"Onward, onwards, north of the border, down Hertfordshire way. The Croxley Green Revels - a tradition that stretches back to 1952. For pageantry is deep in all our hearts and this, for many a girl, is her greatest day" John Betjeman at Croxley Green ("Metro-land", BBC, 1973)
You may never have been to the Croxley Green Revels, but you've probably seen John Betjeman waxing semi-lyrical about it [two minutes into this YouTube clip, if you haven't]. He stopped by in the early 70s to observe the Queen of the Revels in procession round the village, then gently mocked the fair's pomp and faux-heritage before rushing on to some architectural delight in Chorleywood. I, on the other hand, have been to the Croxley Green Revels many times, because this is the village where I grew up. I don't appear in the documentary but I'd have been there somewhere, standing out in my front garden to watch the procession go by, or stuffing my face with an ice cream cornet on the village green afterwards. Yesterday I went back to Croxley on Revels afternoon, after a couple of absent decades, to see if anything much had changed. And, reassuringly, not really.
Quarter to two along New Road, and families still emerge into their tiny terraced front gardens to watch the parade go by. Some stocky dads lean over the fence with lager in hand, others seat their children in canvas chairs at the roadside to get the best view. In my day the Queen of the Revels used to lead the parade on the back of a haycart, sat amongst a court of giggling teenage girls wearing cloaks made out of glossy curtain fabric. Nowadays the chosen form of transport is an electric blue Ford Consul, and the royal party has been downgraded to one miniature princess with three attendants from the local primary schools. The usual motley selection of dressed-up lorries follow on behind, no less imaginatively themed than before although rather fewer in number than I remember. Most of the participants are schoolkids or churchgoers, with smiling OAPs and vintage penny-farthing riders interspersed for good measure. Be patient, normal through traffic will be restored just as soon as the lady in the Fairtrade banana costume has waddled through.
Everyone in the village (if you can call a dormitory suburb with twelve thousand residents a village) then wanders up to the top of the Green for all the fun of the fair. No big wheels or waltzers here, this is a rather tamer affair set around a central arena. Various community organisations are out in force running their own stalls, from crockery smashing with the Scouts to the local church's pancake tent. Spend your pennies wisely and you might go home with a pot plant, a Victoria sponge or even something big and inflatable. I was pleased to find a few lambs penned up in one corner as a reminder of the area's rural past, and relieved not to win a box of lavender smellies in the Macmillan Cancer tombola. Splat a teacher, fish for a rubber duck and queue for a barbecued burger - this event hasn't changed in years.
The focus of the afternoon is always the central arena. This is where the Revels princess gets crowned, and also where she reads a speech from a scroll to "my people in Croxley Green". Neither her tiara nor her proclamation has changed since 1972, I noted reassuringly (even if her throne now looks suspiciously like a garden chair with a bit of gold material thrown over it). Page boy Owen, however, was no doubt relieved that his headgear was a jaunty top hat rather than the embarrassing black floppy felt number of yesteryear.
Several of Croxley's more active associations get to showcase their activities in the arena during the afternoon, giving mums and dads a chance to ooh and ahh at the assembled tiny dancers and taekwondo white belts. And this is also where the maypole dancing takes place. This rural tradition is taken very seriously in Croxley Green, far more so than in most other UK villages, so much so that my upper junior class was drafted into forming the ribbon-twirling squad back in the 1970s. I was very good at it, apparently, but thankfully no cinefilm of my pole dance survives. These days the Brownies perform the honours, and yesterday they did a fine job of skipping in circles until a disastrously tangled "Double Braid" proved their undoing.
Almost everything about the event felt somehow familiar, even down to the happy crowds of young and old milling around the Revels site. But one thing had undoubtedly changed, and that was who they all were. I walked around all afternoon barely recognising anybody, not a soul, that I once knew. All my old schoolmates had moved on, or at least grown up and disguised their features behind wrinkled brows, middle age spread and grey-specked hair. I couldn't be sure, but maybe that was them watching their kids performing in the maypole dancing or footballing display - a generation removed, a tradition maintained. Croxley's community may have transformed, but this New Elizabethan custom shows no sign of dying out yet.
What's on this weekend? Spring Into Summer Saturday 30 & Sunday 31 May
40 free guided London walks. Purley Festival Friday 29 - Sunday 5 June
Bunting week, below Croydon. E17 Art Trail Sat 30th May - Sun 14th June
250 arty Walthamstow things.