The Rector and the Maypole

The article below is taken from ‘The Barwicker’ magazine, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the Barwick-in-Elmet Historical Society:-

View the original article here


The Rector and the Maypole

From the Barwicker No. 82
March 1987

Author: Revd. Norman Butcher

A parish magazine article written by the rector,
Revd. Norman Butcher (1959-1979) in the early 1960′s.

A prominent feature of Barwick village today is the maypole, which stands at the centre of the village and is reputed to be the one of the tallest – if not the tallest – in the country. The custom which has been ‘held so long that the memory of man runneth not to the contrary’, is for the timber pole to be taken down manually – with ropes and ladders and clothes props – every third Easter Monday and carried into the entrance to Hall Tower Field where it is painted and restored again successfully and the whole populace is now awaiting its raising on the Tuesday after the Spring Bank Holiday – not on Whit Tuesday as in former years. The procession will start from Welfare Avenue at 1.30pm; the crowning of the Maypole Queen will be at 3.00pm;and the raising of the pole will commence at 6.00pm. Throughout the afternoon, there will be an interesting programme of entertainment on Hall Tower Field.

The original colour of the Maypole was probably red and white spiral stripes, which is symbolic of the renewal of life – red and white may blossom; but in comparatively recent years, blue stripes have been added, doubtless for patriotic reasons. The Maypole is not mentioned in any of the old records now existing, perhaps because of its pagan origin, but Edmund Bogg’s suggestion in his ‘Old Kingdom of Elmet – an interesting but unreliable book – is certainly in error. He suggests that the pole with its four garlands owe their origin to King Edwin’s ‘tufa’ or ‘toup’-a- global tufted standard made of feathers of different colours fixed on the end of a long pole – and that the ceremony is a survival of Edwin’s rejoicing when he conquered the Kingdom of Elmet. A more probable explanation is that the Maypole may be a fertility symbol which had its origins in the pre-Christian era.

When we examine the geography and topography of Barwick and note the probable placing of the Celtic and other settlements which were so placed that they took advantage of the defensive position of the site, we note that the Maypole is quite central to these settlements.

The maypole was the focal point of the Spring Festival when those rites calculated to promote crop and animal increase were performed. It was not a ritual but a fertility symbol to be dressed with flowers and other appropriate symbolic adornments, and it is from these adornments that the present day garlands are derived. A very interesting line of research could be found in the reason for the three-year cycle of raising the pole.

A prominent feature of Barwick village today is the maypole, which stands at the centre of the village and is reputed to be the one of the tallest – if not the tallest – in the country. The custom which has been ‘held so long that the memory of man runneth not to the contrary’, is for the timber pole to be taken down manually – with ropes and ladders and clothes props – every third Easter Monday and carried into the entrance to Hall Tower Field where it is painted and restored again successfully and the whole populace is now awaiting its raising on the Tuesday after the Spring Bank Holiday – not on Whit Tuesday as in former years. The procession will start from Welfare Avenue at 1.30pm; the crowning of the Maypole Queen will be at 3.00pm;and the raising of the pole will commence at 6.00pm. Throughout the afternoon, there will be an interesting programme of entertainment on Hall Tower Field.

The original colour of the Maypole was probably red and white spiral stripes, which is symbolic of the renewal of life – red and white may blossom; but in comparatively recent years, blue stripes have been added, doubtless for patriotic reasons. The Maypole is not mentioned in any of the old records now existing, perhaps because of its pagan origin, but Edmund Bogg’s suggestion in his ‘Old Kingdom of Elmet – an interesting but unreliable book – is certainly in error. He suggests that the pole with its four garlands owe their origin to King Edwin’s ‘tufa’ or ‘toup’-a- global tufted standard made of feathers of different colours fixed on the end of a long pole – and that the ceremony is a survival of Edwin’s rejoicing when he conquered the Kingdom of Elmet. A more probable explanation is that the Maypole may be a fertility symbol which had its origins in the pre-Christian era.

When we examine the geography and topography of Barwick and note the probable placing of the Celtic and other settlements which were so placed that they took advantage of the defensive position of the site, we note that the Maypole is quite central to these settlements.

The maypole was the focal point of the Spring Festival when those rites calculated to promote crop and animal increase were performed. It was not a ritual but a fertility symbol to be dressed with flowers and other appropriate symbolic adornments, and it is from these adornments that the present day garlands are derived. A very interesting line of research could be found in the reason for the three-year cycle of raising the pole.

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