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Mayday Rejoicing at Burnsall 1874

Barwicker No. 53
April 1999

We thank Alan Stockdale, Chairman of the Burnsall Parish Meeting, for supplying us with the following extract. It was Mr Stockdale who wrote the splendid article 'Dark Deeds in the Dales' for 'The Barwicker' No.29. The writer JB provides us with a vivid picture of a Maypole rearing last century in the lovely village of Burnsall in Wharfedale, despite seeming to have a more accurate knowledge of Scottish poetry than of Yorkshire farming practices. The fact that 125 years ago these ceremonies were beginning to die out should make us thankful that they have survived here in Barwick and this should renew our determination to see that they continue for many years.

The old English custom of "rearing the Maypole" (which was once general throughout "our native isle", the Maypole having a place in almost every village, and which has been kept up in Burnsall from time immemorial), again took place with some of the old rustic sports on Friday last, Mayday. The old Maypole which was reared on May 1st. 1862, was blown down on Monday, the 16th. December, 1873 by the high winds that caused such great destruction to life and property in various parts of Yorkshire, the one previous to this was reared May 1st. 1834, and blown down by the gale that did so much damage in Ireland, on the 6th. January, and in England on the 7th. January, 1839.

On Friday, a number of people from the neighbouring villages collected together, some to assist in, and others to witness the "rearing" and take part in the sports. The sight of a Maypole rearing is always an interesting and joyous one, especially so in a country village, where the well-to-do farmer is, - or ought to be - no less joyous, than the nymphs and swains who merrily dance on the daisy-decked green. For he knows that the cold and dreary winter, with all its long nights, its short and sunless days, - the springs, brooks and rivers congealed into a mass, - the drifting blinding snows heaped high over every pile of verdure, - his starving flocks huddled together by fence, wood or brush (for "better a wee bush than nae bield," said Burns), appealing to the farmer's sympathy for "just bite" from the fine flavoured hay-mow.

He knows also that his cattle which have been pent up "in barn and byre to bouse and band," have caused him many an anxious and uneasy feeling for fear that he should be "short of hay". He can now walk forth freed from those anxieties, and, "happy as a king" or Mayday Queen, see his fine roan spanged, red or white cattle browsing on the rich swelling pastures of Wharfedale. The tedious lambing season is past, and he now sees the young lambs sport and gamble, or frisk by their dams in the fields, merry as the month of May.

It was a highly interesting sight to see the stout and stalwart sons of Wharfedale setting shoulder, fork and ladder to the pole, and lifting with many an earnest "Heave Ho!", "Steady!" and "Altogether!" common to Yorkshiremen. It was grand to see the pole of sixty six feet rise to its (intended) perpendicular, the Hebden Brass Band, the while playing the Scottish national air, "Auld Lang Syne". Mr Roberts, of the Red Lion, at this time passed about a large jug foaming over with his best brown ale forceably reminding one of Herrick's lines:

"The Maypole is up,
Now give me a cup
I'll drink to the garlands around it.
But first unto those
Whose hands did compose
The glory of flowers that crown'd it."

While this was going on, Mr Arundel, artist to the Yorkshire Magazine, was taking a sketch from a good position at the South end of the village. In front there was the village green with juveniles engaged in joyous Mayday revelry, behind was the Maypole decked with ribbons, and crowned with ball, vane, etc., and surrounded by an assemblage of people, amongst who were Mr Federer (editor of the Yorkshire Magazine). The village parson, as in olden times, also figured on the scene. On the right were the crystal waters of the Wharfe, spanned by the fine old lofty bridge of three arches, with the Red Lion Hotel at the Western end; the grey green village on slightly rising ground standing backward, with the tower of St Wilfred's in the centre peering high above farm house or cottage, and the Skuff, Ranelands, Pickering End and Garnshaw forming the background.

A good tale is told in Mr Harker's 'Rambles in Upper Wharfedale' (page 167) of a maypole at Burnsall some three score years ago being taken away in the night by a lot of merry cobblers from Thorpe and there set up, and how it remained for some time undiscovered, as much to the amusement of the Thorpe folk, as to the chagrin of those at Burnsall. It was at length discovered, and after a sharp encounter with those lads of the "lapstone and leather", it was borne back in triumph amid the victorious shouts of the "boys of Burnsall", and again fixed in its original position. Long may the once national custom of "rearing the Maypole" be continued, and examples taken from those places where it is still kept up, - Otley, Burnsall and Conistone in Wharfedale. "
From the Craven Herald
Saturday May 9th. 1874.

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