Maypole festival fun in Barwick-in-Elmet

An excellent display of traditional Maypole dancing by Barwick-in-Elmet schoolchildren was a highlight of Monday’s triennial Maypole festival in the historic village.

The popular event, held in sunshine to the relief of its organisers who had planned it for almost three years, was enjoyed by an estimated 5,000 villagers and visitors from far and wide.

Six complex dances were performed by the primary school pupils who needed great concentration as they rhythmically revolved around a smaller version of Barwick’s famous, 96 foot high Maypole, the tallest in the country.

Their achievement, acclaimed by a huge audience, was all the more impressive because many of the school’s staff with knowledge of the dances had retired since the last festival three years ago.

“We had a lot of help from members of the Maypole Trust and the children rehearsed with their teachers for many hours,” proud head teacher Sue Sanderson told the Wetherby News.

A confident Maypole Queen, Lily Hawkhead, aged 11, who was elected by her fellow pupils at the village school, was crowned by Coun Ann Castle, who was Lord Mayor of Leeds two years ago and is a Barwick representative on the city council.

She praised the dedication of the Barwick Maypole Trust in maintaining the village’s Maypole heritage by lowering, repainting and re-erecting the pole every three years in line with a tradition believed to date back at least 150 years.

The festival costs well over £6,000, all raised from villagers’ donations and grants from the parish council and Leeds Festival community fund.

Maypole dancing in the ancient Hall Tower Field followed a procession led by Harrogate Band, featuring the Maypole Queen and her entourage, other schoolchildren, colourful dance group 400 Roses and vintage vehicles provided by Barwick garage owner Michael Cassidy.

New features welcomed this year was extra Maypole dancing by the youngest children in the village’s main street, near to the newly-raised Maypole, plus rousing music from the award-winning Harrogate Band.

They ended with Barwick Green, the familiar signature tune of The Archers named after the village by its composer Arthur Wood.

Thousands watched as the Maypole, skilfully repainted by volunteers Kevin Harrison and Max Pitt, was raised by a mobile crane, helped by villagers with ropes.

It took two attempts, the first causing some concern as the huge pole seemed likely to hit a chimney pot on the nearby pub.

Event compere Nigel Trotter, an engineer who leads the Maypole Trust, kept the crowd informed as the pole was carefully lowered into the huge hole and tons of earth shovelled in and tamped down by volunteers to hold it upright for the next three years.

Later the pole’s four garlands, each containing over 1,000 fabric rosettes sewn by villagers, were hoisted into position.

Barwick’s ancient parish church was open for viewing during the festival and church volunteers served home made refreshments to scores of appreciative visitors.

A bustling street market and children’s funfair added to the event’s success.

A huge crowd watched the pole raising climax when, for the third time, local man Chris Brown climbed to the very top of the Maypole to spin the fox-shaped weather vane, by tradition bringing luck to the village.

By this time it had begun to rain, making the surface of the pole difficult to grip.

“This made the climb tougher than before but I have been training for the past three months so I was ready for the challenge,” said landscape gardener Chris, enjoying a well-earned celebratory pint.

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