On a beautiful Easter Monday in Greenwich, with a balmy temperature of 2 degrees or thereabouts, and only a little sleet and skin-chafing wind, the Blackheath Morris Men emerged from their winter hibernation to welcome in the Spring.
In between a number of pint glass lifting sessions in the Admiral Hardy, the sprightly dancers pranced about in the open air and the covered market. But the focus of the afternoon was the world famous Easter Chair Lifting. This ancient ritual is said to go back to the very dawn of man, and has been enacted annually by the Blackheath Morris Men since not long after King Lud founded the city of London in the year 73 CE.
The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1784 describes the Easter Chair Lifting thus:
“The men lift the women on Easter Monday and the women the men on Tuesday. One or more take hold of each leg, and one or more of each arm near the body and lift the person up, in a horizontal position, three times. It is a rude, indecent, and dangerous diversion, practised chiefly by the lower class of people.”
Here are a few photos from yesterday’s event (i.e., those unaffected by cold-induced camera shake). Click on the pictures below to open windows with photos at a higher resolution than the previews, and hover your cursor over the images for captions…
This old custom was common all over Britain until a hundred years ago when the Christian church discouraged it, claiming that the rite is a pagan parody of the myth of Christ’s rising from the dead. The worst that can be said about the contemporary Blackheath event is that it’s sexist, as women are not invited to lift men in the chair. Which is probably just as well given the very solid corpus of your average Blackheath Morris Man.
The next outing of the Blackheath Morris Men will be on St George’s Day (23 April), when the English celebrate the life of their favourite Palestinian.