Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 2/Liverpool May-Day Celebrations

Part II: Pageants, Maskings, and Mummings; Liverpool May-Day Celebrations.


The first of May has lost many of its attractions since May-poles and May-queens passed out of fashion. Yet, in most country places and small towns it has become usual for each driver of a team to decorate his horses with gaudy ribbons and other ornaments on that day. In Liverpool and Birkenhead, where some thousands of men are employed as carters, this May-Day dressing has grown into a most imposing institution. Every driver of a team in and around the docks appears to enter into rivalry with his neighbours, and the consequence is that most of the horses are gaily dressed and expensively ornamented. The drivers put on new suits, covered with white linen slops, and sport new whips in honour of the occasion. Some of the embellishments for the horses are of a most costly character; not a few are disposed in admirable taste; and in several instances they amount to actual art exhibitions, since the carts are filled with the articles in which their owners deal. Real and artificial flowers are disposed in wreaths and other forms upon different portions of the harness—brilliant velvet cloths, worked in silver and gold, are thrown over the loins of the horses; and if their owners are of sufficient standing to bear coats of arms, these are emblazoned upon the cloths, surrounded with many curious and artistic devices. Not only are the men interested in these displays, but wives and daughters, mistresses and servants, vie with each other as to who shall produce the most gorgeous exhibition. A few years ago the Corporation of Liverpool exhibited no fewer than one hundred and sixty-six horses in the procession, the first cart containing all the implements used by the scavenging department most artistically arranged. The railway companies, the brewers, the spirit merchants, and all the principal dock-carriers, &c., send their teams with samples of produce to swell the procession. After parading the principal streets, headed by bands of music and banners, the horses are taken home to their respective stables, and public dinners are given to the carters by the Corporation, the railway companies, and other extensive firms. The Mayor and other members of the Corporation attend these annual feasts, and after the repasts are ended, the carters are usually addressed by some popular speaker, and much good advice is frequently given them from such quaint old sayings as—"The grey mare is the better horse;" "One man can lead a horse to the water, but ten cannot make him drink;" "Never put the cart before the horse," &c.