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Vanished Maypoles

Barwicker No.26
June 1992

The maypole at Barwick is one of the few surviving examples of what in the past was a temporary or permanent feature of many Villages in Yorkshire. Some of these still remain and others are revealed only in old photographs or perhaps the memories of local inhabitants. The search for the story behind these village monuments has resulted in enjoyable and interesting expeditions to some delightful places in the county.

Sometimes the church, but more often the village pub, has been the centre of our enquiries, resulting in animated conversation with the local population who are often amazed that anyone from outside should be interested in their village pole. We have been directed to people with long connections with the village and the search has continued by letter and by phone As a forerunner to next year's maypole ceremonies in Barwick, we are including a little of the history of some of the Yorkshire maypoles.

The photograph above, made available to us by Mrs P Pickles of Vakefield, was taken on 1 May 1907 in the village of Ruby, about eight miles to the north of York. It shows a maypole being carried along the main street of the village prior to its raising. The pole is preceded by a uniformed brass band and accompanied by a large crowd of Villagers, men and women, young and old, all on foot and in their Sunday best. There appears to be no maypole queen.

An exhibition of seven additional photographs in the Bew Inn at Huby and conversation with some of the villagers provided some further details of this Village ceremony. The pole was erected at the south end of the main street where it divides into roads to Sutton-on-Forest and to Tollerton. It was over 60 feet high, surmounted by a fox weather vane and decorated with painted spirals much more narrowly spaced than those at Barwick. We were told that the design arose from the pattern produced by winding ribbons round the pole.

The photographs show that the pole was 'reared' by putting the end into the hole and resting it initially on a cart. Then it was raised using a very stout wooden pole with a cross piece at the end and wielded by as many strong men as could grip it. The raising was then completed using three ropes tied about two thirds of the way up the pole and held by groups of men. Dne supposes that someone was in charge but the photographs do not reveal this clearly.

This maypole was not danced round but the photographs show that a small pole was erected in the street with ribbons attached and was duly 'plaited' as at Barwick. The large pole was not taken down at regular intervals but only when it required decoration or replacement, so the raising might not have been a very frequent occurrence. What is of interest to Barwiclt is that it involved a 'ceremony', attended by a large number of visitors.

Plaiting the maypole in the street wae stopped, perhaps in the thirties, because of increased traffic but was continued in the field behind the large pole. A photograph of this period shows the pole surrounded by a small circular fence. The maypole dancing seems to have been discontinued at the outset of the Second World War. The large pole was considered unsafe and was taken down in 1940. The fox now decorates one of the garages in the main street.

The practice of plaiting the small maypole was revived after the war but has not been continued and the place once graced by the large pole is now occupied by modern houses, just one more reason why the ancient custom must not be allowed to cease in Barwick.

Anyone who knows the village of Huby well might be a 11 ttle puzzled by the photograph and with good reason. By some photographic 'carelessness', the picture is reversed and can only be made clear by viewing it in a mirror. 'The camera does not lie', we are told but sometimes the truth is revealed only with difficulty.

Arthur Bantoft

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