Tomorrow – Monday 29th May – is Oak Apple Day or Royal Oak Day – an event that many remember but not-so-many still celebrate. I’m posting this a day early so that you have time and chance to find a place nearby to go and be part of. So what can you expect if you go along to one of the events?
The true origins of this are lost in the mists of time, but it is thought to be an ancient fertility rite involving flowers, people and springtime, and possibly having Celtic connections. There are many different ceremonies thought to be connected with this unique event which has changed and adapted over the centuries. It remains alive today. Events take place in Upton-upon-Severn; Aston-on-Clunin Shropshire; Marsh Gibbon in Buckinghamshire; Membury in Devon; Great Wishford in Wiltshire where villagers gather wood in Grovely Wood and Fownhope in Hereford that has an on-going tradition in the celebration of Oak Apple Day organized by their ‘Heart of Oak’ Society. The day is also generally marked by re-enactment activities at Moseley Old Hall, one of the houses where Charles II hid in 1651.
What is often forgotten, though, is the Garland Ceremony where the Garland King will certainly be riding through the streets of Castleton in the Derbyshire Peak District. The Garland’ itself is a beehive shaped head-dress, covered with wild flowers and greenery, which is worn by the ‘King’ over his head and shoulders. The topmost, removable piece is known as ‘The Queen’ and is a similar but smaller beehive shape. The garland often weighs some 50/60 pounds – a heavy load for the ‘King’s’ shoulders.
The King and his Consort are dressed in Stuart costume that links back to the first Oak Apple Day happening – and lead the Garland procession on horseback. The ceremony begins with the Garland King (without the garland head-dress) and his Consort riding the village bounds, though this is only a token as they stay within the confines of the housing in the village. Castleton Silver Band marches to the host pub, which changes annually, while playing The Garland Tune and followed by The Garland itself carried on a pole. Here they meet the dancing girls. The girls must be no younger than school age and be resident of Castleton Parish or attend the village school. They dance in pairs with their white dresses and hair bedecked with flowers and each carry a Garland stick, which resembles a miniature maypole, with red, white and blue ribbons.
When the King and Consort arrive at the host pub, The Garland is placed over the King’s shoulders, the band strikes up the garland tune, and the dancers dance the garland step through the village. The King and Consort return to the Market Place, joining the dancing girls and the band. Here the older girls then dance six different maypole dances to well known tunes.
Following the maypole dancing, there is a solemn ceremony at the War Memorial. The King places the Queen (the top most piece of the garland) on the War Memorial to commemorate the people of Castleton who lost their lives in the wars. The band plays The Last Post, Reveille and the National Anthem.
Finally the band reforms in the street, strikes up the Garland tune, and returns to the ‘band room’ followed by the girls and ‘the old girls’ dancing The Criss-Cross (a different lively dance) to the garland tune. They are usually followed by all the villagers and visitors who wish to join in.
That is the end of the ceremony and people – I am told – will then disperse to the various public houses!