Frequently Asked Questions
So you want to know more about the Maypole? Maybe we can help? We’ve attempted to answer the most frequently asked questions below. If you have a specific question, please do not hesitate to ask us using the contact form… and we and will do our very best to answer it. Where appropriate, we may also add your question to the list!
Q. How tall is the Maypole?
A. The current Maypole is approximately 86 feet (26.2 m) although the height has actually varied over the years.
Q. How much does it weigh?
A. According to the crane operator the current Maypole weighs approximately 1.2 metric tonnes… that’s about the same as a medium sized car (such as a Ford Focus).
Q. What is the circumference at the base?
A. Approximately four feet (48 inches/122 cm).
Q. How deep is the hole that accommodates the maypole?
A. Approximately six feet (72 inches/183cm). It is chiselled out of limestone bedrock and has been in situ since at least 1908.
Q. How old is the current Maypole?
A. The current Maypole was sourced in 2005.
Q. What type of wood is the maypole made from?
A. Scandinavian Fir.
Q. Where does the wood come from?
A. The current pole was sourced from Finland, and was weather treated in Wales before being delivered to the village.
Q. What is the metal bracket half way up the pole for?
A. The Maypole is actually made up of two sections, and the metal bracket is a splice that holds these together. The narrow roads (and tight turns) of the village make it impossible to deliver the Maypole in a single piece, hence the need for two separate pieces to be joined!
Q. Does the maypole bend?
A. On a windy day, you may well see the Maypole bending, but don’t worry, it is meant to! A flexible structure is placed under less stress than a rigid one, and is therefore less likely to break. The Maypole has survived many extreme wind storms over the decades.
Q. Where does the maypole go to be re-decorated?
A. Hall Tower Field, just off Elmwood Lane.
Q. What are the decorative stripes for?
A. Other than being decorative, no-one knows for certain, however the painting of the stripes is a tradition that dates back at least one hundred years. The current pattern of decoration is the same as that used in 1908 however the eagle eyed may have noticed that the direction of the stripes changed from a clockwise to an anti-clockwise direction (and back again) during the 20th century.
Q. What colours are used on the maypole… and why?
A. The Maypole is painted White, and and is decorated with Blue and Red stripes. Again there are various theories as to why, but one simple explanation may be that these are patriotic colours (and those of the ‘Union flag‘).
Q. Who paints the pole?
A . The Maypole was last painted in 2011 by Carl and Kath Whitfield. The initials ‘CAW & KRW’ are painted on the base end of the Maypole and can be viewed as the pole is carried from Hall Tower Field back to it’s home in the centre of the village.
Q. How long does it take to paint?
A . It takes approximately 80 to 90 hours to completely re-paint the pole. When a new pole is sourced, the wood needs to be prepared in advance, and it can take considerably longer!
Q. How many garlands are there?
Q. What purpose do the garlands serve?
A. Nowadays, these are purely decorative, but they possibly played a more significant role in the past, and may have had religious or superstitious meaning.
Q. How often are these replaced?
A. Every three years, when the pole is taken down.
Q. Who makes the garlands?
A. The Maypole Trust Committee, with the support of many local villager volunteers.
Q.How are the garlands made?
A. The garlands consist of a metal frame. A backing material is sewn on to this, to which rosettes of fabric are added. Each rosette is hand stitched. There are approximately 1200 rosettes per garland. Approximately 40 decorative ribbons (in Red, White and Blue) are attached to the base of the garlands, together with small bells (these can be heard jingling on a windy day!).
Q. How long does it take to make the garlands?
A. Approximately 200 hours per garland… or 800 hours in total! That’s 100 days (based on working a 9-5 day).
Q. How big are the garlands?
A. They’re approximately 41cm (16″) high with a a diameter of 41cm (16″) across the bottom. The ribbons and bells add an extra 35cm (14″), so the total height when hung is 74cm (30″).
Q. How much do they weigh?
A. Approximately 4kg each, so 16kg in total.
Q. Can I see the garlands close up?
A. Absolutely. As part of the Maypole Trust’s fundraising campaign, the garlands are paraded around the village for all to see. This is a tradition which dates back many years.
What is the Fox for?
A. It is both a functioning weather vane and decoration. The fox is also spun at the end of the Maypole raising ceremony, a tradition which is thought to bring luck to the village.
Q. How big is the fox?
A. It’s approximately two feet (24 inches/60cm) across.
Q. What is it made out of?
A. Polished stainless steel.
Q. Who made the fox?
A. The fox was made by Arthur Nicholls, and is stamped “NICHOLLS FABRICATIONS 1981″.
Q. What happens to the fox when the maypole is taken down?
A. It is kept in a secret location for safe-keeping!
Q. What is the purpose of the festival?
A. It’s a traditional celebration aimed at bringing together the village community. Although today’s celebrations are different from those of our forefathers, the spirit behind the festival has been unchanged for centuries.
Q. Who organises the festival?
A. The Maypole Trust committee, which is run by local volunteers.
Q. Why is the ceremony held every three years?
A. This is purely traditional. Three years was (and to some degree still is) the optimum time to inspect, repair, and refurbish the Maypole. Any more frequent is unnecessary (and would make the celebrations less special) and any less frequent would risk damage to the pole from weathering.
Raising & Lowering
Q. How was the Maypole originally raised and lowered?
A. An intricate system of ropes and ladders was used to lower and raise the Maypole in the past. You can read more about the traditional techniques under the history section by clicking here.
Q. Why is this method no longer used?
A. It is highly regrettable that the old methods can no longer be used, however recent changes in Health & Safety regulations meant that another method had to be found. Modern legislation means the pole could simply not be raised in the old way.
Q. How is the maypole currently raised and lowered?
A. The maypole is now lowered using a crane. It is also raised using a crane however manual labour and ‘rope men’ are still required to help guide the pole into place.
Q. Is the pole still climbed?
A. Yes. The climber plays an important part in the raising of the pole and helps to attach the ropes and garlands. For the 2011 festival, the climber was Chris Brown.
Q. Is the maypole safe?
A. The Maypole undergoes a series of rigorous Health & Safety inspections on a regular basis. Were it to fail these, the festival would simply not go ahead. The safety of the Maypole (and more importantly the residents of the village) is the Maypole Trust committee’s first priority.
Q. Who owns the maypole?
A. The villagers of Barwick in Elmet. Whilst the Maypole belongs to the Maypole Trust, the Trust is funded by entirely by fundraising. As such the Maypole can be considered the property of Barwick villagers and anyone donating to the cause!
Q. Do people dance around the Maypole?
A. Yes and No.The Maypole is usually the centre of attention on New Year’s Eve, where merry locals will join arms and sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. During the Maypole Festival, local school children perform what is known as ‘ribbon dancing’ (a series of dances to music where ribbons are intertwined and plaited around the pole). At 86 feet, Maypole is simply too tall for this, so there are instead two separate ‘mini Maypoles’ used. The younger childrens’ pole features just two colours (Green and Yellow) whereas the older childrens’ pole features more complex patterns using Blue, Green, Yellow and Red ribbons. The Maypole dancing takes place in Hall Tower Field.
Q. Is it possible to hire the childrens’ Maypole?
A. This may be a surprising question for some, but it is something often requested via our contact form. Unfortunately it us unfeasible for us to offer the childrens’ Maypoles for hire. We hope to bring you some instructions on how to build a pole of your own at a later date.
Maypole Trust Committee
Q. What is the role of the Maypole Trust?
A. Put simply, the aim of the Maypole Trust is to “maintain the tradition of the Barwick-in-Elmet maypole for the enjoyment of current and future generations“. You can read more about our aims here.
Q. Who is on the Maypole Trust committee?
A. Please visit the Committee page for a full list.
Q. How often, and where does the committee meet?
A. During Maypole year, the committee meets every two weeks, then weekly as the festival approaches. The committee meets as needed in none festival years.
Q. Does anyone get paid to be on the committee?
A. No. All work is done voluntarily, and there are no benefits (cash or otherwise) offered to committee members.
Q. How are the committee’s funds spent?
A. All funds received are put towards the next festival, or are used for the upkeep of the Maypole.
Q. How can I support the work of the Maypole Trust?
A. In lots of ways! Please see the ‘Get involved’ section of the site for more details.
Q. A maypole is a fertility symbol dating back to pagan times and and is a phallic symbol. Is this true?
A. Although there is debate as to the origin of Maypoles, this indeed is one theory. You can read more about Maypoles at Wikipedia.
Q. Isn’t the maypole made from an old ships mast?
A. No. The current pole was purchased in 2005 and was ordered especially. It has been safety approved for use as a ships mast however, which may explain where this idea originated.
Q. I’ve heard that members from a nearby village can remove the maypole (whilst it has been taken down for decoration) and if they successfully carry it to their own village… they can keep it for three years. Is this true?
A. This is a well know in local folklore, and often heard repeated in the village pubs. Nowadays, the Maypole is an asset of the Maypole Trust, were it to be removed without permission, every attempt would be made to recover it and restore it to its rightful place.
Q. Members from the nearby village of Aberford once tried to remove the maypole but were unable to carry it all the way there… it was abandoned on Aberford Road and later retrieved by Barwick villagers… is this true?
A. Yes. In fact attempts to steal the pole have been made several times over the last 100 years or so. You can read more about this by clicking here.