Elstow May Festival.
For hundreds, possibly thousands, of years, Elstow village has held a May Festival at the beginning of the month of May. These still take place - on the Saturday of the first May Bank holiday weekend.
Originally a pagan fertility rite and an opportunity for men and women to meet up in the spring, May festivals were appropriated by the Catholic church and made into a Christian event. Elstow Abbey was, like many others, granted a royal charter to hold huge commercial fairs here.
The fairs continued after the abolition of the abbeys and, in the 1600s, when the Puritan government banned maypoles Elstow ignored that and continued to hold their celebrations. Indeed, those events were almost certainly the original inspiration for John Bunyan's "Vanity Fair" in his world famous book "The Pilgrim's Progress".
The cattle and horse market moved, in 1900, to a purpose-built site, beside Bedford river.
From 1925 to 1965, the event was run by the village school and it attracted visitors from all over the world. Many photographs from that time can be viewed here in our Picture Archive.
To read about the history of May Festivals, click on the download link, immediately below.
There is more about the history of Elstow May Festival in our History Archive. And a table detailing the names of May Queens, Heralds etc., from 1925 to 2013, can be found half-way down this page;
The May Festival Albums are, mostly, arranged one decade to a page.
You can go straight to your chosen decade by clicking on a link below:
1970s & 80s
Acknowledgement. Many of the 50s and 60s May Festival photos were taken by Bedford photographer Drake Sadler. Does anyone know what happened to him or his business, which was based in Castle Road?
Drake's assistant was Peter Burr, who lived in Elstow at no. 205 (now 'Pilgrim House').
We need some help.
Firstly, here are some miscellaneous photos - we don't even know in which decade any of them were taken! Can you help us?
Secondly, when we transferred the May Festival picture archive from the previous host, we found that all of our captions had been lost. So, if you know the names of any of the people in any of the pictures, do please contact me, the curator at Moot Hall- with whatever information you can provide. Thank you.