The stealing of our Maypole
The article below is taken from ‘The Barwicker’ magazine, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the Barwick-in-Elmet Historical Society:-
They waited for Barwick Church Clock to strike midnight
The stealing of our Maypole
From the Barwicker No. 5
They waited for Barwick Church Clock to strike midnight – the stealing of our Maypole. The story is told in newspaper articles of the day:
There has been a number of attempts to deprive the village of this prized possession. Tradition had it that if it could be taken and erected in another village, then that village could claim it!
An early episode was in 1829 when lads of Garforth took it, but it was retrieved shortly afterwards by the Barwick men. In 1907 men from Aberford absconded with the top half but were chased and chastised and it was brought back to the village. In recent years in 1966 and only three days before the raising ceremony, the top half was stolen during the night.
Eight dark figures waited for Barwick church clock to strike midnight. Then, from their seclusion in Hall Tower Field, they pounced on a long pole lying in the wet grass. It was the Friday before Whit when a raiding party from neighbouring Aberford had come to get Barwick’s Maypole – three days before the triennial ceremony of the raising of the Maypole on Whit Tuesday.
They dismantled hoops and unfastened bolts separating the top half of the 89ft long Maypole from the bottom. Then Barwick’s uninvited visitors stealthily departed with their 45ft long burden – the top half of the pole weighing between 10 and I5 cwts.
In a letter to the press, Albert Warner who lived in Aberford Road wrote:
“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.”
Mr Gerald Hartley, a Special Constable and a former treasurer of the Maypole Committee has vivid memories of the Whit Saturday morning, when the village was in a “state of shock” over the loss. News of the raid spread from mouth to mouth and an emergency meeting was held in Hall Tower Field. Angry members stood round the remaining 44ft pole and the call was for action. “There were several rumours circulating and the police were brought in.“, recalled Mr Hartley. Search parties were organised but with Maypole Day almost on them the committee decided they would have to buy a new top half for the pole.
While the chairman of the committee (Mr S.Robshaw), Mr A.Shinn and Mr Hartley made the long journey to Staddlethorpe, between Howden and Brough, for another length of pole, car loads of Barwick folk and folk on foot were out hunting for the original.
Timber merchant, Donald Pullan took up his two-seater plane and circled the village to look for the pole. When the party returned from Staddlethorpe with a 46ft piece of Swedish pine, Barwick “breathed again – but with time running out efforts to recover the missing half were re-doubled. Honour was at stake.
“We worked all through the night and next morning in Mr Shinn’s workshop, preparing the new piece of pole“, Mr Hartley added. Then came a dramatic development. At 10.30 on Whit Sunday morning I received a message from a friend of mine at Aberford that he had overheard two local boys saying, “They will never find it where we’ve put it.”
Mr Hartley is a countryman, hunting and shooting have sharpened his eyesight. Near Parlington Woods he noticed crops in a field had been trampled down slightly. It was about 8 p.m. and he and a police officer followed the trail.
And Mr Hartley went on; “Suddenly I saw the pole three-quarters of a mile from the road, well camouflaged by undergrowth. I said ‘there it is’ but the officer could not see it until I touched it. We saw a man standing about a field away and we suspected he was the look-out for the Aberford party. I stayed by the pole and the policeman went back to Barwick to give the alert. Crowds of people returned with him and it turned out to be a really exciting evening.”
The pole was taken back to Barwick in triumph. There was a cavalcade of cars and folk were cheering and shouting. With a day to spare the missing length of pine was home again and by Whit Tuesday the two lengths had been rejoined and the Maypole was in one piece for the raising ceremony.
“At first“, recalled Mr Hartley, “we were going to prosecute. Then we thought better of it. After all we had got tremendous publicity out of the incident and we had a big crowd for the raising ceremony, and we had to admire the Aberford youths. They didn’t damage the piece of pole and they left the bolts and hoops neatly by the remaining piece. We’ve certainly no feeling of vengeance towards them now. But I’m certain of one thing – a careful watch will be kept on the pole from now on.“