streets in front of the bride’s father’s house and garnish it with a quantity of sand, by which means the wedding was announced to the neighbours. At the beginning the sand was confined to the house of the bride’s father, but with the passing of time the custom grew until the neighbours joined in the observance. It may be worth while to repeat the well-known lines in relation to the custom in “The Countryman’s Ramble” –
Then the lads and the lasses their tun dishes handling,
Before all the doors for a wedding were sanding.
I asked Nan to wed and she answered with ease
You may sand for my wedding whenever you please.
- Thanks goes to Mary Gracie for transcribing original articles from the Guardian.