A Post-War Revival 1919

A Post-War Revival 1919

from The Barwicker No.41

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The 'Skyrack Courier' of Friday 13 June 1919 did Barwick proud by not only printing an article on 'Barwick Great Maypole' but including three long paragraphs on the same subject in their 'Nondescript Notes' feature. The latter informs us that the Whit Tuesday attractions included:

"The revival of the Wetherby Agricultural Show and the venerable Barwick Maypole Carnival, which between them must have catered for the enjoyment of at least ten thousand people. On that day all roads led to Barwick and Wetherby and the scenes en route were so animated as to impel the wonder that such ordinarily sedate rural villages can rise to such extraordinary achievements.

The influx from Leeds and district was so great that the Barwick road was of quite inadequate width for the vehicular and pedestrian traffic of Tuesday last. Indeed there were several narrowly averted collisions between the wagonettes and char-a-bancs and the dense crowds of foot passengers, the difficulty being intensified in not a few cases by the carelessness and indifference of the drivers."

The entertaining 'Barwick Great Maypole' article of the same edition is given below in full.

"A post-war revival of the triennial frolics associated with the time-honoured ceremony of raising the giant maypole at Barwick-in-Elmet on Whit Tuesday, provided extraordinary attraction for thousands of holiday makers, who in the phraseology of a contributor to our daily contemporary the 'Yorkshire Post' came from the country round, on foot, and in all kinds of conveyance - from fussy side-cars that left long streaks of dust on the Leeds high road to farmers' pony traps and the waggon loads of laughing children out of the neighbouring parishes.

The afternoon was given over to sports, maypole dances, comic band contests, fancy costume competitions and horse judging. With fine versatility the same gentleman who judged the comic bands and fancy dresses decided also the merits of gaily decorated cart-horses and they proved the wisdom of the arrangement by the general satisfaction with which the verdicts were received by all but some of the losers.

The climax of the proceedings came about six o'clock, when in the presence of an excited crowd that thronged the approaches to the Market Place (sic), the men of Barwick went through the time-honoured ceremony of raising the maypole to its accustomed place close to the ancient market cross.

From time immemorial with but a few breaks in continuity, this mighty pole has been taken down every three years at Easter and raised again at Whitsuntide. It is the distinguishing mark of the village, its principal pride and glory. The market cross has an antique majesty which the wiseacres of the place are always willing to dilate upon, but to hear them talk of the Maypole ceremony you might be persusaded that it flourished before the ichthyosaurus.

Since Easter, the pole has been lying upon trestles in Tower Hill (sic) Field awaiting its time. It is nearly ninety feet long and its diameter at the base is about fifteen inches. Consisting of trunks of two fine larch trees spliced together at its middle it has done duty at Barwick for something like fifteen years and is now showing such signs of stress that the committee who look after its welfare and see to its painting and decoration are of the opinion that when next it comes down it will be for the last time. They have therefore applied to a local gentleman, who appears to be a larch fancier, to present them with a suitable substitute three years hence. The average life of a larch maypole is twenty five years but this one they say was not too well seasoned.

There was a wild rush to the field when the Committee, fully alive to the solemnity of the occasion, led the way to the recumbent pole and called for volunteers to carry it to the Market Place. "Come along, ye men of Barwick", shouted one of the churchwardens, or curators, or official custodians or whatever they call themselves, through a megaphone, "Come along and do a man's duty".

There were plenty of volunteers, anything between fifty and a hundred, and mostly Barwick worthies, for it is a point of honour that the pole shall be raised by Barwick men only, and that no pulleys or mechanical means shall be used in its elevation.

Headed by a uniformed band playing martial strains, looking like a monstrous pre-historic centipede, the pole was borne on the broad shoulders of the gallant platoon down the main street until its base rested at the edge of the pit, 6 feet deep, which had been dug for its reception.

Then followed the serious part of the performance. Mr E Burnett, (Edward Burnett of the 'New Inn' Ed.), master of ceremonies, stood on the market cross like a captain on the quarter deck, giving clear-cut orders with a cool assurance and a sense of mastery that inspired both confidence and admiration.

While the men near the base used their shoulders as a fulcrum, others supported the tapering end with ladders of various lengths while others again steadied and balanced the pole with long ropes held taut and now relaxed at a sign from the watchful Burnett.

Gradually almost inch by inch, the pole was raised steadily upwards, until at the end of a difficult hour, not without danger to the populace if a rope had broken or a hand at a critical moment had failed, it stood erect, secure and graceful, amidst a burst of delighted cheering.

Midway from the top hung four massive balls of beautiful flowers draped with many-coloured ribbons, and on the topmost part towering above the parish church, a gilded fox surveyed the smiling scene. There he will remain for three long years to tell you which way the wind blows - unless the pole drops suddenly from fatigue or succumbs to a streak of lightning.

High revel was held at night to celebrate the triennial achievement. For its maypole is Barwick's mascot. The carnival was enlivened by the orthodox music rendered by the Garforth Prize Band under the conductorship of Mr T Beaumont and "jazz" music (?) by comic bands from Kippax and Garforth respectively, the grotesque costumes of the performers being productive of great merriment.

Mr Thomas Robshaw, Rectory Cottage, Barwick-in-Elmet, (usually known in Barwick as 'Master Tom' Ed.) officiated as honorary secretary to the Maypole Committee, whilst in the sports competition Messrs. (John) Birch and T A (Thomas Algernon) Robshaw, Chairman and ex-Chairman of Barwick Parish Council, were amongst the gentlemen officiating as clerks of the course.

The prettiest feature was the maypole plaiting by beautifully attired children of the Barwick National School, who danced gracefully under the supervision of the headmaster Mr A (Arthur) Booth, while the sports were also a great attraction and were keenly contested."

The 'Nondesript Notes' feature reports that:

"Mr T Robshaw, the zealous honorary secretary of the Maypole Committee readily agreed that the most successful of the pre-war ceremonies could not compare in point of attendance with that of last Tuesday. As for the spectacular side of the picture, an American visitor confided that though he had witnessed numerous May Day spectacles in his own country, he had never seen any which could surpass the Barwick Carnival from the picturesque standpoint." A charge of one shilling per head for admission to the sports must have brought in welcome revenue. Mr T Robsaw acted as 'Clerk to the Course' and Messrs Birch and T A Robshaw held the tapes at the end of the course for the chidrens' races. Mr Arthur Booth "the popular schoolmaster had a paternal interest in the superintendence and direction of his young people".

There is no mention in the afternoon activities of a procession or the crowning of a maypole queen. Nor is there any report of the spinning of the fox at the top of the pole, all of which are features of the more recent maypole ceremonies here.

The 'Skyrack Courier' of 20 June 1919. (the following edition to that quoted above) reports on the problems of the return journey to Leeds:

"On the road between Barwick and Scholes, the narrow and twisting lane was congested with vehicular and pedestrian traffic, returning from the Barwick carnival. The driver of a lumbering char-a-banc desiring to pass another vehicle that was also proceeding in the direction of Leeds, did so completely regardless of the fact that the footpath was crowded with people, who without warning were compelled to squeeze into the hedge and even then had the narrowest escape from the wheels of the heavy vehicle."

The near fatal activities of the traffic on the homeward journey contrast with the safe and successful maypole raising. In the words of the 'Skyrack Courier':

"The task of raising the Maypole, which involved the combined efforts of quite an army of Barwick stalwarts, was the most sensational and hazardous of the entire ceremony but it was safely accomplished and there is still an unbroken record of immunity from accidents throughout the lengthy period of the triennial festivity."

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