Please remember the Garland

On the 6th May 1892 the teacher at Valley End School added a resigned note to the log book.

Many children were absent on Monday “maying.”

The children had gone collecting with a May garland. This tradition was widespread. Flora Thompson knew it at Lark Rise in Oxfordshire in the 1880s.

“The May garland was all that survived …of the old May day festivities. The maypole and the May games and May dances in which whole parishes had joined had long been forgotten.

“..The garland was light wooden framework of uprights supporting graduated hoops, forming a bell shaped structure about four feet high. This frame was covered with flowers.”


Illustration of a May Garland from Hone’s Every-Day Book. A doll, the Lady, was often carried in the Garland. (1826)

The Lark Rise May Garland was an elaborate affair, carried in a procession led by the May Queen and heralded by a girl with a money-box.

Neighbouring villages had much simpler traditions. “Some of them, indeed, had nothing worth calling a garland at all; only nosegays tied mopwise on sticks. No lord and lady, no king and queen; only a rabble begging with money-boxes.”

The money boxes were important; it was one of the few occasions children had to get money of their own.


A procession of children carrying May Garlands.

In Surrey the children took the garlands around houses, showing the flowers and singing; one traditional ditty ran:

“The First of May is Garland Day,

So please remember the garland.

We only come here but once a year,

So please remember the garland.”

The custom was beginning to die out by the start of the 20th century. Children were expected to be at school on May morning, not wandering the village with garlands. But the schools solved the problem of absenteeism on May Day by taking over the custom. For example in May 1916 Farnham schools organised  a garlands procession to the castle, led by the Queens of May.

Other schools taught the children maypole dancing. By the 1930s Valley End schoolchildren were celebrating May Day by dancing around the school maypole, plaiting ribbons as they went.


Maypole dance at Winterbourne Houghton, 2006.(Image courtesy of Wikimedia)

May Day was still remembered at Valley End – but this time the pupils celebrating inside the school.

The tradition of May Garlands still continues At Abbotsbury in Dorset. 



Flora Thompson. “Lark Rise to Candleford.” Reprint Society 1948. (All quotes from Flora Thompson.)

Matthew Alexander. “A Surrey Garland: customs, traditions and folk songs from the Surrey of yesteryear.” Countryside Books 2004. (The song is taken from this book.)

Log book 1892, Valley End School.

Surrey Advertiser, Saturday 13th May 1916.

With thanks to Joan Weymouth.


Mayhem on the links.


Agatha Christie once planned a murder in Valley End.

Sunningdale Golf Club lies to the west of the Chobham Road, on what was common land. In the 1920s the southern part of it was within Valley End parish.

Agatha knew Sunningdale and the surrounding area well. In the 1920’s she moved to the district with her husband, a retired officer named Colonel Archibald Christie.

NPG x82104; Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie (nÈe Miller) by Elliott & Fry
Agatha Christie, by Elliott & Fry, half-plate negative. National Portrait Gallery.

Agatha had wanted a country cottage, but she didn’t find her rural retreat at Sunningdale. Instead it was full of expensive houses clustered around the golf course – which delighted her husband.

He had just been elected to Sunningdale Golf Club, and had decided that Sunningdale was perfect.

Colonel Christie was thrilled with their new home. He played on the links at every opportunity, and Agatha rapidly found herself becoming a golf widow.

The years at Sunningdale ended unhappily for her. Not only did her husband abandon her for golf, but he then went on abandon her for another woman too.

In 1926 the pressure must have been unbearable. She went missing, and it was only after a well-publicised search that she was discovered in Harrogate, where she was staying under a false name. It is possible that she had suffered amnesia brought on by stress.

Finally Agatha divorced her husband in 1928.

The next year, 1929, she published a short detective story, “The Sunningdale mystery,” in “Partners in crime.”


“There is a public footpath that crosses the links, and just as they were playing up to the sixth green, Hollaby noticed a woman coming along it.” (The Sunningdale mystery.)

The story centres on Sunningdale Golf Course. Agatha played golf herself, and she was obviously familiar with the links, and was quite happy slotting victim and suspects into the landscape.

She mentions the public footpath crossing the course, and the suspect runs desperately away from the links, tripping over the heather. A revolver is discovered in the furze bushes growing beside the green, and an unknown woman appears suddenly from the ladies course.


“She ran for her life across the golf links, expecting every minute to be shot down by a revolver bullet. She fell twice, tripping over the heather…” (The Sunningdale mystery.)

It is also clear that she knew the surrounding area. Paths leave the golf course, to emerge on the Windlesham Road. The murderer goes back to London via Woking.


“Just at that point there is another of those narrow slips leading to the Windlesham Road…” (The Sunningdale mystery.)

Agatha included other features too. The victim, Captain Sessle, bore a curious resemblance to Colonel Christie. He also was a retired officer, and married to a devoted wife. A devout golfer, he spent much of his time practising on the course.

This was his downfall. Early one morning “a gruesome discovery was made on the famous golf links.” Sessle was found, lying face down on the seventh tee. He had been stabbed to the heart with a woman’s hatpin.

Definitely a writer’s revenge on her errant ex-husband!


Agatha Christie. “An autobiography.” Harper Collins. 1993.

Agatha Christie. “Partner’s in crime.” Fontana paperbacks. 1983.


Frozen ink, child labour and heroism; early days at Valley End School.


In March 1902, toddler Harold Nix fell down a well. He was in mortal danger, as it was 24 feet deep, with 4 feet of water at the bottom. But his 15 year old sister, Mabel, bravely climbed down and held him up until they were rescued.

Mabel was awarded the bronze medal and certificate of the Royal Humane Society for her courageous act.

This was noted with pride in the logbooks of Valley End School. She had been one of their pupils.

The school must have been proud of her resourcefulness and courage. But possibly they would have required resilience from all their children.


School parade in 1911. (Photo courtesy of J. End.)

Valley End School was founded by Julia Bathurst of Hyams in 1859, “to the end that thereon should be built a School Building for the education of Children, or adults, of the labouring, Manufacturing, and the poorer classes of Chobham.”

To modern eyes the conditions were Spartan.

It opened in September 1859, with 62 children, and one teacher. The school was intended for ages 5 to 13, and was divided into 2 main groups, “Infants” and “Standards.”

(Overcrowding was still an issue in 1905, when one teacher taught 74 pupils in one room.)

The first teacher, Martha Robertshaw, luckily had some help. The Vicar called in at least once a week, and she was assisted by Mary Bathurst.

Mary was the daughter of Julia, who founded the school. She visited to help on most days, and sometimes brought her friends with her. Mary paid some of the older children to become Monitors to support the younger ones.

The facilities were very simple. There was a pump for water, and the toilets were basically a row of buckets. These were emptied into a trench in the schoolhouse garden. (The master was frequently complimented on his vegetables.)


Valley End School. (Photo courtesy of D. Hizzey.)

There was no artificial light until 1945. The rooms must have been very dark in winter. It could also be cold. In 1895 the ink froze in the inkwells.

Valley End suffered epidemics of serious illnesses, such as smallpox, mumps and measles. The school simply closed.

Absenteeism was always a difficulty. Some children lived over 100 yards from a road, and were kept at home in bad weather.

Child labour was a constant problem. Pupils were away because they were working at home, or on the farms, or in the brickyard.

Sometimes there were more interesting places to be than in school. The children were watching the soldiers on the Common, or the crowds passing on their way to Ascot races.

The school sounds a bit austere. But it was successful. The Government Inspectors found it excellent, and “A very valuable School.”

The children received a useful, basic education. The school got good results. After all, Valley End School could produce students as brave and resourceful as Mabel Nix.


The Schools, Valley End, Chobham.

(From the Oliver Collection held in the University of London’s Library Depository at Egham, courtesy of the trustees of the S. A. Oliver Charitable Settlement.)



A brief history of Valley End Church of England School 1859 – 1977: researched and written by Ann Thompson. A. Thompson 1978.

Globe, 12th June 1902.

National Archives Ed 49/7364. VALLEY END SCHOOL transfer to new ecclesiastical district. 1880

TAKEN FROM THE ANNUAL REPORT 1902.Compiled by Peter Helmore.