Barwick Maypole Galas 1922 and 1925 Back to the Main Historical Society page
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Barwick Maypole Galas 1922 and 1925

From the Barwicker No.68
June 2003

This article from 'The Skyrack Express and Courier' of 9th June 1922 describes the lowering and raising of the Barwick maypole. It is written with great enthusiasm but unfortunately the reporter fails to include the name of any person taking part in the events. However he does bring us up to date with something of the history of the pole.

"From time immemorial, with a few breaks in continuity - the last one being when the Great War prevented its observance in 1916 - the pole has been lowered and re-erected every three years, as custom decrees. The pole, when first erected, towered to the height of 90 feet, but this year it has had to be shortened, owing to the middle portion being weakened by the weather, and three years ago it was found necessary to trim it at the base, so now it is only about 70 feet high. The average life of a maypole which consists of a larch tree is estimated at 25 years, but the present one it is said was not too well seasoned. Fifteen years ago it was growing in Parlington Park, but this will be the last time it will gracefully overlook the village, as for the next maypole, the villagers have the promise of a lofty larch now growing on the Gascoigne estate. It will be cut down in the Autumn and allowed to season until 1925."

In an article concerning the 1919 maypole raising (see 'The Barwicker' No.41), there was no mention of a maypole queen - no procession, no crowning. In 1922, there was no maypole queen either but we have to wait for an article concerning the 1925 events for this to be confirmed. However it was a day when the children of the village as always played a prominent part.

"The afternoon was given up to the children and sports in the neighbouring Tower Hall field, where a small maypole was erected and proved to be a great attraction. The ceremony of plaiting the maypole was performed by 16 of the older school children. The scene was very picturesque, and the juveniles daintily attired in dresses of white, with hair ribbons and sashes of the same colour as the ribbons they held, made a pretty picture. Twice during the afternoon, the children went through all of the five movements of the dance, and again in the evening, the vast crowd being highly delighted.

The time-honoured ceremony of raising the maypole at Barwick-in-Elmet took place on Whit Tuesday, before a tremendous crowd of holiday makers. Since Easter, when the pole was taken down, it has been lying in the Tower Hall field, where it has been receiving a new coat of paint, and has been redecorated. The climax of the proceedings came about six o'clock, when in the presence of an expectant crowd that thronged all approaches to the village cross, the men of Barwick once more commenced the quaint triennial custom of raising the maypole close to the village cross. There were plenty of volunteers, all Barwick stalwarts, ready to carry the maypole to its resting place for the next three years. This is a point of honour, - that the pole shall be raised as far as circumstances permit, by Barwick men alone, and that no pulleys or mechanical means shall be used in its elevation. The pole was borne steadily along the street, preceded by a band, until its base rested at the edge of the hole that had been dug to a depth of 4 feet. The solid rock was at the bottom of the excavation, and the base of the pole rests in a saucer-like depression.

In the market-place the gilt flying fox, which surmounts the pole, and the four great garlands which are pendant from the middle, were affixed. Then, with the aid of only half-a-dozen ladders of varied lengths, and farm-forks, and five guy-ropes, each held by a score of men and youths, the pole was raised. The process which took three quarters of an hour, was not without its moments of anxiety, and a great cheer was raised when the pole finally stood steady in its resting place. The crowd of visitors appreciated what a formidable feat had been accomplished without a hitch by primitive tackle. To the villagers it meant that faith had been with the old world which started the custom. All the work is done locally and amongst those who fashioned this year's quaint bell-like garlands of massed favours was an old lady of 75 years."

In the same issue of the newspaper there is a poem (printed below) about the raising of the maypole earlier in the week. The author of the poem is given as E W Dunwell, the most obvious candidate being Miss Edith Dunwell of Potterton, a stalwart of Barwick Methodist church. The powerful symbolism she uses, which equates the decorated maypole with a war memorial, was never to our knowledge expressed by anyone else involved in the Barwick maypole.

Potterton's Garlands
And so you think it, "All a waste", you say.
Let me explain, and chase those thoughts away.
Our Maypole stands beside the empty tomb
Of those who fell in war to save our home.

Then look upon our garland, bright and fair,
Tell me, what flowers you mostly notice there.
Ah yes! You cannot fail to notice this,
That chiefly we have used the Fleur-de-lys.

That speaks of France, where those brave lads have died,
Then round the bottom, meekly try to hide
A wreath of pansies, symbolizing thought;
And now you understand the lesson taught.

Then there are ribbons, red, white and blue,
Those no explaining need, I think, to you
The basket trimmed with roses in the bud
Symbols of Love, and English womanhood.

Ah! now you see it was no waste today,
But tribute which the "Glorious dead" we pay
And tho' 'tis not with sadness that we come,
I think they'll know and like it better so.

An article from 'The Skyrack Herald and Courier" of 5 June 1925 is given below. As was the practice at the time only the intials of many of the forenames of the participants are given. Once more, we thank Geoff Hartley (and his 'girls') for providing us with the full names.


"Thousands of people visited Barwick on Tuesday to witness the old time custom of raising the maypole in the village square. This is one of the few villages in the country where this ceremony is still preserved with rigid regularity. Every three years the pole is removed at Eastertide, repainted, and replaced in all its glory at Whitsun. Various other attractions were arranged for the afternoon, and it seemed that the incoming crowd would never cease.

There was a procession round the village at the commencement, followed by a gala, and this proved to be the most attractive part of the proceedings. Until just before the war this received special attention, but of late years it has been allowed to drop. The revival was appreciated by everyone and filled in a gap of two hours which otherwise might have been monotonous to the many visitors. The revival of this traditional part of the programme was only decided upon during the last few weeks, and although Mr GW Ashworth and his staff at the school had but a month to prepare, the work was admirably done.

The queen was selected from the school, the children being allowed to make their own choice by voting. It was not surprising that Nellie Stead should be put "at the top of the poll" unless Barwick is possessed of many particularly beautiful little girls. She is one of the few children at the school who is not bobbed or shingled, and she possesses a head of beautiful pale golden hair. She was escorted by the train-bearers drawn from the infant school, a crown-bearer and equerries. The children were all beautifully dressed in appropriate costumes, and they were as follows:-
Crown bearer Teddy Pindar;
train bearers Master Raymond Collett and Miss Nora Kempton;
equerries B. Williamson and Laurie Plews;
attendants Misses Lily Lund, Lily Garbutt, Mary Armitage, Margery Pullan, Celia Poulter, Betty Poulter, Edith Oldfield, Marian Lovett, Annie Richardson, Reenie Grange, Dorothy Kirk and Alice Hudson.
Following these were a number of maypole dancers.

The children were conveyed in the procession in decorated carts, and headed by the Micklefield Band.

Many others in fancy costume helped to complete a very bright spectacle. On arrival at the Hall Tower fields the Queen was crowned, and the ceremony was repeated for the benefit of the spectators arriving later. Here the maypole dancing took place before hundreds of people. Various cross and straight patterns were wound round the pole, and the dancers in white and bedecked with colours to match the ribbons they held, made a very pretty picture. Morris dancing followed.

Prizes for decorated cycles, comic bands, fancy and comic costumes and female impersonators were given, the judges being Messrs. T Cattley Simpson and William Smith. Their task was a difficult one, especially in the last-named section. Great fun was caused by the two comic bands - Hunslet Nannygoat Lancers and Morley Jazz Band - when they gave their performance during the judging. Their fantastic instruments, brightly coloured dresses and quaint antics amused the company for nearly an hour and encores had to be given. Hunslet were eventually given the first prize.

After tea the ceremony connected with the raising of the maypole was watched with interest for it was a new pole this year, the one recently taken down having been condemned for further use. The new one measures about eighty feet and was brought from Parlington some two years ago by Messrs JR Wilson and Henry Pullan. It had been given the several coats of paint, the colours used being red, white and blue by Messrs Bill Stirk and Dennis Armitage and when brought to the foot of the cross by a large band of willing helpers looked very spick and span. Mr Thomas Robshaw had been at work earlier, digging the hole, and the actual raising took place at 6 pm. The four garlands had been beautifully renovated by Mrs Leighton Smith, Mrs Williamson, Mrs Wilkinson and Mrs Millicent Wood (Potterton Hall). Bright flowers adorned the baskets, and red, white, and blue streamers hung down the sides. On one garland each streamer had a little brass bell hanging from it.

The small committee who had charge of the arrangements; "Ned" Wilson, Fred Lumb and Jack Robshaw, were kept busy for an hour in giving orders to the helpers so that the pole should be raised without any mishap. Guide ropes having been attached, the top end of the pole was lifted slowly up by the aid of various-sized ladders. There were occasional croaks as some of the ladder rungs seemed to be cracking, and on two or three occasions the main guide rope snapped. This necessitated "Ned" Wilson crawling up the pole to get them adjusted again. The main work was done when the pole was raised to an angle of about forty degrees, for soon after the ladders were dispensed with and the manipulation of the guide ropes carried it to the vertical. Cheers were given as the last tug of the rope placed the maypole in its right position.

The usual custom of "giving the pole" a drink was observed, a jug of beer being poured into the socket. The difficult task of climbing the pole to remove the guide ropes was undertaken by Mr Arthur Robshaw. This is a ticklish task as the garlands have to be passed and leg-irons or other climbing instruments are debarred in order that the paint will not be scratched, but Mr Robshaw managed the job quite well, and the ceremony was completed without mishap. The remainder of the evening was spent dancing to the strains of the Micklefield Band.

Accidents have been known to happen, for on one occasion the pole fell on one of the rectory buildings. Mr Joe Balderstone says "no-one has ever been hurt so far as he knows and he and his ancestors have lived in the village for three hundred years".

Joe himself has had a hand in raising three new poles. The last one was up for fifteen years, and should have lasted longer. It was not dry enough when first brought into use and it rotted, otherwise it would have been in service for several more years. Interesting stories are still told of the night when a party of Aberfordians stole the pole and were carrying it down towards Aberford in the night, when Barwickers came to the rescue. After a scuffle the Barwickers returned triumphant with the pole. Garforth men were more successful, and erected part of the pole at Town End. This was taken back to Barwick, but whether it had to be returned or was taken back by Barwickers remains an uncertainty.

The raising ceremony has been done quicker than on Tuesday but never without less uncertainty, and the levelling of the old one was a clean job, it never once being in real danger.

(From the Skyrack Express and Courier)

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