2011 Press coverage

Helpers ensure vandals can’t damage Maypole spirit

Wetherby news
Monday 13th June 2011
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BARWICK’S cherished Maypole was the target of criminal damage during the time it was being lovingly maintained and repainted, the Wetherby News has learned. Members of Barwick in Elmet Maypole Trust discovered that a four inch section had been cut from the top of the pole during the night, possibly with a chain saw. The vandalism was reported to West Yorkshire Police who are continuing their search for those responsible. However, few of the hundreds of people who attended the successful Maypole raising on Spring Bank Holiday Monday were aware of the incident.

Dedicated volunteers, strong in arm and firmly resolved to preserve an historic rural tradition, joined forces to put one of Britain’s tallest maypoles back where it belongs. It took a 30-strong team of men and women to lift and carry the 86ft. pole, made from 40-year-old Scandinavian pine, from Hall Tower Field to The Cross at the heart of the ancient village. Had time honoured tradition been maintained the Maypole would then have been raised using ropes, ladders and years of know-how and experience. But to meet today’s health and safety regulations a 40 tonne mobile crane had to be used to lift the 1.2 tonne pole back into position.

There were, however, strong echoes of tradition during the latest pole raising ceremony, as teams of local people pulled on ropes fixed on four sides of the pole in a bid to ensure it was anchored in place as perpendicular as possible. Directing this task was 71-year-old pole master John Leak, whose Maypole raising experience in Barwick goes back 48 years. He depended on feedback from people viewing the pole’s position from the end of each rope, coupled with his own instinctive judgement, to decide when the pole was upright.

Meanwhile, teams of volunteers shovelled about three quarters of a ton of earth into the six feet deep hole into which the Maypole is sunk, tamping it down firmly as they worked. For Peter Foulds, a lift supervisor with Morley-based Ainscough Crane Hire, raising Barwick’s Maypole was all in a day’s work, though he and his colleagues, crane operator Paul Bland and slinger banksman Michael Brittain said they enjoyed doing the job.

Barwick celebrates Maypole festival

Wetherby news
Friday 3rd June 2011
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It rained on Lucia’s parade on Monday. But the happy smiles of Barwick’s Maypole Queen, 12-year-old Lucia Harker and her attendant Azure Ford, 14, were enough to dispel any gloom at the village’s triennial Maypole Festival. With the date of this big event fixed three years in advance the weather is probably the only element its organisers, the Barwick Maypole Trust, cannot influence. So despite persistent rain the village’s famous 86 foot high Maypole, the tallest in the country to be lowered and raised at regular intervals, was duly raised bang on schedule, maintaining a centuries old tradition.

Everyone hoped the rain clouds would disappear before the traditional parade through the village but it was not to be. Led by Honorary Bellringer Gary Shepherd, landlord of the New Inn, Barwick and with the Harrogate Band playing a rousing march, the procession from the village primary school to historic Hall Tower Field threaded its way down Main Street in pouring rain, to the applause of crowds lining the route.

The Lord Mayor of Leeds, Coun Rev Alan Taylor, took part in the parade in the city’s renowned silver Daimler limousine, with the priceless number plate U1. He was accompanied by Coun Matthew Robinson, a member of Leeds City Council who represents Barwick and Scholes. The Maypole Queen and her entourage travelled on a decorated, tractor pulled float.

This was followed by an excited, but rain soaked crocodile of youngsters from Barwick Church of England Primary School, who would soon demonstrate their maypole dancing skills under challenging conditions.

Leeds maypole challenge rises to the tall challenge

Yorkshire Post
Tuesday 31st May 2011
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THE historic Barwick-in-Elmet maypole was not exactly glinting in the sunshine but its big day had arrived. The Maypole Trust Committee had worked hard to finalise preparations for the Maypole Festival and yesterday saw all their labour reach fruition. Pole painters Kath & Carl Whitfield could relax knowing their job was done and the fox weather vane, cleaned, re-greased and polished took pride of place on top of the maypole.

A new DVD was released for this year, ‘Ancient & Modern’ documents the triennial Barwick-in-Elmet maypole festival, and compares the old and new techniques for lowering and raising the village’s famous 86 foot pole.

Volunteers yesterday carried the huge pole to its home in The Cross.

The climax of the Maypole Festival was the climbing of the pole by Leeds man, 30 years old Chris Brown. Chris had the task of climbing the 86 foot pole – in front of the whole village – to mark the climax of the Maypole Festival yesterday.

A landscaper, he trained for five or six days a week for the challenge, losing a stone in weight in the process.

The traditional maypole raising technique made it necessary for a climber – usually a local farm lad – to ascend the pole to in order to detach the hoisting ropes. After this, he would attempt to continue to the very top of the pole to give the fox weather vane a customary spin – a superstition thought to bring good luck to the village.

Whilst the current method for raising the pole has changed, the Maypole Trust wished to maintain as much of the old tradition as possible.

Thousands jostle for pole position in the rain

Yorkshire Post
Tuesday 31st May 2011
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People turned out in droves to join the Maypole Festival in Barwick in Elmet yesterday, defying a traditional bank holiday downpour. The triennial festival, which was last held in 2008 in the village near Leeds, attracted thousands. Onlookers watched in anticipation as the 86ft maypole, which weighed 1.2 tonnes, was raised into position using a crane. Annette Shepherd, landlady of the New Inn in Barwick in Elmet, said: “There was a massive turnout. The weather has been disappointing, we have had rain all day. “Typical English, though, aren’t we? We just get on with it.”

The pub’s landlord, Gary Shepherd, led a procession of local schoolchildren through the village. Chris Brown, 30, marked the climax of the festival when he successfully scaled the pole before spinning a fox weather vane at the top. Nigel Trotter, chairman of the Barwick in Elmet Maypole Trust Committee, said: “He did it very easily, it was a very fast climb with no hesitation. “He had done a lot of training. We have a pole on a farm nearby and he had been up and down that a lot, practising.”

Despite the day’s wet weather, the sun came out just in time to light up the daring climb. Mr Trotter said: “We were very fortunate. If it had been very wet on the pole there is nothing to hang onto.”

Members of the Barwick in Elmet Maypole Trust Committee have spent the last few months finalising plans for the event.

Climbing the Barwick maypole – a Whitsun tradition

BBC News
Tuesday 24th May 2011
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On Whitsun Bank Holiday Monday, all eyes will be on Chris Brown as he attempts to scale an 86 ft-high maypole. The pole climb, a local custom that dates to the 19th Century, represents the climax of Barwick-in-Elmet’s maypole-raising festival. In English tradition, Whitsun (also known as Pentecost) has long been a day of feasting and merrymaking. The first mention of the word in English is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 1067, as “hwitan sunnan daeg”.

Nigel Trotter, chairman of the Barwick Maypole Trust, explained why a climber was needed. He said: “The traditional raising technique made it necessary for a climber (usually a local farm lad) to ascend the pole to detach the hoisting ropes. After this, he would attempt to make his way to the very top of the pole to give the fox weather vane a customary spin… a superstition thought to bring good luck to the village.” Mr Trotter added: “Although the raising techniques have changed in recent times, the pole climb is a part of the tradition that we are still able to maintain. “Shinning up an 86 foot pole that is only a few inches in diameter at the top takes a great deal of fitness, and more than a little bravery, so we really have to take our hats off to Chris and all previous climbers. We know Chris has been practising very hard, so we wish him the best of luck.”

In training
Chris, 30, is well aware of just what is involved, having climbed the Barwick maypole once before in 2005. He said: “Put simply, it’s hard work. I’m taking it really seriously. I’m training five or six days a week, and have lost a stone in weight since I started. I have put my all into this training and getting as fit as I can. I have even given up the drink now! “It gets harder the higher you go as the pole gets both narrower and more wobbly! I’m not anticipating any problems, but the pole is painted with a glossy paint, which if it rains becomes very slippery and will make things difficult. Hopefully it won’t rain on the day, and with a bit of luck that fox will spin!”

Every three years, the village’s maypole is taken down, refurbished and re-erected on Spring Bank Holiday Monday. The occasion is celebrated with a Maypole Queen’s procession, maypole dancing, beer festival and a street market. The Barwick Maypole Festival takes place at Barwick-in-Elmet on Monday 30 May 2011 from 10am to 5pm.

Maypole Festival

Wetherby news
Friday 20th May 2011
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Maypole Festival: With just ten days to go before Barwick’s Maypole Festival, organisers are putting finishing touches to their plans for another successful day on Spring Bank Holiday Monday, May 30. Members of Barwick Maypole Trust are currently showing the Maypole garlands around the village, door to door, to raise some of the thousands of pounds needed to meet the costs of the festival. The Maypole will be raised and put back into its traditional location at The Cross from 11am. Once it is firmly secured and the four new garlands are on display a determined local man will attempt to climb to the top of the pole and spin the fox weather vane, almost 100ft. above ground level. All the traditional features of Barwick’s triennial Maypole celebration will once again be key parts of the festival. This year’s Maypole Queen, 12-year-old Lucia Harker and her attendant Azure Ford, aged 14, will travel in a brass band led procession from the primary school to Hall Tower Field, where Lucia will be crowned by the Lady Mayoress of Leeds. Children from each class at the primary school will then demonstrate traditional Maypole dancing, weaving intricate patterns with coloured ribbons as they dance around the Maypole. A Street Craft Market, which has proved highly popular since it was introduced by the Maypole Trust, will again be a festival attraction. Further information about the festival can be obtained by visiting the trust’s website www.barwickmaypole.co.uk

Celebrating days of the maypole

Yorkshire Post
Monday 2nd May 2011
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Workaday Askern, in the old coal-mining area just north of Doncaster, today seems an odd location for one of English’s most rural of traditions. However, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, before deep-mined coal was exploited here, Askern was a pretty spot with a unique lake and a glorious rural hinterland. Furthermore, it was a holiday resort, especially for people from Wakefield and Pontefract. Famously smelly (sulphurous) spa water completed the image of a health tourism and recreational resort, and the Victorian recreation of traditional maypole and dance, was celebrated annually. The picture (inset) shows the Askern Maypole Dancers in 1917, at the height of the First World War, perhaps a time when a symbol of Englishness was especially welcome.

The maypole and its dances were probably ancient traditions, and important in annual celebrations; in this case, most likely, fertility rites. However, they were detested by the Puritans as vehicles for Satan to corrupt young people: “…both men and women, and children, old and young,…going all together, or dividing themselves into companies. “They go some to the woods, and groves, some to the hills and mountains, … where they spend all night in pleasant pastimes, and in the morning they return bringing with them birch boughs, and branches of trees, to deck their assemblies withal”.

A Puritan called Philip Stubbes complained in 1583, “…oxen draw home this May-pole (this stinking idol rather) …covered all over with flowers and herbs, bound round about with strings from top to bottom, and sometimes painted with variable colours… forty, threescore or a hundred maids going to the wood overnight, there have been scarcely the third part of them return home undefiled”.

This sheds further light on the old rhyme, Here we go gathering nuts in May, since there are no hazelnuts to gather at this time. Most maypoles and celebrations were on May 1, but some, like the tallest maypole in England, at Barwick-in-Elmet, near Leeds, were erected on Whit Monday (nowadays Spring Bank Holiday, the religious date was rationalised and moved to a secular annual holiday). This pole is about 50ft or more in height, replacement poles being supplied by Scots pine trees from Finland.

The highlight of the event is taking down the pole, when a local youth is required to climb up, release the ropes and get to the top to give the fox-shaped weather vane a spin. Anyway, Yorkshire has the biggest maypole in the world. I wonder what happened to the one in Askern?

Ian Rotherham is a writer, broadcaster, and Professor of Environmental Geography, Reader in Tourism and Environmental Change.

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