Whitby students revive ancient tradition

STUDENTS at Whitby Community College revived an ancient tradition following a visit to an historic church.

As part of their studies of Shakespeare’s Hamlet the students went to Old St Stephen’s Church at Fylingdales near Robin Hood’s Bay with their tutor Geraldine Malone to see a collection of maidens’ garlands.

Deb Gillanders, one of the Friends of Old St Stephen’s, said: “The tradition of maidens’ garlands goes back hundreds of years. 

They were made to be processed at the funeral of an unmarried lass and the ones in Old St Stephen’s are more than 150 years old. 

“Around this time they were made from yards and yards of bright ribbons but in Shakespeare’s era they were made from herbs and flowers, for example rosemary for remembrance.’

“These students probably hadn’t picked up a reference in the play to Ophelia having made her own garland, but Geraldine and I saw an introduction to the Fylingdales’ garlands as a uniquely stimulating and authentic way in to Ophelia and her world at the court of Elsinore.

“We challenged them to imagine that they had been Ophelia’s best friend and that after her death they had to complete her garland for her.

“The results were fantastic. They were all totally personal responses, reminding us that these long-dead maidens had all been individuals in their time.

“If I had to pick a favourite it would be the one made by Jack Parkes, because having said he wasn’t very good at “all this artistic stuff” he went on to compose a poem about why he didn’t want to make a garland and used it as part of his creation, which was extremely minimalist and powerful.”

Ms Malone said: “The students were all completely taken up with this idea, working through their half term break and the results show how much thought went into this project.

“An added bonus was that whilst the garlands were hanging in the classroom, the college had a visit from Ofsted. 

“The inspector had never seen anything like them before and was hugely impressed with the depth and freshness of this approach to a set text.

“This in turn contributed to a very positive report for the college, so everyone was happy.”

Old St Stephen’s Church is presently open to the public on most days. 

For more information contact 07874053289.