Many churches across the UK have stone carvings of foliate heads commonly referred to as the Green Man. Although many believe that these symbols were adopted by the church to incorporate a much older pagan tradition there is apparently no hard evidence for this so the carvings can only be dated to medieval times when the Guild of Operative Stone Masons built the churches. The church obviously controlled the design and orientation of the buildings so it might seem odd that they did not control the inside ornamentation and that stone masons (and wood carvers) across the country all co-incidentally decided to include foliat heads in their carvings. While the stone masons openly incorporated their personal mason’s marks on the stonework their guild had no tradition of foliate heads so they were not covertly incorporating their own symbols. The term Green Man was invented by Lady Raglan in March 1939 in an article she wrote for the ‘Folklore’ journal; before this, they were called foliate heads. They are often interpreted as a symbol of rebirth, representing the cycle of growth each spring. There are many in Wiltshire including Lacock Abbey, Codford and Sutton Benger Church near Chippenham which houses a famous set of green men carvings.
Jack In The Green is a quite separate folk custom dating from the 1700s and associated with the celebration of May Day. Jack is a tall wicker framework decorated with foliage and streamers, and crowned with a floral design. He is used in a procession accompanied by musicians and other characters. Jack emerged from an older tradition in which milkmaids carried milk pails that had been decorated with flowers and other objects. By the latter half of the C18th the tradition was largely associated with chimney sweeps.
In recent years there has been a big revival of Green Man and Jack In The Green celebrations although the two traditions have become blurred, e.g. most Jacks have added a green man face to their designs. There are about 20 Jack in the Green festivals around the UK. More information here
For 2019 we rebranded our Day of Dance as a Green Man Festival and introduced a 10′ tall giant Jack In The Green accompanied by his Herald and two Squires – Winter and Spring.
- Jack and his entourage started the day at 10am at The Castle pub before processing down into town.
- At 11.30 Jack made a grand and loud entrance to Lamb Yard accompanied by musicians and Morris dancers.
- At 12.15pm Jack judged the children’s fancy dress and fancy face competitions in Westbury Gardens and then wandered the town “greening” people and causing mayhem at dance venues.
- At 4.15pm at the Tithe Barn, as the highlight of our closing parade the spectators and dancers stripped Jack of his greenery to release the spirit of Summer. The day ended with Holt Morris celebrating their 30th anniversary by performing their haunting dance, “Signposts”.