By Rod Webb

While enjoying Jack in the Green (JITG), you might wonder what goes into making all the costumes, why people go to so much trouble, how long it takes them. In other words, what’s it all about? Bob and Claire Humm might be able to give an insight – or at least their own idiosyncratic take on things.

They’ve been going to JITG since 1995, first just standing on the sidelines, absorbing the atmosphere and adding little flourishes to their otherwise ‘ordinary’ clothes. Then around 15 years ago, they decided to jump right in and join the procession. 

Claire and Mask

It wasn’t long before they became famous locally for their amazing outfits. Asked about their inspiration, Bob mentioned Czech folk art and Alexander McQueen. The latter sparked images of ‘shocking’, ‘theatrical’ and ‘controversial’, but he then went on to say that this year
he was going for “a more subtle theme”.

At this point Claire showed me pictures of her two-sided Jack-in-the-Green outfit from 2012, the one that had shocked and amazed the audience at a presentation they later gave to the Congress for Curious People, London – the costume faced both ways, each with a different appearance.

Many of the participants at JITG play a particular role in the tradition and wear the same costumes each year; they are known characters and are expected to be there. With Bob and Claire, the expectation is that they will wear something different each year – which is OK because they like making things and it’s a good excuse to do just that.

For Bob, ‘making things’, includes films, ventriloquist dummies and a pop-up cinema. He trained at Goldsmiths and was taught by the inspirational Michael Craig Martin, who was later such an influence on contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst. 

The actual costume making begins about four weeks before JITG and they are put together intermittently throughout this period – usually with some last-minute panic from Claire. Ideas come and go and the costumes evolve as they are put together. “Sometimes I wish I wasn’t doing this,” Bob says, “but then it helps with other ideas… space to think about plans for the
next project.”

Claire, who studied at Camberwell School of Art, is happy to spend hours hand painting and sewing while listening to audio books, last year Crime and Punishment, this year Anna Karenina. Claire usually works at home as that’s where she keeps the sewing machine; Bob works in his studio “because he’s messy”.

“It’s great that so many people take part in Jack in the Green and the various other dressing-up events in Hastings and St Leonards,” says Claire. “You can be as elaborate or as simple as you want. One year I saw a fishmonger in his apron with a sprig of parsley behind one ear, and it looked just right!”

So keep an eye out for Bob and Claire during the procession and see if Bob manages to be subtle this year or not.

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PICTURE: Mark Richards

“Leave it, Eileen – they’re not worth it”

IMAGE: Paul Shadbolt /

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