Object of the Week : Q is for Queen of the May

Wednesday 12 May 2021

Whilst the Museum is closed and our collections unable to be seen by visitors, we have created a weekly virtual museum with an Object of the Week feature from our collections.

Object of the Week :  Q is for Queen of the May

The Crowning of the May Queen

In the 1920s and 30s, the Village May Queen Parade was a huge event in Elstree and Borehamwood, with hundreds of people lining the route through Elstree Hill, Barnet Lane, Deacon’s Hill and Shenley Road to watch the carnival pass by.  In the procession there were men, women and children in colourful costumes, the Village May Queen and her attendants and the Elstree and British International Pictures Fire Brigade.

Our very own Ann Lawrence, Trustee and one of the instigators of the first Elstree and Borehamwood Museum in Drayton Rd, carried out extensive research into the crowning of the May Queen and the local annual Parade.  When the Museum first opened, one of the volunteers brought in photographs of the May Day celebrations and they were put on display. Over time many people came forward with photographs and stories of their time as the May Queen, as well as describing their memories of the event, resulting in a large collection of accounts.

Although there is photographic evidence from the Twenties, the first recorded May Queen was Nita Willets in 1936. However, Ann Lawrence's research shows it was originally thought Kath Gates was the first May Queen in 1932.

The May Queen was chosen from the All Saints Church bible class, run by Mrs Bristol from her home in Mildred Avenue. The chosen Queen was around 14 years old and was selected by her peers. Ann Lawrence explains that it was seen as desirable for the chosen girl to be a teacher to younger children within the religious community.

Ann tells us: On May Day, a parade of decorated cars and floats followed a route from Chestnut Tree Drive, Aldenham, to Meadow Road Recreation Ground. It was customary for the vicar to present the newly-crowned May Queen with a Bible. In the Thirties, it was proposed there should be a special dress for the May Queen. It was made and embroidered with a cross, crown, and ribbon motif. Having last been worn in 1977, the whereabouts of the dress is now unknown.

In 1936, the May Queen was crowned by film star Diane Napier, who lived at a house called Villa Capri in Allum Lane, and had made several movies at Elstree Studios, including Heart's Desire in 1935 with her fiancé, the opera singer Richard Tauber, and Mimi with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. The event attracted hundreds of villagers along with people from Barnet and St Albans.

The May Day celebrations raised money for projects within the local community. In 1936, the amount raised contributed to the building of All Saints school hall.  In 1958 the funds contributed to a new tower for the church.

The last May Queen is thought to have been Jaqui Rowson in 1977. Elstree and Borehamwood Museum has collected details of all the May Queens from 1932 to 1977 and Ann’s volume and photograph collection can be viewed at the Museum once we re-open again.

However, details of the 1972 May Queen has continued to elude Ann Lawrence, so if anyone has any information, do get in touch with us.

The Procession passing the Borehamwood Day Nursery

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