A Jack-in-the-Green was once a traditional sight amongst English May Day celebrations. Dancing at the head of processions on the day, often noisy and drunk, the Jack-in-the-Green was a man who covered himself in a conical or pyramidal framework decorated with green foliage, concealing his body. He resembled a walking tree or bush. The parades were riotous affairs, usually consisting of a King and Queen (or a Lord and Lady) as well as the Jack-in-the-Green, together with jesters, clowns, chimney sweeps and musicians.
It is believed that the custom began from the tradition of making garlands of flowers for May Day and got a little out of hand, resulting in the Jack-in-the-Green being covered head to foot. Although no-one is too sure why the Jack-in-the-Green is usually associated with chimney sweeps. One theory is that it was the Sweeps Guilds who increasingly enlarged the size of the May Day garlands, hoping that the people watching the procession would give them their coins as they passed by rather than donate them to the other participants in the parade. (May Day was a traditional holiday for chimney sweeps; it is sometimes known as ‘Chimney Sweeper’s day’.) First recorded in London, Jack-in-the-Greens were soon appearing across the country.
Although Jack-in-the-Greens can still be seen in some town and village May Day celebrations, often associated now with the custom of the Green Man and signifying spring and rebirth, the custom largely died out in the Victorian era, replaced instead by a more sedate May Queen.
We’ve found some references to eighteenth-century May Day celebrations which include Jack-in-the-Greens in the newspapers. The earliest known reference dates to 1775.
Jack of the Green had made his garland by five in the morning, and got under his shady building by seven…
(Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, 2nd May 1775)
May Day in London, 1786 was awash with events which caused the newspapers to take note. Warren Hastings, statesman and first Governor of the Presidency of Fort William in Bengal, India was facing questions by government ministers over his role in the Maratha War, Frances Lewis stood trial at the Old Bailey for the murder of Ann Rose and a Jack-in-the-Green merrily cantered through the London streets.
Yesterday being the first of May, several curious Circumstances took Place. – The Sweeps and Milkmaids, with Jack o’ th’ Green, danced through the Streets – Mr. Hastings appeared at the Bar of the House of Commons to defend his Cause, though no Impeachment is yet made out – And a Woman tried a the Old-Bailey for the Murder of another Woman, was found guilty of Manslaughter.
(Northampton Mercury, 6th May 1786)
Yesterday being the 1st of May, the Honourable Mrs. Montague entertained the Chimney-sweepers according to annual custom, with roast beef, mutton, and baked plumb-pudding, in the lawn of her house in Portman-square, and after their regale gave them each a shilling. Mrs. Montague appeared in good spirits among the Nobility whom she invited to see the motley company. The outside of the place was thronged with people, carriages, and carts; among the latter several broke down by being overloaded with spectators. The Duchess of York, in her curricle, stopped some time, and seemed highly delighted with the Jacks in the Green, the pyramids of tankards, and the dancing of the sweeps and their ladies on the lawn.
(Staffordshire Advertiser, 6th May 1797)
We’ll leave you with this video of a modern day Jack-in-the-Green, from the May Day Festival at Hastings in 2016.
Sources not mentioned above:
Jack in the Green – a chimney sweep’s tale by Lucy Lilliman, Social History intern at Leeds Museums and Galleries, 2013
The Company of the Green Man – The Traditional Jack-in-the-Green
Punch or May Day by Benjamin Robert Haydon, 1829; Tate;
Following one from one of our earlier posts about the colour green, we find ourselves once again on the same topic. This time, however, it is about an English eccentric: Henry Cope aka The Green Man. It is reported that Henry loved anything and everything green. This extract about Henry comes from The Omnium Gatherum, 1809.
The Green Man at Brighton – Amongst the visitors this season is an original, or would-be original, generally known by the appellation of ‘The Green Man’. He is dressed in green pantaloons, green waistcoat, green frock, green cravat and though his ears, whiskers, eye-brows and chin are better powdered than his head, which is, however, covered with flour, his countenance, no doubt, from the reflection of his clothes, is also green. He eats nothing but greens, fruits and vegetables; has his apartments painted green, and furnished with green sofa, green chairs, green tables, green bed and green curtains. His gig, his livery his portmanteau, his gloves and his whips, are all green. With a green silk handkerchief in his hand and a large watch chain with green seals, fastened to the green buttons of his green waistcoat he parades every day on the Steyne, Brighton.
He became so famous that a verse was written about him, also contained in the above book.
A spruce little man, in a doublet of green,
Perambulates daily the streets and the Steyne;
Green stripe is his waistcoat, his small-clothes are green,
And oft round his neck, a green ‘kerchief is seen;
Green watch-strings, green seals, and for certain I’ve heard,
(Tho’ they’re powder’d) green whiskers, and eke a green beard!
Green garters, green hose, and, deny it who can,
The brains too are green, of the little Green Man!
Virtually nothing seems to be known of his early life, but many tall tales were told about him. Henry was reputed to have been a descendant of Sir John Cope, owner of Bramshill House, Hampshire (later Bramshill Police College) and Henry’s ghost is one of many said to haunt the house. The Morning Advertiser (10 October 1806) however, claimed that The Green Man was a student of Lincoln’s Inn, his mental faculties deranged by intense study, and a near relative of the Duchess of Dorset, Arabella Diana née Cope, daughter of Sir Charles Cope, 2nd Baronet. Others said that he had lost his wits over his love for a beautiful woman. Perhaps she was the Crazy Jane mentioned in this snippet?
Morning Post, 13 October 1806
An interesting young female, in whimsical attire, resembling the costume of the time of Queen ELIZABETH, appeared on Friday evening on the Steyne, at Brighton, in quest, as she said, ‘of the “Knight of the Green Man, who had stolen the wits of Crazy Jane.” She, however, precipitately retired to her residence, before the crowd around her could increase.
A portrait on the Sotheby’s website supposedly shows Henry Cope, The Green Man, as a young man c.1765-1770, identifying him as one of the family of Cope of Bramshill House and holding a ring. The catalogue notes suggest that possibly the portrait was commissioned to mark the sitter’s marriage, but no record of a marriage exists. What happened to Henry Cope’s bride-to-be? Perhaps this might also be a clue to his mental affliction? The artist was Francis Cotes who died in 1775.
His fame soon spread, and the London newspapers continued to run stories, laughing at his expense.
Morning Advertiser, 16 October 1806
The servant of the Green Man at Brighton arrived yesterday in town, at the Green Man and Still in Oxford-street, for the purpose of contracting with an eminent Poulterer to supply him constantly with green geese at any price at which they can be obtained. The Physicians have pronounced that the unfortunate man is afflicted with the green sickness.
(A green goose is one which is killed when under four months old, and eaten without any stuffing, and hypochromic anaemia was, historically, referred to as ‘the green sickness’.)
Henry Cope’s death is often said to have taken place in 1806 as a result of either committing suicide or accidentally falling off a cliff in Brighton. The newspapers of the day suggest that such an event occurred, but he did not die as a result of it.
Staffordshire Advertiser, 01 November 1806
Last Saturday morning, a little after six o’clock, the gentleman and other eccentricities (exhibited on the Steine, at Brighton, for several weeks past) had obtained the appellation of The Green Man, leaped from the window of his lodgings on the South Parade, into the street, ran from thence to the verge of the Cliff nearly opposite, and threw himself over the precipice to the beach below. Several persons immediately ran to his assistance, and carried him, bleeding at the mouth and ears back to his lodging. The height of the Cliff from whence he precipitated himself is about 20 feet perpendicular; but whether his fall has proved dangerous we have not yet heard. From the general demeanour of the above gentleman it is supposed he is deranged. His name, we understand is Henry Cope, and that he is related to some highly-distinguished family.
Morning Post, 24 October 1806
The Green Man of Brighton has received no serious injury from his late accident, though it has effected some change in his colour – for he has ever since looked rather blue.
Several newspapers related that The Green Man had fancied that there was a serious riot in progress and that his presence was needed to quell the disturbance. The person in whose house he was living travelled to London, to contact Cope’s friends and ensure his future safety (Morning Post, 22 October 1806). It would seem, therefore, that the unfortunate Henry Cope lived primarily in London, and his friends did indeed take measures to prevent him from harming himself again for he found himself in St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics in London.
Almost a year later, according to the Morning Advertiser of 5th September 1807, he was still alive but presumably in dire straits.
This day an auction at Fisher’s Rooms, St James’s Street, excited much attention. It consisted of the wearing apparel, gold watch, chain and seals, and other effects belonging to the well-known character, Mr. Henry Cope, commonly called The Green Man, taken in execution for board, lodgings etc. Most of the articles of dress were sold far below their original value and real worth. They were purchased by some of the most respected people, more for curiosities than for use. A full green suit, not much the worse for wear, and consisting of coat, pantaloons, and waistcoat were knocked down at 1l 6s; another green coat and pantaloons, of somewhat a darker hue, went off at 6s 6d; and a green great coat, of exactly the same tinge, at 1l, 12s. The chapeau de bras, which had been so often and anxiously gazed at by all the fashionable fair upon the Steyne, and public promenades during last season, was disposed of at the moderate rate of one guinea; and for the same amount also went off the miniature set in gold of the beautiful Dulcinea, for whom it is said this unfortunate gentleman has gone mad. It is reported that he is at present in that unhappy state in St. Luke’s hospital, London. The most valuable article, however, disposed of upon this occasion, was a gold repeater, with its chain and seal, which originally cost Mr. Cope 188 guineas. Upon the seal was beautifully engraven the arms and supporters of Earl Vernor, the title this insane Gentleman thought to assume. In the inside of the watch were also engraven ‘the Right Hon. H. Cope, Earl Vernor’ but not withstanding these claims to rank and high estimation, it was sold at the reduced price of 39l 7s 6d. Such are the bargains to be got at Brighton. If sold in London these articles would, no doubt, from the eccentricity of the character to whom they once belonged have brought double the sum.
We have searched as many places as we can think of to locate his death and burial, but all in vain. If anyone out there has any luck please do let us know.