In 1557, a diarist called Henry Machyn wrote:

“The xxx day of May was a goly May-gam in Fanch-chyrchestrett with drumes and gunes and pykes, and ix wordes dyd ryd; and thay had speches evere man, and the morris dansse and the sauden, and an elevant with the castyll, and the sauden and yonge morens with targattes and darttes, and the lord and the lade of the Maye”.

Translation: On the 30th May was a jolly May-game in Fenchurch Street (London) with drums and guns and pikes, The Nine Worthies did ride; and they all had speeches, and the morris dance and sultan and an elephant with a castle (saddle in the shape of a castle) and the sultan and young moors with shields and arrows, and the lord and lady of the May.

The earliest recorded evidence for a Maypole comes from a Welsh poem written by Gryffydd ap Adda ap Dafydd in the mid-14th century, in which he described how people used a tall birch pole at Llanidloes, central Wales. Literary evidence for maypole use across much of Britain increases in later decades, and “by the period 1350-1400 the custom was well established across southern Britain, in town and country and in both Welsh-speaking and English-speaking areas.

To a Birch-tree Cut Down, and Set Up in Llanidloes for a Maypole Gruffydd ab Addaf ap Dafydd, c. 1340-1370Long are you exiled from the wooden slope, birch-tree, with your green hair in wretched state; you who were the majestic sceptre of the wood where you were reared, a green veil. Are now turned traitress to the grove. Your precinct was lodging for me and my love-messenger in the short nights of May. Manifold once (ah, odious plight!) were the carollings in your pure green crest, and in your bright green house I heard every bird-song make its way; under your spreading boughs grew herbs of every kind among the hazel saplings, when your dwelling-place in the wood was pleasing to my girl last year. But now you think no more of love, your crest above remains dumb; and from the green meadow and the upland, where your high rank was plain to see, you have gone bodily and in spite of the cost to the town where trade is brisk. Though the gift of an honourable place in thronged Llandidloes where many meet is good, not good, my birch, do I think your rape nor your site nor your habitation. No good place is it for you for putting out green leaves, there where you make grimaces.Every town has gardens with leafage green enough; and was it not barbarous, my birch, to make you wither yonder, a bare pole by the pillory? If you had not, at the time of leaves, to stand in the centre of the dry crossroads, though they say your place is a pleasant one, my tree, the skies of the glen would have been the better. No more will the birds sleep, no more will they sing in their shrill note on your fair gentle crest, sister of the dusky wood, so incessant will be the hubbub of the people around your tent a cruel maiming! And the green grass will not grow beneath you, for the trampling of the townsmens feet, any more than it grew on the wind-swift path of Adam and the first woman long ago.You were made, it seems, for huckstering, as you stand there like a market-woman; and in the cheerful babble at the fair all will point their fingers at your suffering, in your one grey shirt and your old fur, amid the petty merchandise. No more will the bracken hide your urgent seedlings, where your sister stays; no more will there be mysteries and secrets shared, and shade, under your dear eaves; you will not conceal the April primroses, with their gaze directed upwards; you will not think now to inquire, fair poet tree, after the birds of the glen, God! Woe to us a cramped chill is on the land, a subtle dread, since this helplessness has come on you, who bore your head and your fine crest like noble Tegwedd of old. Choose from the two, since it is foolish for you to be a townsman captive tree: either to go home to the lovely mountain pasture, or to wither yonder in the town.

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