May Queens of Whitelands – the players

Last year’s May Queen post was set in 1906, at the psychological peak of the festival in terms of ceremony, costume and seriousness. After the Great War, the College and the students were in a different world. The role of women in society had changed, although arguably as teachers the graduates of the college were already professionals who were well regarded in the field of education. Fashions had changed, reflected in the more subdued robes of the post war queens. This is Queen Janet and her chamberlains in 1919. Shoe lovers can get a look in at last.

And attitudes had changed. I noted in an earlier post that I could detect an air of not quite taking the ceremonies and theatrical performances which accompanied the May Queen Festival quite as seriously as before. I think I can see a lot more fun in some of the pictures from the postwar period, which is why this post will concentrate not on the queens but the players in the various theatrical performances which were part of the May Queen Festival in Whitelands’ last decade in their original home in the King’s Road.

Some of the performances called for classical costumes such as this one:

(It looks like the grass needs mowing.)

And here are some more traditional figures from folklore, dancing for the Queen and her subjects in the quadrangle.

Now for some urns. Careful now,ladies.

A little bit of pagan worship possibly.

In earlier years there had been a Rose Queen celebration in June for the pupils of local schools, so they obviously had younger girls on hand for performances

So that’s not weird at all.

(This may relate to a play performed that year, “A red rose in the city of lilies” written by two of the students. Or not)

On other occasions there was medieval fun. Anyone for the stocks?

More of that here

A whole troupe of characters from the middle ages to celebrate “the birth of English Song”.

Do you see the nun? The students had form in this area of course (see 1908) which was continued in 1922.

Who had all these nun costumes available for hire? I can’t imagine an Anglican establishment having nun’s habits hanging about the place in case of a sudden counter-Reformation. Of course nuns used to be a more common sight in London. Chelsea and Kensington both had several convents.

Once again (see this post on the Chelsea Historical Pageant) I was reminded less of 1923, more of the 1970s when I could have imagined this picture on the rear cover of an album by an up and coming folk rock group.

Could they have imagined walking out of the front door of the college onto a King’s Road 50 years later, barely raising an eyebrow?

As this was Chelsea, the Tudor period can’t be forgotten, particularly Sir Thomas More  and his family.

And they kept coming back to the Greeks. Is that a satyr? Yes, the god Pan no less, in pursuit of the nymph Syrinx

Here he is again.

With some horned children. Fauns, probably.

There were really quite a lot of pictures of theatrical performances in this third album of pictures, and some of them look a bit odd now. They might even have seemed odd then.

Amusingly so of course. As regular readers will have realised, I’m a great fan of fancy dress and amateur dramatics from the past.

Go on ladies, push. But why?

Other periods in history were not ignored. From 1925, an Elizabethan group.

The lawn was better kept in the later years. An 18th century group.

And still, the classics. Below, the masque, Achilles in Scyros, in which Odysseus, disguised as a peddler searches for Achilles who is playing the part of a maiden at the court of King Scyros (“a strong tall maiden” apparently, in the Shakespearean tradition of a woman playing a man playing a woman.)

Although sometimes it was a non-traditional view of classical themes as Mercury arrives in a cloche hat.

May Day in 1929 “ the wildest May morning since – no one was sure Since when, but everyone was sure there had never been a colder one.. Green blazers were everywhere covering white frocks and thick coats hid the creations of the staff”. Nevertheless, the show went on with some 17th century music.

And some revels, taking us back to the roots of the festival in Old England. A few merrie (men).

1930 was the year the College moved to a new purpose built building in Putney. We might come to that period in a future post. All I can say by way of a spoiler is that the fun continued.

But to return to the Queens I picked this 1929 picture of Queen Irene and Queen Enid in a casual pose on the throne, because they look like they’re enjoying themselves.

 

The distressing coda to Whitelands College’s time in Chelsea was that the building was bought by the British Union of Fascists and renamed Black House. (You couldn’t make it up). I found a picture in History Today magazine of Moseley and some of his polo-necked henchman doing that walking towards the camera thing against a familiar background. What a —— (choose your own expletive).

 

Much satirized, even at the time, Moseley’s basket of deplorables were a blot on the landscape for only a brief period of time. The former college building was demolished in 1937 and the current large apartment block called Whitelands House built on the site.

The College itself carries on to this day, as does the May Monarch Festival. So the “ceremony of innocence” is not drowned in this case.

Unfortunately there’s not as much of this sort of thing these days.

Or this for that matter.

Postscript

I found I’ve used a couple of these pictures before but at that point I hadn’t seen the actual May Queen scrapbooks kept at the Whitelands archive. So that’s one reason for using them again.

The latest May Monarch will be crowned on May 13th. My good wishes to her/him and the College.

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