The Aftermath of War

The Aftermath of War

from The Barwicker No. 53
Mar. 1999

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On 18 May, 1937, the Barwick maypole was successfully erected, less than a week after the enjoyable Coronation celebrations in the locality (see 'The Barwicker' No. 29 and No. 52).) It would be ten years before a similar ceremony took place again. In September 1939, what became known as World War II began and many activities were suspended 'for the duration'.

"The Maypole stayed up" until May 1945, when the war in Europe was over, and although that against Japan did not end until September of that year, the people of Britain were contemplating the return of their loved ones and the resumption of normal activities. During the eight years the maypole stood above the village, the elements had taken their toll and it was decided that the pole was too dangerous to be lowered by traditional means and that it would be taken down by expert woodcutters.

The lowering was safely accomplished on 21 May. Whit Monday. Two newspaper articles published at the time have conflicting information about the event so we must consider ourselves fortunate that we have additional evidence in the form of four photographs and some notes concerning one of the major players. Harry Snowdon. They have been made available to us by Graham Hopton and John Leak. and we thank them for their help.

In the following pages we thank Freda Hewitt and Geoff Hartley for supplying the full names of those taking part. from the initials given in the newspaper accounts. The lowering of the pole was superintended by the "maypole committeemen" - Messrs. Ernest Harrison, Tom Robshaw and Waiter Lovett. The newspapers record that the pole at that time was 21 years old and the photographs show that in 1945 it was without garlands and looking rather shabby from lack of paint. In the first photograph we see a man (probably Harry Snowden) on a tall ladder attaching a single rope to the maypole about half way between the ground and the garland hooks.

The account in one newspaper states that the pole was brought down by "a few heavy blows to the base" but the lowering was accomplished with much more expertise and safety than that. The second photograph shows Harry Snowden of Parlington, the forester of the Gascoigne estate. cutting with a large axe. a neat groove at ground level on the Elmwood Lane side.

The third photograph shows that the watching crowd had been kept away with ropes from the working area. Harry Snowden and Fred Evans, another forester from Parlington, after clearing the earth from the base of the pole to some extent. began cutting the pole at ground level on the opposite side of the groove with a long two-handed saw. We presume that a group of carefully instructed men in Elmwood Lane kept the rope taut during this potentially dangerous operation. The photograph shows clearly the tall metal street lamp which at that time stood on the Main Street side of the pole.

The fourth photograph (see back cover) shows the start of the pole's fall into the road at the side of the Gascoigne Arms. The photographer was clearly standing in the comparative safety of the pavement in front of the Methodist Church. The newspaper article tells us: "Down came the giant with a resounding crash in the space previously chosen. The fox weather vane received only minor damage.

At a meeting 'on-the -spot', Cr Ernest Harrison and Mr Tom Robshaw were re-elected to the Maypole Committee. and Mr John White took the place of Mr WaIter Lovett. Mr Mark Helm was the spokesman. The Committee hope to have a new pole ready by the time hostilities cease in the Pacific." The old pole was later cut up and the sound lengths were sold to be used as gate posts in the village.

Harry Snowden was 45 years of age when he took down the Barwick maypole. He was born in 1900 and enlisted in the West Yorkshire Regiment in March 1918 near the end of World War I. He was demobilized in March 1919. He worked on Lord Harewood's estate before moving to Parlington during World War 11. A few years after the-events recorded above, he left the district to live in Ranmoor, near Sheffield. He was the verger at St John's Church there from 1949 to 1980. In July of the latter year, no doubt as a tribute to his long service, he was invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. He died in July 1990 at the age of 90. Barwick will remember him as the man who skilfully lowered their maypole in 1945.

The hopes that the Barwick maypole would be swiftly re-erected were sadly misplaced. The men in the armed forces were not immediately released at the end of the war as they were still required to carry out duties in many parts of the world. This continued until they were replaced by national servicemen. This, and no doubt the demands of post-war reconstruction, prevented the replacement of the maypole until Monday, 4 August 1947. An account given in the 'Skyrack Express' of 8 August is recorded below.

"The time honoured ceremony of erecting the Barwick maypole took place on Monday before a large concourse of people. The ceremony can be traced back to the early 16th century. The last maypole was raised in 1937, there having to be a suspension in the traditional triennial custom owing to the outbreak of war. On Monday a downpour of rain in the morning cast a gloom amongst the villagers, but about midday the rain abated and strains from the Garforth Prize Band approaching sent spirits soaring and the gloom was dispelled. The band under the direction of Mr Maskill, played selections near to the War Memorial and the site of the pole. They then proceeded to the schoolyard to head a procession through the village and Chapel Lane to the Rectory field. The Queen and her retinue followed the band in a decorated waggon, complete with rose bowers. The Ladies at Court rode in the wagon that was awarded second prize. and the maypole plaiters were in the third wagon. Mr Farr (Harehills) judged the decorated vehicles: 1. Mr M Armitage, 2. Mr (Donald?) Curtis, 3. Misses Joan Birch and Betty Cowell.

As the Queen and her attendants alighted and took up their positions on the platform, they presented a charming picture. The throne was decorated in gold and purple with a bower of coloured flowers and a miniature crown, the artistic work of Mr Pat Murphy. Miss Muriel Hill, grand-daughter of Mrs Gascoigne, Lotherton Hall, the donor of the two larches that provided the maypole from the Parlington Estate, performed the crowning ceremony. Thirteen-years-old Queen, Dorothy Longfield, resplendent in a gown of white satin. with a long gold and white satin train, then received homage from her courtiers. Her train bearers were Muriel Poulter and John Marshall, crown bearer David Bowes, and John Murphy and Michael Lewis, the equerries. Jennifer Nutton presented a bouquet of roses and carnations to Miss Hill. The maypole plaiters: Anne and Winifred Poulter, Margaret and Betty Wroe, Mary Cawston, Maureen Birch, Jennifer and Wendy Nutton, Muciel Lovett, Patricia Murphy, Nora Dickinson, Jean and Brenda Curtis, Maureen I'Anson, Patricia Birch, Enid Poulter, Barbara Prest, Kathleen Woodhead, Moira Mouncey, Shirley Lincoln, Doreen Lambert, Gertrude Cawston, Patricia Birdsall and Janet Wood gave a dainty display as they wove in and out for the intricate "Spider's Web", the "Barber's Pole" and the "Grand Plait" to the accompaniment of Mr Arthur Wilshaw at the piano and Mrs Elsie Murphy at the violin. All the plaiters were dressed in white and the red, green yellow and blue plaiting ribbons showed up well.

A Punch and Judy show and conjuring tricks by Mr Arthur Leo kept the onlookers entertained until the men of the village, with a few visiting friends, went for the new pole lying in the Rectory grounds, where it had been painted red, white and blue, pending its triumphal journey to its rightful position. Appropriate music by the band heralded the arrival of the pole and then began the intricate task of rearing it. Mr Willie Armitage acted as guide and Messrs. George Pollard, Herbert Poulter and Jack Birch undertook the work of filling in the hole at the foot of the pole. After three quarters of an hour, the pole was safely at the perpendicular, the gilt fox, the four garlands and the steadying ropes all having been fixed. Amongst those holding the ropes were Mr Alf White, aged 86, a native of Barwick; Mr Arthur Thompson aged 87. returned to his native village to supervise the proceedings and Mr Mark Helm, turned 80, also gave a hand. Mr Frank Tennant then climbed the 90ft. pole and released the guiding ropes, a feat which won warm-hearted applause.

The gymkhana in the Rectory Field then became the centre of attraction, where the lads of the village gave a sporting show, including musical chairs on horseback. The last celebration was dancing round the maypole until midnight. Mr Ernest Harrison and Mr Tom Robshaw were responsible for the greater part of the programme, along with the ungrudging cooperation of the villagers. The school teachers - Misses Shillito and Grimshaw - are due credit for having trained the children. It was a great day out for all and a pleasure to see an old custom revived and carried out in the best traditional manner."

In 'The Barwicker' No. 41, we incorrectly stated that Ken Birch had climbed the maypole in 1947. He was the maypole climber in 1951, 1954 and 1957. The maypole should have been taken down and re-erected in 1950 but this did not occur as there was insufficient support in the village. In April 1951, it was planned to cut down the pole and end the age-old custom. The story of how the pole was rescued under the leadership of Stan Robshaw was told in 'The Barwicker' No.5.