By Roy Judge, published by the Folklore Society at £12.99 plus p+p. 210pp. ISBN: 0-903515-20-2
The core of this book comprises the author's dissertation, originally submitted to Leeds University's Institute of Dialect and Folklife Studies, which was originally published in 1979. In the following years, Judge further investigated the history and development of the Jack in the Green and this greatly expanded book incorporates his research up to 1995. As might be expected with such a pedigree, this is an academic work and is likely to provide some uncomfortable reading for more romantically-inclined pagans.
The Jack in the Green has become something of a mainstay of both pagan and ordinary Mayday celebrations, and it is easy to take it for granted that we are dealing with an aeons-old straight-from-the-Greenwood relic of a pagan fertility god. Unfortunately, as Judge shows all too clearly, Jack is the creation of urban chimneysweeps of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, building on the earlier May Day revels of similarly urban milkmaids and tradeswomen, and makes his appearance not so much at the beginning of summer as at the end of winter - the time when sweeps and their apprentices, the "climbing boys", faced many months out of work and short of money - and is thus connected with begging rather than romping in the woods after dark.
By the 1850s, Jack was already in serious decline and had virtually disappeared by the time that the use of climbing boys was prohibited by law in 1875. By then, however, he had been absorbed into the growing Victorian obsession with Merrie Englandism and had taken on the mantle of a (sadly) fictitious pagan fertility deity rendered suitable for family-orientated rural revels organised by vicars and paternalistic members of the squirearchy alongside Robin Hood and Maid Marian.
As well as the thorough discussion of the historical background to Jack, Judge also presents a geographical overview of the parts of Britain in which Jack was active or where he had formed part of May Day celebrations up to WWI; this shows that his empire was skewed very heavily indeed towards the south eastern corner of England and that he was never part of celebrations in most of the rest of England let alone Britain.
As already noted Judge's findings are not going to be what very many pagans want to hear, but for that reason alone this book should be widely read.