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1893 - A Lost Maypole Raising Year?

From the Barwicker No.90
June 2008

The local newspaper, The Skyrack, started life in 1886 as the Roundhay Gazette, changing its name to The Skyrack Courier in 1887. Later it became the Skyrack Express before being recently merged with other papers and losing its unique identity. Copies of the paper survive locally in Leeds Central Library from 1920 and Wakefield Library from 1916. Until recently it was thought that no early copies had survived from the period before 1916. However it has been discovered that the British Libraries Newspaper Division located in Colindale in North London has a complete run of the paper in their archive.

The British Library, which was originally part of the British Museum, began collecting newspapers systematically in 1822. At that time newspapers were taxed and the publishers had to send a copy of every edition to the Stamp Office to show the tax had been paid. Once they were three years old these copies were sent to the Library. In 1869 newspapers were included in the same copyright legislation that obliged publishers to forward a copy of every book published to the Library.

The early editions of The Skyrack have opened up a window onto a previously unknown time in the history of the maypole. The triennial lowering and raising ceremonies are described in great detail, names of the villagers involved are recorded, correspondents replay chitchat and editorial columns give comment. This is all at a time when the Leeds newspapers are silent about Barwick maypole events.

The first maypole-raising year covered by the paper is 1887 followed then by 1890. However a problem occurs when the year 1893 is reached. Whilst the Library does hold a copy it is not currently available to researchers due to its poor condition. Some other years are also currently unavailable including 1888 & 1901.

Whilst the poor condition of some copies is likely due to wear and tear over the years an event which happened on the evening of Sunday, 20th October 1940 may have a large part to play. That date was towards the end of the period called the "Battle of Britain" during the Second World War. The Luftwaffe had been bombing airfields in the south of England since August 1940 in an attempt to win air supremacy. Once this was achieved it would allow a German army invasion of mainland Britain to begin. In early September they moved their offensive to London with large scale bombing of the capital in what we now know of as "The Blitz".

On the evening of Sunday, 20 October 1940 the Germans dropped a high explosive bomb on the Newspaper Library, a large warehouse-sized building in Colindale, destroying the structure and scattering its content of newspapers. Photographs of the aftermath show the surrounding district for a considerable distance covered in newspaper pages. At the time the building contained 100,000 bound volumes of newspapers. In the case of the weekly Skyrack a bound volume would include a full years worth of editions. Initially it was feared that 40,000 volumes would be lost, not only from the explosion but from a rainstorm that followed. In the end 6,000 volumes were lost and 20,000 were damaged but could be partially or fully salvaged. After the war the Library was rebuilt and many volumes conserved. Where possible, gaps in the collections were filled with copies from other libraries or direct from the publishers.

The Library is the only large, integrated national newspaper service in the world and a unique resource for local history researchers. I hope that at sometime in the future the resources of the Library will allow them to conserve or microfilm the 1893 Skyrack allowing us to read what happened during the currently "lost" maypole ceremony that year.


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