The Dorsetarian

Dorset Ghost Walks

If you are looking for something different this year, then ghost tours can provide some great entertainment, especially if they're ghost tours after dark.
Alistair Chisholm's Dorchester Ghost Walks
Weymouth Ghost Walks
Haunted Harbour Tours
Granny Cousin's Ghost Walks of Old Poole Town
The Bridport Ghost Walk

The Little Green Dragon Hand Painted Gifts

The Custom of Abbotsbury's Garland


Location: Abbotsbury

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Herald the spring its Garland Day

Garland Day, Dorsetshire Coast by P. R. MorrisHeld on 13 May (Old May Day) each year, the Garland Day celebrations have taken place in the Dorset village of Abbotsbury since about the early 19th century. They were first described in Hutchins' History of Dorset published in 1867. The custom involves the making of garlands by the children of the village. Originally only the children of local fishermen took part. The garlands were blessed in a church service and some were then rowed out to sea to be tossed into the water, a donation to the local sea god (Right - the painting of "Garland Day, Dorsetshire Coast" by P. R. Morris, exhibited at the 1893 Royal Academy summer show and since lost to view). This marked the opening of the fishing season, and then the children whould dance and play games on the beach to celebrate. From around the time of the First World War the custom changed somewhat in that children of non-fishermen started to take part. This was probably due to the decline of the local fishing industry.

Herald the spring its Garland Day
So please remember the garland.
We don't come here but once a year,
So please remember the garland.


The Abbotsbury GarlandThe village school gave the children a day's holiday and they would set about constructing two garlands, one of wild flowers and the other of garden flowers. These were held aloft on poles and paraded from house to house in the village with the intention of collecting money which the children would keep. Later in the day older children who had been at school in nearby Weymouth would arrive home and make a more elaborate garland which would also be taken around the houses. From after the First World War two garlands would be placed on the local war memorial.

The Abbotsbury village school closed in 1981 and the children no longer get a day's holiday. This has led to the celebrations taking place in the evening or on the nearest Saturday.

Breaking the Law

The Abbotsbury Children with GarlandOn 14th May 1954, The Daily Express reported that the village constable of Abbotsbury had stopped the children's Garland-Day Procession as it danced its way through the fishing village to the sea, on the ground that it was "begging" and was against the law. He also confiscated the collection amounting to £1 1s. 7 1/2d. The uproar reached Mr. John Fox-Strangways, Chairman of the parish council and son of the Earl of Ilchester, lord of the manor. He rang up a solicitor and said that the village would take steps to preserve its ancient and picturesque custom. The Thanksgiving Garland is blessed annually and thrown into the sea from whence comes their livelihood. In the evening the children put the Garland on its pole and again danced down to the sea, while the police were busy preparing a legal action.

On 20th May, The Times announced that the Chief Constable of Dorset had expressed his sincere apologies for the "unfortunate occurrence" to the Abbotsbury parish council and said that the constable had acted on his own initiative, without the knowledge of the divisional superintendent. "It is no part of my policy to interfere with old village customs," he stated. Mr. Fox-Strangways was authorised to take any necessary action to establish the legality of the Garland Day custom.

However, a determination amongst the villagers has ensured that this English tradition survives, albeit in a form slightly different from the original.


Below: The procession of the Abbotsbury Garland, 13th May 2008