The Parsons Years
Ethel May Allam’s recollections of village celebrations seem to have concentrated on Easter, May Day and Christmas. In all of these the Manor played a crucial role, being the focus of much of the acitivity.There is no mention of Bonfire Night, though it is difficult to believe that this was not celebrated, given the rural nature of Elsfield. Like many oral accounts, the actual dating of the events remembered by Mrs Allam is vague. Her description of May Day must be later than 1905 because in that year she started her work with the Infants class.
One of the villagers, Miss Narroway, would make a garland composed of three large, thick sticks tied over the top and fixed with three sizes of hoops. She was paid one shilling for this. A few weeks before May Day Miss Parsons would look out for a branch of May and would place it in her greenhouse for it to be in bloom when it was needed.
Flowers would be fixed to the garland and the branch of May would be fastened on top. There was a banner of red sateen lettered with white braid, saying “May Day” and the date (the figures were altered each year). This was carried by two boys. Four girls carried the garland and the May King and Queen attended.
Meeting at the School with the teacher, Miss Elston, later Ethel May Allam, they marched first to the Manor House, going round the garden, where each was given a red geranium, pinned in place by Miss Parsons. Afterwards they visited each house in the village with the garland and a collecting box, going to each front door. Takings usually amounted to about 10d a child. They then returned to the School for a grand tea at 4 p.m., followed by games and swings in the field. Before leaving each child was given a ball.
The song they sang was:
- Tis the first of May. We are happy and gay.
- And at your door I stand.
- Turn your heads not away but with us be gay
- Because it is now May morn.
- A bunch of May I have brought to you
- And I can no longer stay
- God bless you all
- Both great and small
- And I wish you a merry merry May.
The head gardener at the manor, Mr Gould and his staff, and in later years when Mr Gould had retired, Mr Morbey and his son cut holly, ivy, box and yew for the Church Decorations. The wreaths and texts were made at the School: bunches of small everlasting flowers were placed in the wreaths and the texts such as “Unto us a Child is Born” were made of holly leaves and berries. After 1919, when the Manor had been sold to the Buchans and Miss Parsons had moved to Home Farm, the wreaths were made in Miss Parsons’ kitchen. Susan Buchan comments that Miss Parsons had a Victorian love of lavishness and that parts of the church almost sank under swathes of greenery and holly at Christmas and mounds of primroses and moss at Easter.
While the Parsons family were living at the Manor, a large Christmas tree for the children was placed in the Manor House dining room. The tree was decorated and all around the room were table places for the children with presents for them and a drink. Tea was served first and before going home they sat down again for refreshments. On the table were two large iced cakes with tiny china animals. Each child was presented with a china animal, a slice of cake and an orange to take home.
After 1919, when she had moved to Home Farm Miss Parsons continued to give the Christmas party for the children at her house. Mrs Buchan and her children, now resident at the Manor, handed round the food, which disappeared very quickly and after tea the children proceeded to the drawing room when they sang all the carols they knew in a shadowed room lit by candles and oil lamps. Tea for the adults was served at small tables with a splendid Victorian teapot and urn then everyone walked down the hill to the school house where the Christmas tree had been erected.
When the Parsons lived at the Manor, Mrs Allam recalls that on Christmas Eve all the children were given presents and Christmas cards. Householders received sheets, blankets, dress lengths, and calico as well as the joint of meat for Christmas dinner.
Easter circa 1910
On Good Friday, the children met at the Manor House after Morning Service. They were given baskets and a ball of wool and were escorted to Stow Wood by the gardener, Mr Gould, to pick primroses. These were for decorating the Church. On returning each child was given a bun .After Morning Service on Easter Day the children collected at the front door of the Manor for buns and oranges.
For the decorations at the Church, as at Christmas the gardeners cut evergreens, ivy, box,and yew. This was taken to the School where wreaths were made with the help of laths, iron and string, which took a whole day. Texts on boards were placed over the door and archway, with the message "Christ is risen" spelled out in everlasting flowers.
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