The Tyburn Walk is a traditional English event occurring on the first Sunday in May

In a previous blog post I described what Steve Roud (2006) has characterized as a traditional English event occurring in the first Saturday in May. That is a day that corresponds with Saturday, May 4, 2013.

In the context of the Sunday, May 5, 2013 Jane’s Walk in South Long Branch, we turn next to what Roud describes as a traditional English event staged on the first Sunday in May:

First Sunday in May – Tyburn Walk

In Roud’s words (p. 232),

“A procession or pilgrimage takes place in London every year to commemorate Catholics martyred for their faith during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on Tyburn gallows. The route roughly follows that taken by prisoners from Newgate Prison to Tyburn, and it has been undertaken every year (including the War years) since its inauguration in 1910.

“The Walk was under severe threat in the year 2000 when pressure was put on the organizers to avoid busy shopping centres such as Oxford Street, but it has continued, albeit more informally and with fewer participants, and it now approaches its centenary. [The centenary has now passed, the book having been published in 2006.]

“The Walk is normally now held on the first Sunday in May (except when this coincides with May Day Bank Holiday, in which case it is held on the second Sunday), and commences from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the Strand (almost opposite the Old Bailey), at 2 or 2.30 p.m.”

[End of excerpt from Roud 2006]

The Tyburn Tree, Hyde Park, London, UK

By way of background, the BBC website includes an entry describing The Tyburn Tree, Hyde Park, London, UK.

The opening sentence of the BBC overview reads:

“Every Monday for the last 200 years or so of its existence, condemned men and women travelled the route through London from Newgate to Tyburn, place of public execution. Set at the junction of what is now Edgware Road, Park Lane and Oxford Street, the gallows overlooked Hyde Park. Estimates of the number of people who died here vary between 40,000 and 60,000. They were mostly commoners.”

Performed geographies of processions

The reference to events of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England brings to mind Keith D. Lilley’s study, City and cosmos: The medieval world in urban form (2009), dealing with the medieval period as it transpired in Christian Europe.

I find of interest Lilley’s reference to the performed geographies of processions.

His study of such geographies is highlighted in the following two excerpts from Chapter 6, which is entitled Performing bodies – Corpus Christi and urban embodiment:

The first excerpt (pp. 158-9) from Lilley introduces the theme:

“In the medieval city, these ritual performances traced out both a sacral history of the world and its cosmological form, encompassing both literally and metaphorically the ‘body’ of the city, socially and spatially, and bringing together as one the earthly city and the divine Body of Christ.

“This urban embodiment is explored here first by looking at the cosmological symbolism of the shapes traced out by urban bodies as they performed their rituals celebrating Christ’s body along particular routes and in specific locales; second, the cosmogenic significance of the content of the rituals is considered, in particular Corpus Christi plays, which through their performance in the city connected urban inhabitants – the social body – with cosmic history as embodied by Christ.

“By unifying their own bodies with the Body of Christ, townsfolk associated the form and formation of the wider world with their own urban worlds.”

The second excerpt (p. 162) expands upon the topic:

“Performances in particular places, for example, attach symbolic significance to particular parts of the city. Then there are the spatial patterns and forms traced out by the performances themselves, especially the routes of processions, and the significance that these had in the minds of their participants.

“And of course, the body is a spatial as well as a social entity, and hence Corpus Christi is a spatial as well as a social metaphor for the urban ‘body’. These, and other ‘spaces’ of bodily performance, require consideration.”

Contemporary traditions

Jane’s Walk, based on the legacy of the writer and urbanist Jane Jacobs, is held in countries around the world during the first weekend in May. The timing coincides with Jacobs’ birthday.

A Jane’s Walk is in the nature of a conversation. Conversations serve to share information and affirm existing frames of reference. Over time they can also serve to introduce new ideas and modify existing ways of seeing the world we live in.

The traditions associated with the first weekend of May as described by Steve Roud (2006) offer a glimpse of frames of reference that drove conversations in a world separated from us in space and time. What remains from previous times, however, are imagined communities.

A major difference between contemporary ways of seeing as contrasted to the medieval world view is the difference in how instrumental reason is approached. Since the time of the European Enlightenment, instrumental reason whether used for good or evil has had a powerful impact on historical processes.

In the case of the mouth of Etobicoke Creek, where the Jane’s Walk in Long Branch will commence at 10:30 am on May 4 and May 5, 2013, the power of instrumental reason is exemplified by the channelizing of Etobicoke Creek over half a century ago. It’s also exemplified by the proposal to remove, as part of the Mississauga Waterfront Connection project, the sand beach that now extends between Etobicoke Creek and Applewood Creek.

In a broader sense, the power of instrumental reason is demonstrated by a narrative which describes the mouth of Etobicoke Creek as a case study of what not to do with the mouth of a stream. The area, as one narrative asserts, is a historic scenic beauty spot and wildlife habitat which has been engineered out of existence.

Sand and rivers by their nature like to meander with the passage of time. Instrumental reason at times seeks to work in harmony with such natural processes. At other times it seeks to eliminate them.

Our relation with nature has changed. Our relation with each other has not changed at least in regard to our participation in imagined communities. We have opportunities to explore the nature of our communities, and to engage in conversations about what we learn. Many venues for such conversations exist. Jane’s Walk is one of them.


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