“Do you remember the May Day horses and ponies?” asked our neighbour, Stan, who likes to reminisce about the old days. I did, vaguely, but not as clearly as Stan, who is a few years older than me. As a boy, he lived within view of the canal which was still used in those days by bargees to transport goods all around the country. Big strong horses plodded along the towpath pulling the barges, where entire families lived in very cramped conditions. On 1 May these horses would be decked out in their horse brasses and bright gaudy ribbons, a feast for the eyes. In the towns, where many tradesmen had horses and carts, there was often a parade with the wagons cleaned and repainted, the horses scrubbed and brushed with their hoofs oiled, and once again wearing coloured ribbons. Sometimes a silver cup was awarded to the best horse and wagon.
By the mid nineteen-fifties, freight was transported by road and rail rather than canal so the barges were abandoned. In towns, with petrol no longer rationed, most tradesmen swapped their horse and cart for a van or lorry, so those parades also stopped. In just a few areas, May Day parades and fairs continued as a kind of carnival but the flavour had changed.
Happily, we found this local TV report from 1 May 1974, featuring a typical Black Country ‘oss mon’ speaking his native tongue. Perhaps it should have subtitles. (Sorry, this doesn’t seem to work by clicking – but well worth cutting and pasting.)
And then I found this, which is a Bavarian flashmob singing about May day fun in yet another delightful dialect!