Traditional, Eccentric & British

Castleton Garland Day

Castleton (High Peak), Derbyshire
29 May 19

The Garland King, on horseback, and covered to the waist in a heavy, bell-shaped floral Garland, leads a procession through the village.

Date: 29 May 19 — 29 May 19 | Report this event.

Entrance Price free Per person


The date of the custom coincides with Oak Apple Day and it is said to commemorate the restoration of King Charles II in 1660. Presumably the Garland is meant to represent the oak tree in which he hid after the Battle of Worcester. Some folklorists suspect that it is actually a much older custom that transferred from May Day as many May celebrations did after having been banned by the Puritans. The Garland King certainly resembles a kind of Jack in the Green.

Castleton Garland – a potted history by Frank Parker

Garland on top of church tower at duskThe origins of Castleton Garland Day are lost in the mists of time, but one thing’s certain – today’s colourful traditional ceremony that delights locals and visitors alike was never seen in the days of Charles II! But that doesn’t mean that Garland Day doesn’t have ancient roots. It just means that like all traditions, this one has had to change in order to survive and remain relevant. And there have been quite a few changes since the earliest first hand description of the ceremony which goes back to the reign of William IV and the 1830s.

It came from an 86 year old Castleton resident who was interviewed in 1901 and remembered that the village woodwind band used to provide the music before brass instruments were introduced, sometime after the 1840s. Otherwise not much had changed, apart from the dancing and the king’s costume, which only gets revealed when the beehive shaped garland (which he wears over his head as he rides through the village) is hoisted to the top of the church tower.

an old coachman's great-coatIt used to be an old coachman’s great-coat, but had recently been improved to reflect the popular belief that the ceremony was in honour of Charles II. But the consort, or lady who accompanied the king and was played by a man, still wore an old cape and a veil – and was prone to act the fool.

The pair of them, mounted on horseback, led the parade which stopped outside each of the village’s 7 pubs whilst the band played, the dancers danced and everyone had a drink. The dancing was described as morris (a term which had a broader meaning than modern usage), and it was the bell ringers, who also organised the Garland Ceremony, who danced.

This changed in 1897, the year of Victoria’s diamond jubilee. Throughout the land, towns and villages marked the occasion with children’s pageants, inspired by the Merry England movement, and, no doubt, with this in mind, the Castleton bell ringers allowed the dancing to be done by girls from the village school. The change must have been popular because it was made permanent. But attempts to introduce additional pageantry into the parade were short lived. In the early years of the 20th century one of the village pubs closed, but maypole dancing and the ceremony at the War Memorial became part of the tradition.


Additional Information

Event Location: Castleton, Hope Valley, UK

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