Signs of the past are always to be found in London if you look for them. Nigel, a close member of my extended family, is keen on the folklore of South London, and the strange beliefs that people have held over the ages. He's always finding snippets of uncommon history and he knows a lot of people who are into strange folkloric things at South East London Folklore Society
Since it's early May, I'd been wondering if Nigel was interested in Jack-in-the-Green. This old tradition was associated with chimney-sweeps (in the days when people had chimney sweeps), and essentially it involves dressing up as a bush or shrub in early May, and dancing around.
The ancient Primula variety "Jack in the Green"
Lots of old books refer to the unruly folk who used to dress up in pillars of leaves and brawl around in the streets of London scattering leaves and flowers as they went.
I was interested in this 18th century print showing a jack-in-the-green with a puffing chimney in the background. I'd guess it's a political satire, because the gold-laced, blacked-up figure in the foreground is far too grandly dressed to be a chimney sweep, although he's dancing with a very rough looking lady. My guess is that he was a politiican, but what was his crime? If you have further info about this print, let me know!
Although London had more sweeps than anywhere else, jacks-in-the-green were (and are) widespread. They still are, as you can see from this link to a big celebration in Hastings, Sussex, next weekend).
Anyway it turns out Nigel IS interested in Jack-in-the-Green, and I spotted on his blog that he followed the Deptford Jack-in-the-Green the other day. (That's a picture from his blog at the top of my post, and here's a link to the rest of it.
I doubt if any of these folk from Deptford have ever squeezed themselves up a hot chimney. But meanings of folk events are constantly changing to fit the times, and I'm glad that this old tradition still has a place in modern life.
Next year, I hope I'll remember to find a jack-in-the-green celebration. I'd go to Hastings if we didn't have house guests here in London.
PS I've put a Flower for Leontien on my other blog, better late than never.