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A Working Committee

Barwicker No.17
March 1990

The Maypole Committee came into existence in 1951. Prior to that year, three 'Maypole Masters' had been in charge of the tradition. In 1951 Stanley Robshaw was asked to rescue the Maypole tradition which was in danger of being discontinued due to lack of support. He immediately called a Public Meeting at The Cross at which he insisted that a proper Committee be elected with properly audited accounts. 'with the blessing of the whole village he was elected Chairman and remained in that office until his retirement in 1987. He remains life long Hon. President in recognition of his work in maintaining the Maypole tradition.

The Maypole Committee is elected at a Public Meeting after the lowering of the Maypole on Easter Monday. Originally this meeting took place at the Cross but in later years a resolution was passed to adjourn the meeting to a more conducive venue i.e. the Institute or School. At this meeting, the outgoing committee reads minutes of the previous Public Meeting and presents a professionally audited financial statement. A new Committee is then elected. It is the brief of the Committee to see to the preparation for the raising of the newly painted and garlanded Maypole on Spring Bank Holiday Tuesday and the organisation of the childrens' gala on the afternoon of that day.

The Committee is then charged to remain in office and to take down the Maypole on the third Easter Monday thereafter. Then, when the Maypole is safely resting in Hall Tower Field, so ends their term of office. At the very first meeting after the election on Easter Monday the Chairman has at least 150 items on the Agenda. These range from booking toilets, booking bands, booking the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Leeds and 101 other matters which are essential to the success of Maypole Day. The Committee then meets every week until the three weeks prior to 'The Day' when every day is 'Maypole Day'.

Hall Tower Field, purchased by the Committee on behalf of the village in 1976, has to be mown, raked and generally tidied up with a dancing area prepared. Garlands have to be shown around Barwick and the surrounding villages as tradition demands. Ropes, ladders and other equipment have to be collated, tested and wrapped. The Maypole has to be inspected for damage or deterioration, then repainted and, lastly, guarded at night. This, sadly, is a sign of modern times - not necessarily to keep off marauding invaders from Aberford hoping to steal it and re-erect it in their own village - but from vandals seeking to deface or destroy. These are in addition to hundreds of other jobs, large and small, which are essential to the organisation of Maypole Day.

The Maypole Committee has always been and is at present a committee composed of men, not because of any chauvinistic reasons but simply because of the nature of the work. It is a working committee, although with the written word becoming the form of communication these days, the increase in correspondence has meant the secretarial side increasing considerably. Already, for the 1990 festival, over 100 letters have been despatched on varying matters. A great deal of work is necessarily away from the field, for example, in 1987, 40 telephone calls were required to arrange public conveniences.

The culmination of the Maypole Committee's work is, of course. Maypole Day. It is then, and only then, that all the hard work in previous months is put into practice. After at least two evenings devoted entirely and continually to 'Maypole Work', the Bank Holiday weekend is spent in the field or on the garland round. Many tasks cannot now be completed until the actual day, because of vandalism etc., so Maypole Day begins very early in the morning.

Original photograph not yet available. If we can trace the original photograph we will able to display a clearer illustration.
The Garland Round (1951) in Scholes. Photo by Reg D.Hughes.

Left to right: Tony Gilliam, Ben Strafford, Edmund Poulter, Arthur Walton, Jim Hannam, John White.

Hall Tower Hill has to be transformed into an arena for four thousand people. Fences, gates, stage and marquees have to be transported and erected. Final checks and arrangements have to be made and a thousand questions and enquiries answered. The race against time means there is little time to change and lunch before the procession starts from the village school and people are entering Hall Tower Field. The gala proceedings finish to the sound of excavating at the Maypole site. Perhaps the most nerve- wracking part of the day has arrived! The task of raising the 88 foot giant is further complicated by the increasing necessity for crowd control. The heartfelt sigh which goes up once the Maypole is plumb and the ropes have been untied is one of total relief and weariness. As the crowds disperse to hostelries and home, the Committee have the clearing up and storing of equipment still to do. 'A working committee!'

A few weeks pass before the next Committee meeting; a time lapse necessary to give time for reflecting and for members to pick up the threads of family life! By this time receipts and bills have been sorted and a summary balance produced. Finance must play a part in even this ancient rite. A reserve must be kept for emergencies such as the purchase of a new Maypole, but any surplus is ploughed back into the village. In 1987 this took the form of the presentation of a video recorder to the school and Christmas vouchers to the over 65 's. In previous years the school children were treated to a sports day tea and film show, and projection equipment for the school. A voucher system replaced actual Christmas sacks to the senior villagers and now also benefits village shops.

During the intervening period between Maypole years, the Committee is dormant. No regular meetings take place. But as custodians of Hall Tower Field and the Maypole, occasional matters arise. In 1981, a youth tried to climb the Maypole with crampons on his feet. The damage to the top half of the pole meant that a new pole had to be purchased, treated and painted. This also involved the Committee in taking court action against the culprit in an attempt to gain compensation. Unfortunately this did not prove successful. Damage to the pole amounted to £1120.

Enquiries are often received from people interested in the Maypole tradition; historians, researchers and the like who are trying to trace the roots and background of the tradition. The Committee try to provide as much information as they can - an unofficial Tourist Information Bureau!

The Maypole Committee exists purely and simply to maintain an ancient and unique tradition. It is their main purpose to perpetuate the tradition in its entirety and to prevent any deviation or addition which would dilute this ancient rite. The Committee is in office to guard against innovation and alteration, however insignificant this appears at the time, which could endanger the essence of the very tradition it exists Some changes and alteration to standard practice unavoidable but, in the main, decisions to alter were after a great deal of deliberation, i.e.

Change of date from Whit Tuesday to Spring Bank Holiday Tuesday for obvious reasons - people are needed to raise the Maypole.
Tractors have replaced horses for drawing the decorated floats.

In the main the Maypole is lowered and raised in exactly the same way as our forefathers have recounted. The children plait the Maypole in the same patterns as their great grandparents although the 1,2,3 hop seems to have disappeared. How many villagers can remember the times they failed to 'hop' on the correct note?

Although the Maypole Committee is the actual body entrusted with the administration of the Maypole and its festivities, in practice the job of lowering and raising the pole involves all the people of the village. As villagers it is their birthright and inheritance to maintain the tradition. Ladies contribute towards garland making and float decoration and, indeed, in many other ways; men are needed to work in Hall Tower Field and help with carrying the garlands round the villages; farmers and others provide tractors and equipment; the teachers at the village school teach and train the children in Maypole dancing and plaiting. In general it is a collective effort and every Villager is asked to contribute in some way.

Many people are under the impression, quite wrongly, that they are doing this work 'for the Maypole Committee'. In fact they are doing it for themselves and, in many instances, their children, to ensure that the whole event is one which they will remember with pride in later years. Without help the Maypole Committee cannot function and this ancient and unique tradition would die.

The Maypole Committee are busy already with preparations for the 1990 festivities but are desperately short of members. Due to resignation the Committee does not currently have a Secretary, which will result in considerable difficulty. If any reader feels that they are able to contribute, in any way, please contact me.

'Let us as a village show how we keep this ancient tradition going.'

Derick Nichols
(Chairman of the Maypole Committee)

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