Queen Of The May

Rain fell steadily throughout most of the day. Jackie drove us this afternoon to Ferndene Farm Shop to buy three bags of compost. It was evidence of the improvement in my left hand that I was able, for the first time not worried about getting it wet, to pick the bags off the pile outdoors and load them into the boot of the car.

Beginning his recent erudite blog post entitled Venice Inscribed (vi): Mr Ruskin and Mr Street, Jackie’s cousin Adrian Barlow writes:

‘On May Day each year I open a small book, bound in red calf and with the signature ‘John Ruskin’ embossed in gold on its cover. It belonged to my grandmother and was given to her on May 1st, 1912, while she was studying at Whitelands College in south London. The date is important. In 1912, my grandmother, about to leave Whitelands to start her career, had been one of the attendants at the College’s annual ‘Crowning of the Queen of the May’ ceremony: my book carries the inscription “This book is given to Vera Dove. Signed Alice, Queen of the May, 1912” A book plate on the inside cover explains that this ‘quaint old ceremony’ had been revived at the College in 1881 ‘at the request of John Ruskin “to give real and elevating pleasure to the young”.’ Ruskin himself, during his lifetime, had presented a cross each year to the Queen of the May, together with ‘many purple calf-bound copies of his books, to be distributed to her subjects’. Both ceremony and book giving continued after Ruskin’s death.

The book is Ruskin’s A Joy Forever.’

Vera is the grandmother shared by these two cousins. Adrian followed up this piece by sending me three photographs he thought would be of interest, and today I made prints of the two portraits of their grandmother for Jackie and her sisters.

Vera Dove portrait 1

This was a 21st birthday picture taken about 1912;

Vera Dove portrait 2

and this is what the well dressed young woman wore for what we think was the occasion of her engagement to Albert Rivett in 1917.

Three-quarters profile seems to have been the subject’s preferred pose. It certainly suits her.

In the e-mail to which Adrian attached these images he asks whether we think that Vera might be one of the two attendants leading the procession behind the May Queen and her train bearer in 1912. We know she was definitely an attendant that year because of the inscription in the Ruskin book.

I am not sure on what basis Ellen I, the original May Queen of 1881, led the procession again in 1912, but here she is doing just that.1912-queen-ellen-the-mother-queen


In 1881 she was in mourning, so was provided with a white shawl for the event. I suppose that was acceptable.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s superb special savoury rice, with green beans, accompanying pork rack of ribs marinaded in spicy barbecue sauce, followed by Lidl’s KingFrais Choco Desserts with cream, the packaging stamped 05.06.15 ( best before, sell by, use by – your choice). I drank Marques de Carano Gran Reserva 2008.


  1. Thank you, Derrick. This reminds me of our own Queen of the May ceremony at my old school in Hong Kong. I went to a Catholic convent ran by Canadian nuns of The Sisters of the Immaculate Conception where every year a girl was chosen to be Queen. I think she represents Mary, Jesus’s virgin mum, because we sang the word ‘Oh Mary we crown thee with blossoms today; Queen of the Angels; Queen of the May!’ during the procession. 🙂

      1. All the boys in the Tang family went to Jesuit schools. A family of priests, nuns and even an Archbishop. And me; a heathen, but I am a Tang in name only 🙂

  2. There’s something about photographs from a different era that catches my imagination on fire. The first two photos especially caught my attention. A face filled with beauty and grace.

    Thanks for sharing these wonderful photographs of a bygone era, Derrick.

  3. Lovely story. I don’t recognize the pretty face of Vera in the first two of the procession, I’m wondering what you think. Can you spot her in the crowd? I cannot.

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