I was shown how to make May Whistles by my Cornish grandfather. He was brought up in Newlyn in the 1920’s. Mayday in Newlyn was an important festival. Children would greet the dawn on May Day by making an absolute racket with shouts and screams, tin May horns and May Whistles, running through the town and welcoming the beginning of summer.
In my childhood making May Whistles on May Day was just as much a tradition as Christmas or Easter.
It is the seasonality and celebration of an ancient day and ritural that makes these whistles so special. The whistles are surprisingly loud and sharp when new but then, dry out and stop working. As I child I can remember leaving them in a jam jar of water on the kitchen windowsill to will an extra day or so of use.
My grandfather was a wonderfully skilled and talented woodsman and an inspiration to me who sadly died in 2010. I have always enjoyed showing friends how to make May Whistles and this has now developed into a passion to pass on this ancient tradition. In 2011 I planned to demonstrate at just two events - and somehow it ended up being five!
I have demonstrated to hundreds of people how to make whistles. In doing so I have become more intrigued about the customs and stories relating to our past.
Showing my nieces how to make May Whistles