1 May 1853
The start of the merry month of May was as it should be. As noted in the Sussex Advertiser, it was “warm, sunny and balmy” all across the southern counties.
Despite that, the farmers likely remained less cheery, the weather having been “changeable” towards the end of April. The Advertiser had noted that the protracted cold caused “vegetation everywhere [to be] most backward” and unpromising, the wheats showing a yellow and unhealthy tinge.
Last year’s May Day had been one of local celebration in Aldershot, the village schoolmistress Miss Naomi York had been married at the parish church on that Saturday. It is easy to envisage gaily dressed children accompanying the bride in her finery as she processed to St Michael’s Church, then greeting her again as she emerged with her young husband, Mr Edward Snowdon, a machine maker from Farnham.
With the various customs of May Day thought to be so deeply ingrained in the culture of English rural life, it is also tempting to imagine the Maypole set in the middle of the village green at the foot of Church Hill. There were about thirty young women in the parish aged from 15 to 19, suggesting that there might have been some competition to be Queen of the May.
No record is found to say who she was in the village that year, nor how she was selected. Indeed, what evidence exists suggests that the day may not have been celebrated in that way at all.
Even by the 1840s, the customs of May Day belonged to a time gone by. Part of ‘May-Day In The Last Century’ by Anthony, Illustrated London News, 3 May 1845
The Weekly Chronicle had mused later that week that,
“the dance round the May-pole on the village green has been given up … the rising of maidens at early dawn to gather the dew on the first morning of May [is] no longer .. a custom amongst our less primitive rural populations.”
The only reports of May Queen in the newspapers that year related to a boat; similarly, references to May Day were to a racehorse with that name. When there was mention of a May-pole being erected, it was either to note that the Royal Surrey Zoological Gardens had put on a show of the maypole, morris dancing and other “Old English rural sports, such as we are told were customary among our ancestors in the good old times”, or else report about one erected in the gardens of a mansion in Swindon for children to dance around. All matters to do with May Day went completely without comment in the Hampshire Chronicle and in most regional newspapers, although the Halifax Courier did report that its parade had been postponed until Monday as the day fell on a Sunday.
That May Day was on a Sunday this year would no doubt have put a damper on frivolity in the village, at least as far as the the curate was concerned, even supposing that the young man from the New Forest was interested in how May Day was celebrated at ” ‘ampshire’s top end”.
The Reverend James Dennett was very much a rural man, expected to do well for a parish community dependent upon agriculture.
Just how he had made the move from his father’s cottage to hold the position as perpetual curate in their village might have seemed a mystery, even to the two churchwardens, Captain Newcome and Charles Barron Esq. Neither of them had a formal role in Dennett’s appointment.
Nor had it been for the Bishop of Winchester alone to decide. In Aldershot, the advowson, that is the right to select and appoint the perpetual curate for the parish, was in the control of a consortium of four families of yeoman farmers. Their only representative now resident in the parish was Mr Richard Allden.
The curate’s first month had been demanding, not only a wedding and three baptisms, but also his first meeting of the Vestry attended by those men of influence in the village.
The good news was that there had been no burials to oversee with funeral ceremony. However, with report of two deaths in the village, that good fortune was about to change. An infant had died on April 30th, Friday just passed, following the death a woman who had died the day before. This was the first time the curate would observe his parish clerk Thomas Attfield in is role as sexton and preparing the graves for the dead.
The dates of the funerals were fixed for Tuesday and Wednesday of the following week. Even with those dates entered in his appointment diary, the curate’s month ahead looked less full of parish duties than it had been for April. There were no banns to be read this Sunday, his only additional duty was a baptism.
To be continued …
The rest of the chapter for May 1853 made available on 4th May 2022, covering such topics as,
The Great Encampment
More details of plans for a camp of military exercise were becoming available in the newspapers, the exact position of ‘the great encampment’ was to be Chobam Common. According to the report in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, the event would last about six weeks from the beginning of June. Viscount Hardinge, the Commander-in-Chief, was to stay at a mansion at Summer Hill and the Duke of Cambridge was to establish the headquarters at Bagshot Park.
The Curate and the Vestry Minute Book
Asking to inspect the Overseers’ Book might have seemed a rash move, even for a young man in a hurry. However, as the Vestry not due to meet again until July there was surely opportunity to look at the Minute Book. The numbered pages of the Vestry Minute Book would enable Reverend James Dennett to glean some understanding of the history of poor relief in the parish.
John Eggar of Aldershot and Bentley
John Eggar had been a man of significant influence in the village for over thirty years until he left, at age 69, to retire to his home village of Bentley. The Great House, also referred to as the ‘Manor House’, together with its surrounding estate, had been sold by John Eggar in 1842. That was also when he handed over what became known as the Manor Farm estate to his younger brother Samuel, together with “the reputed Halimote Manor of Aldershot”, as referred to in the will of Thomas Buddle, from whom John Eggar had inherited.
The dispute between France and Russia about precedence at the Holy Shrines had apparently been settled.
At the end of the month, the Hampshire Chronicle included notice of about 150 acres of land newly available for sale through the enclosure of Ash Common.