Raising and Lowering
This article is taken from ‘The Barwicker’ magazine, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the Barwick-in-Elmet Historical Society. Please note that the methods described to raise and lower the pole in the article are different from those implemented today.
Raising and Lowering the Maypole
From the Barwicker No.5
Author – Tony Shinn
Barwick maypole is lowered and raised in the traditional way by ropes and ladders. The responsibility for organising this triennial event is undertaken by the Maypole Committee which is elected every three years on Easter Monday after the pole is lowered for repainting.
The lowering starts at about 5.00pm. directed by the pole master. As the hole is being dug out the climber ascends the pole as far as the garlands by ladder and then by shinning up. He then hoists up a plank which he places on the garland hooks. He sits on this and hoists up the five ropes. The ropes are then tied on with a special fastening so that they are safe to take the strain but can be loosened afterwards.
The climber descends and the hole is completely dug out as the strain is taken on the ropes. There are two ropes towards the church, one up Main Street, one in Firth’s Yard and one towards the chapel. At least twenty men are needed on each rope.
The pole is gradually lowered towards the Chapel by the ropes until an angle is achieved where the ladders can be used to support the pole. At this point the Chapel rope is discarded.
The ladders are used in a scissors formation, each being supported by about four men. As the pole is supported by the ladders It continues to be lowered by the ladder men moving outwards in unison. The ladders are gradually moved along the length of the pole towards the top by the use of a special hook (originally a pitchfork).
The pole is eventually lowered on to the shoulders of the men and carried up to Hall Tower Field to await repainting. About 150 men are needed to lower the pole.
The raising on Spring Bank Holiday Tuesday reverses this process, the hole being dug out in advance. After the afternoon’s celebrations the newly painted pole is carried down from Hall Tower Field in procession, led by the band. The base is eased into the hole, protected by sacking and with the aid of wooden posts used as levers.
The ropes have already been attached and the ladders are laid out in formation ready to be used. The ladders are gradually inserted along the length of the pole as it is raised. The pole is pushed up by degrees by the ladder men walking inwards to meet each other (as in closing the blades of scissors) at the pole master’s signal. The ladders are moved down the length of the pole, one by one, until the strain is gradually taken on the ropes. The pole can then be brought to the vertical by adjusting the strain on the ropes at the direction of the pole master. The pole is lined up with the adjacent buildings to everyone’s satisfaction – the pole masters decision being final.
The business of filling in the hole is then completed while the pole is held steady on the ropes. Traditionally the helpers are revived at regular intervals by a free drink of beer (usually direct from a bucket) provided by the local pubs. As soon as it is considered safe, the climber ascends the pole to the garlands. He re-assumes his seat on his board on the garland hooks, loosening the ropes and throwing them down.
In the past the climber has been encouraged by the crowd to climb up to the top of the pole to spin the fox weather vane. Recently this practice has had to be abandoned due to the risk being too great to be covered by insurance. However, the climber does not omit to collect his trophy of a ribbon and bell from one of the garlands before descending. As soon as the hole is filled there is usually a display of Morris Dancing before the crowds disperse.