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Barwick Maypole 1931

From the Barwicker No.71
September 2003

The Skyrack Express of 29 May, 1931, published the following account of the Barwick maypole raising ceremony and gala which took place on the previous Tuesday. This gives the names of many participants but often neglects to include Christian names, just initials. We are grateful to Geoff Hartley, Dorothy Hague and Muriel Rushton for supplying these names.

Three photos are included with Captions
  1. Nearly 20,000 at Barwick Maypole ceremony. A glimpse of a few of the huge crowd who visited Barwick in Tuesday. It is estimated that something like 20,000 people passed through this old-world village during the day's festivities.
  2. An old Barwick custom. Erecting the huge Barwick Maypole on Tuesday last.
  3. Barwick Maypole ceremony committee. The local Committee who organised the arrangements for the erection of the maypole. Geoff identifies these as the brothers Fred, Rowley and Walter Lovett.


The ancient and time-honoured ceremony of erecting the Maypole at Barwick-in-Elmet again materialised on Whit Tuesday. Every three years this takes place, the pole being taken down on Easter Monday, and, after a fresh painting of its neat coloured stripes, it is re-erected on Whit-Tuesday. Interest in this old-time event has by no means abated, for there were crowds of people from the adjacent villages, and, indeed from far afield. There were motorists and hikers in hundreds, evidently taking a keen interest in this survival of a custom which is hundreds of years old.

Just a word as to the pole itself. Measuring some ninety feet in length, and weighing 35 cwt., the Maypole is guided in its upward career by four ropes, but the real onus of its erection is on the hundred men who, using ladders as props, struggled with the law of gravity, while nervous people in the crowd wondered what would happen if the men found the task too much for them. Perhaps they were thinking of the time when the ropes gave way and the pole crashed to the ground. But a different fate awaited it this time, for with much manoeuvring to get it above the angle of 45 degrees, the pole was eventually raised to the perpendicular, amidst loud cheers.

It had taken exactly three quarters of an hour - 20 minutes less than last time. Two of the older villagers tossed for the honour of climbing to the top. Mr George Oldfield was the lucky one (or unlucky one, some may have thought) and with remarkable agility he clambered up the slender pole, to the delight and envy of everybody.

The carnival procession commenced at three o'clock, and thousands of people gathered to see it. The Garforth Brass Band headed the way, followed by two decorated waggons bearing the May Queen and her court, also the maypole plaiters, who were followed on foot by the boy country dancers. After reaching the Hall Tower Field, the decorated waggons were judged. The May Queen was helped to alight and take her position on the platform with her Court around her. Miss Ethel Nussey, of Bramley Grange, Thorner, then came forward to crown her, also to present her with a beautiful bouquet of pink and red roses, and a huge box of chocolates.

The orchestra commenced to play, and the children, with red, green, blue and yellow ribbons round them for sashes, plaited the pole. At intervals between the plaiting, the older schoolchildren gave exhibitions of country dancing, to give the young plaiters a rest. All the children were a great credit to their tutors, and the performance was thoroughly enjoyed by the thousand of spectators who crowded the field and made the hall Tower Hill look like a tremendous garland, with all its various colours.

The May Queen (Miss Margaret Bowes) was chosen by the village schoolchildren, getting fifty-one votes out of sixty.
  • Her train bearers were Miss Rena Cross and Master Ian Ashworth.
  • The crown bearer was Eric Cullen and the two
  • pages Cyril Speak and C. Smith;
  • maids of honour, Betty Binns, Betty Coulthard, Betty Poulter,
  • M.Burland, Monica Coats, Margaret Kirk, Catherine Lovett and Hilda Sanderson.
  • The plaiters were Mary Walton, Margaret Morton, Muriel Hague, Joyce Hewitt, Celia Poulter, Marion Bullen, Rene Robshaw, Lily Lund, Gladys Hick, Marion Burdon, Mary Poulter, Annice and Ellen Firth and Nellie Robshaw.
  • Country dancers were:
    Boys - Robin Prince, John Hague, Jack Markham,
  • Jim Bell, George Armitage, Alfred Poulter and
  • Herbert Cooper.
    Girls : Doris Sanderson, Marion Lovett, Doris Green, Mary Armitage, Barbara Allison, Edith Oldfield and Ivy Bullen.

  • The sports took place after this, and were very much enjoyed. Much amusement as caused by the pistol, which refused to "go off," and many were the times when the competitors had to be called back! The maypole was carried out of the field at 6.30pm and at 7.45pm was safely back in its correct position. Mr George Oldfield climbed up to the garlands and loosed the ropes. Then he went up to the very top and gave the fox a good spin.

    The Maypole Queen, Margaret Bowes, and her attendants
    Photo supplied by her daughter Pauline Robson

    After this, dancing was begun, and was carried on until dark, which brought to an end a perfect day. An aeroplane was seen hovering quite low and close to the Maypole as soon as it had been reared.

    (From the SKYRACK EXPRESS 29 May, 1931)

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