Summer is just around the corner, and the warmer weather brings exciting days out in the places where history happened. Enjoy a picnic in the grounds of a stately home, or witness a wartime castle brought to life with living history and reenactment events. Here are our top picks for days out in history this May.
Did you know?
- The origins of May’s name are unclear. According to the Roman poet Ovid, the month was named after the ‘maiores’, Latin for elders, with the following month of June being named after the ‘iuniores’, or young people. However, another theory is that the month takes its name from Maia, the Greek goddess of fertility.
- 951 years ago, in early May 1066, Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky. The mysterious ‘star’ shone brighter than the full moon, and was considered by Anglo-Saxons to be an omen of disaster, signalling world-changing events to come. Soon after, William of Normandy would begin his invasion at Pevensey.
- Many superstitious people believe that it is unlucky to marry, wash a blanket, or buy a broom in May.
Get involved this bank holiday weekend
From the thrill of a medieval joust or knights’ tournament to a day among pirates and seafaring bandits, we have a packed programme of historical events over the late May bank holiday weekend. Find out what’s going on near you, and get involved with fun and entertainment for all ages.
Explore beautiful gardens
May is the perfect time of year to visit our vibrant historic gardens, bursting with colour and scent after the spring season. There are intricate parterres and sweeping landscapes, rolling parklands and working kitchen gardens, all waiting to be explored. Discover our pick of the best gardens to visit.
Hike through history
As the warmer weather comes, the countryside opens itself to walkers and ramblers looking to escape the house and enjoy a day of adventure through England’s historic landscapes. Our walking guides are a great place to start, with step-by-step routes between royal castles and halls, mighty coastal fortresses, Roman settlements and ancient monuments. Or for a longer adventure, try our weekend guides which offer detailed itineraries for cultural weekend getaways in the country’s most historically-rich regions.
Events not to be missed in May
WWII Weekend, 27-29 May, Dover Castle, Kent
Step back in time to the 1940s at Dover Castle this bank holiday weekend, as the grounds are transformed into wartime encampments, beauty parlours, hospitals, eateries and even a military assault course. There’s live music of the era and lots of hands-on activities to get involved with at our biggest event of the year.
Art Deco Fair, 13-14 May, Eltham Palace, Greenwich, London
Immerse yourself in 1930s decadence at Eltham Palace, when you visit the Art Deco Fair. A range of vintage stalls will offer delights from the decade of glitz and glamour, offering a glimpse into Eltham Palace’s opulent past.
Blooming Gardens, 27-29 May, Brodsworth Hall, South Yorkshire
See the spring blooms busting to life as we celebrate our beautiful restored Victorian gardens this bank holiday weekend. Take a garden tour, enjoy a brass band performance and get hands-on with the family trail and planting activities.
Somewhere to visit this month
Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire
With spectacular views over Derbyshire, the fairy-tale Stuart mansion, Bolsover Castle, was designed to entertain and impress. Perched on a ridge high above the Vale of Scarsdale, on the site of a medieval fortress, Bolsover Castle is an extraordinary 17th-century aristocratic retreat. The exquisite ‘Little Castle’ has remarkable wall-paintings and interiors, and the Riding House is the earliest such building in England to survive complete. #englishheritage #bolsover #bolsovercastle #castle #derbyshire #bolsover #history #heritage #conservation #charity #englishheritagesites
On this day in history
20 May 1609 – Shakespeare’s sonnets were published.
14 May 1727 – The portrait and landscape painter Thomas Gainsborough was baptised, though his precise date of birth is unknown. Works by Gainsborough, including his portrait of Countess Howe (wife of Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe), can be seen at Kenwood in London.
4 May 1780 – The first running of the Epsom Derby was won by Diomed, owned by Sir Charles Banbury. The prize was £1,065 and 15 shillings, the equivalent of around £175,000 today.
6 May 1840 – The ‘Penny Black’, the world’s first postage stamp, was issued. Previously, the Post Office had recovered the cost of postage from the recipient of a letter, which proved impractical.
17 May 1895 – W.G. Grace scored his hundreth hundred, playing for Gloucesestershire against rival county side Somerset. Grace is commemorated with a London blue plaque at his former home in Bromley.
26 May 1940 – The Dunkirk Evacuation – code-named Operation Dynamo – began. More than 340,000 British, French and Belgian soldiers were ferried across the English channel by 2 June, having been trapped by advancing German forces.