One of the loveliest village traditions, which lingers on today, must be the crowning of the May Queen. Village children would rise at daybreak on May Day and go out to the woods and hedgerows to collect flowers and huge bunches of May blossom. They returned home singing songs to welcome the Spring and proceeded to elect a Queen to preside over their celebrations. The chosen Queen was crowned with May blossom, took her place on a flower decked throne, and the revels began and continued all day.
As far back as 1877 the school Log Book mentions that children had a holiday for May Day (sometimes called Garland Day) around 12th May. It is thought that the Curate of Yardley, then the Rev. Rowley Armstrong, put up a swing in his orchard for the children’s use that day and another was hung from a tree on the Green.
The Yardley May Day Festival was started for school children by Miss Emily Pollock, the Mistress in 1892. The children would promenade around the village and donations from the villagers would help provide a tea. In the afternoon the children visited Wakefield Lodge and were received by the Duke of Grafton and the upper servants.The Duke gave £1.00 and the servants between them 10/-. The local band gave freely of their services and a fine time was had by all. Records show that some of the songs sung that day were “Joan to the Maypole”, “The Flower Bells”, “The Maypole” and “Neath the Moon”. After all the expenses were paid, a balance remained of 32/- and with this amount the Mistress hired an iron-frame School Board piano of 5 octaves for three months. Mrs Bona Fitzroy of Yardley House also gave 18 tambourines for the infants!
Before long the village boasted a most ambitious May Day Festival in which everyone took part and it became quite a famous affair locally. Visitors came from all around and by 1896 it was a large enough event to be reported fully in the Northampton Herald. Mrs Fitzroy continued her interest in the proceedings and also helped financially.
This annual day of celebration occurred in Yardley until 1931 when the inhabitants objected to a “newcomer” trying to re-organise their established festival and refused to have anything to do with it! There are photographs showing that the festival had been revived in the 1920’s and 1950’s and still played a part in the village for a time after that. You can see from the May Day programme for 1914 that the days events differ very little from those of a later date
The early May Festivals were held in Calves Close, Manor Farm, at the entrance to the village from Stony Stratford. After the farm changed hands it was held at the other end of the village in Hall Close opposite Highcroft.
A pre 1896 photograph shows a King as well as a May Queen, surrounded by girls in light coloured dresses and smaller girls in coloured dresses with deep white collars or yokes. They all wear caps. A boy, representing Winter, stands at the side of the group holding a large garland supported on a decorated stick. Winter was dressed in breeches and boots, a jerkin of coloured sateen edged with white fur and a white fur hat. Three girls represent the remaining seasons, wearing sashes. A fairy with folded wings stands behind the Queen, who is known to have worn a bright blue sateen coatee edged with swansdown.
Photographs show the procession proceeding down Grafton Hill, the brass band leading, followed by the soldiers or guards, then a horse drawn carriage with the Queen and attendants followed by walking girls.