Elizabethan fair in the heart of Stortford on Sunday
Bishop's Stortford is gearing up this Sunday for its fourth May Games festival.
May Games schedule
12.00pm: Meet at the splash park in Castle Gardens, watch some traditional dances and join the procession
12.10pm: Process through the town, stopping at the Market Square for the first Robin Hood performance
12.45pm: Procession arrives at Monastery Gardens, off Windhill, for an Elizabethan-style fair, featuring live music, maypole dancing, storytelling, traditional Herts food, beers and cider, craft activities including making of May crowns, face painting and the Wishing Tree, and the May Games themselves – a traditional sporting competition featuring stilt races, sack races and tug of war
The popular family event was started by Contexture Theatre, the town’s resident professional theatre company, in 2015 and is supported by the town council.
Simon and Gailie Anderson, who run Contexture, got the inspiration from their work with The Lion’s Part, who do similar seasonal celebrations at Shakespeare’s Globe.
In Tudor and Elizabethan times, most English market towns would have an annual May Games celebration. In a time when a harsh winter could result in starvation and death, it was a chance for people to let their hair down, give thanks and welcome the green shoots of spring.
Stortford was no exception, and there are several historical accounts of the day and some of the unique ‘games’ that Stortford citizens played.
The celebration is bound up in English folklore and tradition, with the famous Green Man and Robin Hood being symbols of the coming of spring.
Sunday’s event kicks off at 12 noon at the splash park in Castle Gardens, where the audience can watch costumed actors perform traditional dances.
There will then be a procession through the town centre, stopping at the Market Square for the first of four instalments of the Robin Hood legend performed by a local mummers company from original 15th-century scripts.
Then it’s on up Windhill to Monastery Gardens, where there will be an Elizabethan-style fair featuring live music, maypole dancing, storytelling, craft activities, competitions and traditional local food and drinks.
Simon said: “The day is staged and staffed by an army of volunteers from the Stortford community, so the town creates this unique celebration for itself, just like it would have done in years gone by.”
Contexture revived the festival to create an annual non-commercial community event that connects the town to its history.
“Many people lament the changes that are happening in Bishop’s Stortford as the town grows and diversifies, so May Games aims to ground us in our shared history as a thriving market town”, says Simon.
“It also celebrates the changing of the seasons in a world that barely recognises them any more. It celebrates the bounty and primacy of Mother Nature that sustains us all. It also hopefully will give everyone a unique afternoon of wholesome family fun.”
Contexture is a community-focused theatre company that strives to raise the profile of local organisations and charities. For this May Games, as well as raising money for its own community work, it is partnering with the New Apton Centre, hoping to publicise its vital work and give it a good donation at the end of the day.
* It’s not too late to be involved. If you would like to volunteer to help with the running of the day, bring your own stall or are a local company willing to provide sponsorship or donate prizes for the raffle, contact Simon on firstname.lastname@example.org.