Each year on 29th May the Garland King, mounted on horseback and wearing the Garland, leads the traditional Castleton Garland procession around the Village, stopping at St Edmund’s Church, close to where you are standing. This is an important stage of the ceremony when the Garland, a large bell shaped frame covered in flowers and greenery, is removed from the King’s shoulders and hoisted to the top of the Church tower.
This is a photo of Garland King, Thomas Hall, taken sometime before 1913, showing him wearing the first Stuart-style costume, which was adopted in 1897. The King’s blue Stuart jacket can be seen in Castleton Museum, together with an older costume, a red coachman’s jacket worn inside out with ribbons & rosettes attached.
An eyewitness account by S. O. Addy 1901 (Garland day at Castleton in Folk-Lore Vol.12) describes the event:
At half-past five I saw the king and queen (today known as the consort) leaving the Cheshire Cheese …. to ride round the town and show themselves. The king was dressed like a cavalier, in a blue velvet tunic and cape trimmed with gold lace. He wore a slouched hat with red feather, and big top-boots. The queen, who rode on a side-saddle, wore a crown and a shawl, and had a long white veil and streaming false hair. Both carried branches of oak in their hands.
While Sidney Addy watched Castleton Garland, the part of the queen (consort) was being performed by Arthur Whittingham, dressed as a woman. The tradition of a man in this role continued until 1956 when Jean Abbott took over the part as the first female consort.
Garland Day is said to commemorate the Restoration of the Monarchy with the return of Charles II in 1660 but some believe that its origins are much older, perhaps as old as fertility rituals dating back to the Iron Age. Rev Joseph William Haydock, who was Vicar of Castleton from 1950 to 1957, was so appalled at the possible pagan origins of the ceremony that he threw the Garland from the Church tower!
Further sources of information can be found in the Resources section of the Castleton Historical Society website and the Castleton Garland website.
We can gain an impression of Garland Day in the 1920s from an article by Jessie Hall, who took part in the ceremony with her sisters, shown in the photo taken at Russet Well by ‘Daddy Hawks’ below.
The night before we went with old fashioned clothes baskets to gather wild flowers … Bluebells, Maybobs or Marsh Marigolds may be the correct name … Pink Campions and Mother Die, better known as Hedge Parsley. No bought flowers went into the Garland ….
Jessie Hall’s article can be viewed in full on the Castleton Historical Society’s website as Memories of Castleton Garland. Several articles written by Peter Harrison, former chairman of CHS, give more details on the history and practice of Castleton Garland: Garland Day in the 21st Century, Garlands Day a History and Some Castleton History. The history of Castleton Garland Day, including many historical and modern photographs, and the current arrangements for the day are covered in detail on the Castleton Garland website.