THOUSANDS of revellers packed into the Old Town on Monday to celebrate the start of the summer – Hastings style.
The Jack-in-the-Green procession complete with green bogies, Morris dancers, may queens and carnival giants wound its way through the streets before heading up to Hastings Castle on the West Hill for the traditional unleashing of the spirit of the summer.
And despite pessimistic weather forecasts, a change to the route to skip George Street this year and the ongoing threat to the May Day Bank Holiday from meddling Government ministers, organisers were thrilled with the event and confident it had underlined just what a loss the day would be.
Keith Leech, chairman of the Jack-in-the-Green event, said: “A lot of people said it was the best ever but we can’t keep saying that - it was certainly in the top five though. There was a really high turnout, a brilliant atmosphere and the weather kept for us.
“When it was over what was really nice to see was all the groups of friends and families just sitting on the West Hill enjoying the sunshine and enjoying Hastings.
“We had been thinking there weren’t as many people around the town on Saturday and Sunday but come Monday Hastings was full - what more can a tourist town ask for?”
Hastings Borough council estimates that the May Day weekend is worth £5 million to the town with the influx of visitors drawn to the Jack-in-the-Green festival and the annual motorbike run, and both councillors and Amber Rudd MP fighting tourism minister John Penrose’s proposal to move the Bank Holiday to the autumn.
Mr Leech, who led a recent delegation to Parliament calling on the Govenrnment to shelve its plans, said: “We certainly sent a message. Unfortunately world events knocked us out of the national press but they were certainly here. It is so important for Hastings that we keep this Bank holiday and the amount of money it brings in is phenomenal. For a tourist town in a deprived area to lose that income on the whim of a minister would be tragic. And it doesn’t just attract tourists, every year I hear of two or three people who move here because of events like Jack-in-the-Green.
Cllr Peter Chowney, HBC lead member for marketing, was similarly enthusiastic. He said: “The May Day Bank Holiday Monday really did show Hastings off at its very best, with its unique mixture of magnificent Morris dancers and strange green things, and the motorbikes.
“And it was just great to see the whole town buzzing with activity - there was a tremendous atmosphere here.”
And Ms Rudd was equally bullish about the event’s future. “I enjoyed the march, the fun, the sunshine and some of the extraordinary and remarkable costumes,” she said. “This was an excellent reminder of why we need to fight to keep that first May Day Bank Holiday - a campaign I am continuing to lead.”
Mr Leech thanked Kevin Boorman, HBC marketing chief and Sussex Police for their work to ensure the event ran smoothly.