The villagers of Barwick in Elmet will be celebrating the tri-ennial Spring Bank Holiday raising of their eighty six foot high maypole on May 26th when people from all over will come along to enjoy this once every three year event.
The festivities include the crowning of the May Queen and a variety of entertainment for a fun day out.
Barwick’s Maypole Origins
The maypole’s origins and tradition go back to sometime during the fourth and fifth century when Barwick was at the centre of the Kingdom of Elmet. Elmet was a small Kingdom lying between the much more powerful Northumbria and Mercia kingdoms. At about A.D. 619 the Kingdom of Elmet fell into King Edwin and Northumbrian hands, and in the style of what appeared to be the usual ‘pomp and ceremony’, Edwin’s army carried standard’s similar to the Romans. The standard was a long pole called a ‘toup’ festooned with feathers This ‘toup’ was usually put in the centre of the conquered kingdom for all to see and realise that Edwin was all powerful.
Barwick And Its Link With ‘Ambridge.’
The fictional village of ‘Ambridge,’ home of the oldest and longest ‘soap opera’ in the world even longer than Coronation Street, and the real life village of Barwick-in-Elmet have something in common, that famous theme music which introduces ‘The Archers’ that ‘every day story of country folk.’ The theme to the show, used since 1950, is called ‘Barwick Green’ from the suite ‘My Native Heath’ written in 1924 by Arthur Wood from Heckmondwike.
Lowering The Maypole
Every three years, lowering the maypole takes place on Easter Monday for repainting, and the following Spring Bank Holiday Monday it is raised again. In recent times mechanical means have been employed to lower and raise it instead of the traditional way of using man-power with ropes and ladders. However the maypole is still climbed and the fox weather vane at the top is still spun in the traditional way which is thought to bring good luck to the village. The most prolific climber was Arthur Nicholls who climbed it seven times in the years between 1960 and 1978.
Stealing Of The Maypole
The maypole has been ‘stolen’ no less than three times. In 1829 some villagers of Garforth decided they would like to have it, fortunately it was retrieved in a short time by ‘Barwickers.’ In 1907 it was Aberford’s turn to try to deprive Barwick of its prized possession. The ‘Aberfordians’ took the top half of the pole but were discovered and the maypole was rescued and taken back to Barwick.
In 1966 and only three days away from raising the maypole, once again, the top half was taken during the night. The ‘raiders’ numbering eight waited in Hall Tower Field till the church clock struck midnight, they then unbolted the top half from the bottom and off they went with forty- five feet of pole weighing some ten to fifteen hundredweight.
Albert Warner who lived in Aberford road at the time, wrote a letter to the press:
“ I live betwixt two not too friendly villages. Also I have a terrier that will follow anything that moves with tail wagging. On the night of Friday/Saturday, I was awakened by the dog giving teethy growls, barking savagely yet wagging its tail with delight. Now I know the reason for this commotion. The top half of the Barwick maypole was being smuggled past my gate. As the town crier of the maypole raising, I shall never live this down. With the enemy at the gate, I let them pass unchallenged.”
The news soon spread about the theft and an emergency meeting took place to try to work out what to do with what was left of the maypole, some forty-four feet. The only thing they could do was replace the missing half with a new piece. While a search was undertaken on the ground and also in the air by Donald Pullan for the missing pole, three members of the Maypole Committee, Stanley Robshaw, chairman of the committee and two other members went out to Staddlethorpe between Brough and Howden to obtain a new top half.
Time was running out and the new piece was worked on during the night. On Whit Sunday morning a message was received that someone overheard two young lads saying that “They will never find it where we’ve put it.”
It was discovered by maypole committee member, a Mr Hartley, and a policeman that the pole had been hidden in a field near Parlington Woods. The police officer returned to Barwick to announce the good news and the top half of the pole was soon recovered and returned to its rightful owners to be rejoined with its bottom half for raising once again in its usual manner on Barwick’s special day.