Helpers ensure vandals can’t damage Maypole spirit

Barwick residents Carl and Kath Whitfield painting the country's tallest traditionally maintained maypole.
Barwick residents Carl and Kath Whitfield painting the country's tallest traditionally maintained maypole.

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.