Upper Poppleton is a large village west of York, about five or six miles from the centre of the city and separated from it by open countryside. Like its sister village of Nether Poppleton, it is an old settlement with newer property surrounding. In the centre of the village, where three roads meet at the war memorial, there is a large triangular green with a few substantial trees and several new plantings. Surrounding the green are mature houses and other buildings, including a working farm, an echo of its agricultural past. The village is well served with local amenities. It has retained its bus and rail services. It is well placed for access to the northern part of the York northern ring road and appears prosperous and confident of its future.
Near the centre of the green stands the Poppleton maypole, made from a single piece of wood set in a concrete base and standing about 65 feet high. The lower 15 feet or so of the pole is painted white and is surmounted by a ring of ribbon hooks. Rising steeply from this are broad red, white and blue spirals climbing steeply in a clockwise direction when viewed from the top. It is crowned with a weathervane in the form of a large cock with direction pointers. A fitted rope indicates its use as a flag pole when required.
We are grateful to Mrs Helen Mackman of Nether Poppleton for her well-researched, illustrated booklet 'One Hundred Years of Poppleton Children's Sports Day' for the details of the history of the maypole given here. A maypole is first recorded on the green in 1830. By 1863 it had been taken down leaving the stump in the ground and it was not until August 1893 that the stump was dug up and a new 80ft. maypole put in its place. In addition, a photograph dating from about 1910 shows attractively-dressed girls dancing round a small maypole in the grounds of a large house in the village.
The maypole on the green blew down in 1920 and the village was without a pole for 15 years. In 1935, the Clerk to the Upper Poppleton Parish Council wrote to the Lord of the Manor asking for his consent to the erection of a new maypole. This was granted and a new 67 ft. pole was erected on Monday 9 September 1935 to commemorate the Jubilee of King George V. The pole was a ship's mast from Vickers Ltd., Barrow in Furness. The Secretary of the Maypole Committee accepted the new pole on behalf of the Parish Council and promised to maintain it on behalf of the parishioners.
A ship's engineer and two brothers, all from the village, erected the pole by methods not described but which were fraught with difficulties if not danger. The erection started on the Saturday. All children were kept off the green, while they fastened cables to the trees and to the maypole. When darkness fell, the maypole was still at an angle of 45 degrees to the ground and was left in this position until Monday morning. When the pole was eventually raised to its full height, the weathervane was pointing north towards the Red Lion Inn by mistake, when it should have been pointing towards the school. Furthermore the ribbon collar was not big enough and the children faced problems during the maypole dancing on Sports Day that year.
The maypole was painted for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II using ten platforms of scaffolding. In 1961 the maypole, after standing since 1935, was declared rotten and was taken down. A 30ft. old telegraph pole was used temporarily for that year's Sports Day. In that year the village's fourth pole, a 50 ft. spruce ship's mast, was obtained from Messrs Laing of Sunderland and was transported to Poppleton by British Road Services. It was painted red. white and blue and erected in May 1961, using a crane hook in the operation.
In April 1967 the pole was declared dangerous and the Fire Brigade was called in to saw off the top section. The remainder of the pole was then removed using the Electricity Board's extending platform. Another temporary pole was used in the sports that year.
The present maypole was erected on 4 May, 1968. It is 64 ft. high, cost £75 and is painted red, white and blue. The 60 ft. jib of a 17 ton crane hoisted the pole into position, aided by a mechanical shovel. A Union Flag was run up the mast when the maypole was in place. Traditionally, strong men with ropes and shovels took days to complete the job but the erection this time took just three hours, The base of the pole is buried 8ft. 6in. down and rests on a square stone flag with a hole in it with nearly three cubic yards of concrete to secure it. The 4 ft. weathervane on top of the present pole is of uncertain origin and it was cleaned and burnished before replacement.
The pole was repainted in 1984 and four youths used the scaffolding to vandalise the weather vane but they were caught, taken to court and made to pay the cost of the damage. Since then the pole has been painted again with the army taking it down as part of an exercise. It is good to see that for decades the villagers have been helped by local firms and organisations.
Maypole dancing has been performed at the sports for many years and a number of people have taught the routines using a variety of poles. It has been taught at the Poppleton school for many years and teams of boys, girls and women who had been pupils at the school have danced in recent decades. It is clear that these and other customs are alive and well at the Poppleton annual sports. The villagers are to be congratulated on their efforts and we send our best wishes for the future.