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Barwick Maypole Gala 1957

Barwicker No.77
March 2005

This article was published in the Skyrack Express of 26 April 1957. We thank Dorothy Hague and Muriel Rushton for help with the Christian names of the people in this and the following article.



"After towering 95ft. like a majestic sentinel in the village square of Barwick-in-Elmet for three years, the famous maypole was hauled down on Easter Monday for its triennial inspection, overhaul and renovation. The huge spliced pole, weighing two tons, was lowered in an operation requiring skill. judgement and direction - a spectacle that never fails to draw spectators from far and near.

And there are those who take pride in handling the ropes used to give the tension required for lowering the pole under full control. To the older folk. it is probably more of an occasion for reminiscences - the years when they lent a hand. And so it was on Monday.

A typical extract of Monday's conversation was : "I thought tha'd bin to plenty maypole ceremonies here without coming at your age." And the reply. "Aye, but its nice to come and see t'old faces and talk o'er old times".

One veteran onlooker on Monday who was making history was 85-year- old Mrs Annie Gledhill of Cardinal A venue. Leeds, who was witnessing the ceremony for the first time! She duly witnessed the preparations and lowering from a shooting brake in which she had been brought by members of her family. Mrs Gledhill, whose birthday was the previous Wednesday, hails from Knottingley but left there about 60 years ago.

Monday's operation took the best part of two hours. The preliminaries started at 5.30pm. When the pick and shovel workers began their task of laying bare the foundations of the pole heavily embedded in at least six feet of Barwick earth. After half an hour's digging it was considered necessary that the pole should not be 'left on its own'. The proceedings then took on more of of an individual turn.

Guide ropes had to be fixed and this meant someone 'shinning up' the pole to near the half way mark to secure five ropes just above the brackets from which the gaily-festooned garlands are hung every three year on Whit-Tuesday.

The climber was the 40 year-old Mr Ken Birch of Aberford, though a member of a well-known Barwick district family whose name was recalled by the old-timers in their talks of bygone years.

When safely perched on the brackets. Mr Birch dropped a length of light cord to the ground. First went up his jacket because it was chilly up aloft. Then followed the five lengths of rope and it took Ken twenty minutes to fix them firmly around the maypole. Sliding down to the ground was the easy part.

Back on the ground Mr Birch was given a well deserved ovation - plus a hard earned half pint of beer which he drank without once stopping for breath.

'That makes it four times I have been up there,' he commented. 'It doesn't get easier as the years go by. although today it wasn't so hard. I only went half way'" In the past at the Whitsun ceremony Mr Birch has been known to climb 10 the top of the maypole and spin the golden fox which sits on top. Whether he will do this again at Whitsun depends on the Maypole Committee.

With the ropes attached it was time for the people of Barwick to play their part. Men hung onto each of the five ropes. Mr John White. member of a prominent local family, mounted the platform to direct operations and gradually the maypole began to tilt over.

Ladders and pitchforks were brought into use as a steadying influence as the pole came closer to the ground. And so, after two hours' work, it was 'grounded' once more. A team of men carried it off to a nearby field where it will receive a fresh coat of paint and a close inspection.

Mr Walter Lovett assisted Mr White as director of operations. Mr Arthur Walton was in charge of the ladder party and committeemen supervised the rope gangs. The pole will be repainted in Hall Tower Field by permission of Mr Richard Helm. Mr Albert Lincoln took away the garland frames to reshape and Mr Harold Evans took the weathervane to regild.

At the traditional meeting of the maypole committee which followed the lowering of the pole a resolution was that the committee be re-elected en bloc for the coming three years was carried. Mr E Harrison thanked the committee and the chairman (Mr Stanley Robshaw) thanked the local public for their help, also Messrs. Hopton (Black Swan), McNeill (Gascoigne Arms) and Tyson (New Inn) for liquid refreshment.

The committee re-appointed comprised Mr Robshaw (chairman), Cr. W H Ingham (secretary), Mr Gerald Hartley (treasurer) and Messrs. John White, Jim Hannam, Arthur Walton, Edmund Poulter, Alf Reed, George Kirk, Alf Atkinson, Derek Burks, George Cooper and Harold Evans."

This article was published in the 'Skyrack Express' of 14 June 1957:



"Now then, lads, altogether. Up she goes. .. straighten that rope ... hold it, hold it." Several thousand people simultaneously cheered, gasped, then broke into relieved laughter, and Barwick-in-Elmet's newly painted 100ft. Maypole had once more been erected - by hand. The voice was that of white- coated director of operations, John White, on a wooden rostrum above the crowd, only feet from the massive pole. No sooner was the pole fixed than this bronzed Yorkshireman threw back his head and did Yorkshire justice to a pint of the very best.

The village square and surrounding streets were black with merry and. at times. anxious crowds, drawn mainly from the nearby fringes of Leeds. It was a day out for them. They had taken part in the day's celebration, which had opened with the crowning of Linda Kirk, as May Queen, and was now ending with the erection of the Maypole in the evening. The pole was taken down on Easter Monday for its triennial inspection and painting, and during recent weeks it had been carefully vetted in nearby Hall Tower Field. As tradition dictated, it was carried by the village men the hundred yards from its renovation site, to the village square for re-erection on Whit Tuesday. And there the four garlands were placed midway up the pole. It is in these multi-coloured garlands, with their scores of tiny hanging bells, that many of the village women have a special interest. These garlands were made by four local organisations - The Women's Section of the British Legion, the Mothers' Union, the Parent-Teacher Association and Darby and Joan Club. Each garland contains one thousand flowers.

Five ropes by which to haul the pole into an upright position, were made fast and the pole was then placed about five feet down into the natural rock socket. The operation was on and soon the 'tug of war' drama had pulled the pole into a semi-upright position. Ladders, with the help of pitchforks, were used as 'chocks'. As scores of muscles strained at the ropes and ladders Barwick slipped back hundreds of years. For it is tradition that rules that Barwick maypole must be re-erected by hand. And this in an age of push-button, mechanical ease. Modem methods would have the pole up in five minutes. Tuesday's show took well over an hour. Though, said one official. Barwick men could do the job in fifteen minutes, 'We must make show for all the visitors', he explained.

When the white pole with its bands of red and blue was finally made fast. Barwick once more looked its old familiar self. Then up climbed Mr Ken Birch of Aberford to untie the ropes. This was at 45 feet He then went up to 75 feet in an attempt to reach the top which he abandoned because the fresh paint was too slippery. This will probably be the last time Mr Birch will see the thousands of upturned faces intently watching him on his way to the top of the pole. After climbing it many times he has decided to give up the job and make way for a younger man from among numerous volunteers.

The pole in position, the remainder of the evening was given over to displays by Morris dancers and the Leeds Sword Club, and music by Sherburn Old Boys Brass band, under their conductor Mr C M Lund. The day's activities had begun early in the afternoon with a colourful procession in an old world atmosphere - ten drays drawn by horses and traditionally decorated with coloured paper, greenery and flags. They carried the May Queen and her retinue to Hall Tower Field where they were greeted by hundreds of people squatting on the hillside.

The Rector of Barwick, Canon J Gray, as chairman, told those present something of the tradition and history of the ceremonies, which went back many hundreds of years. The Maypole Committee had worked very hard to retain all the old traditions and customs. Canon Gray introduced Lady Gascoigne, who crowned Linda Kirk as May Queen. Lady Gascoigne spoke highly of the spirit behind all the work which was being done to keep the ceremony alive. She continued: 'I feel that it is such a spirit behind all the work that is counting in our old England today. It is a spirit which many people in many parts of the word are trying to break. I strongly feel that the old maypole and the wonderful traditions that we have in this country may well be able to defeat the hydrogen bomb.'

Then from a satin cushion held by a very smart page boy. Lady Gascoigne took the crown and put it on Linda's head. As the sun kept peeping through the cotton-wool clouds and against a back-cloth of fresh green fields and woods, the little attendants went, two-by-two, to pay their respects to the queen. Linda spoke to the crowd: 'I feel almost too excited to speak and I am very proud of the honour that the children of Barwick did to me when they elected me May Queen. I should like to thank them all, and everyone else who had done so much to make this such a wonderful day for me. I must also thank my attendant Joan Warner, and all the other members of my retinue.'

Mrs Gray the rector's wife, then announced a 'surprise'. She said that the committee had decided to give gifts of jewellery to the queen and her lady in waiting. Joan Warner. She then presented the gifts to Linda and Joan.

Mr Stanley Robshaw, chairman of the Maypole Committee. thanked everyone who had contributed to the ceremonies. In particular he thanked Mr Richard Helm for the use of the Hall Tower Field; Mrs J Wall who made costumes, the headmaster (Mr Holmes) and the staff of Barwick School and parents for their co-operation and support. He added;' If there is a resident in Barwick who is not interested in the maypole, I have yet to come across him.' The remainder of the afternoon was then given over to various kinds of entertainment. This included a concert party with Sheila Kay, the girl whistler from Seacroft, who has appeared on television; Maypole dancing. country dancing, an archery display by members of the Yorkshire Association of Bowmen; playing by Sherbum Old Boys Brass Band and a baby show. This was judged by Nurse G Rabbitt (Kippax) and prizes distributed by Dr Derek S Smith. Winners were Paul Teasdale, Heather Wilson, Mary Jackson, Ann Cockrem, Nancy Verity, Stephen Perkins , Steven Siberry and Janet Herrington. "
From the Skyrack Express 1957

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