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Garforth Colliers Carry The Pole Away

From the Barwicker No. 90
June 2008



The earliest newspaper article so far discovered containing a reference to the Barwick Maypole is from the "The Leeds Mercury" of Wednesday 7th June 1876. That day was Whit Wednesday and it was describing events that had taken place the previous day, Whit Tuesday. The event was, of course, the triennial raising of the Maypole. The Leeds papers don't appear to have reported on the maypole ceremony previously, no doubt they classed it as a minor local event. It was eleven years before they mentioned the pole again and then only briefly. What could have stirred their interest this year? The first paragraph of the article gives it all away:

"Last evening the pleasant little village of Barwick-in-Elmete, on the new Leeds and Wetherby {railway} line, witnessed the restoration of its Maypole under circumstances somewhat novel in Maypole history. It, or part of it, had recently been stolen. "


Shortly after midnight on the morning of Saturday the 3^ June 1876, thirty colliers, mainly from Garforth, met at Barwick and stole the main part of the maypole. It would have been lying on its side since Easter Tuesday awaiting the raising ceremony. They carried it across fields damaging gates, fences and crops belonging to a farmer, Mr. Helm of Barwick on their trip to Garforth. They intended to erect it at some place in the centre of Garforth. Reports written 20 and 30 years after the event said they did, but this is not mentioned in the contemporary accounts.

Colonel Gascoigne of Parlington, the main local land and mine owner and Lord of the Manor, immediately instigated inquiries and the pole was restored to Barwick within a couple of days. The later reports indicate that he fired any colliers involved who worked for him. On Tuesday ^th June at the West Riding Police Court, held in Leeds Town Hall, before Dr. Heaton, Mr. Ikin and Mr. Joseph Lupton the thirty colliers were summonsed for wilful damage on the farm of Mr. Helm.

They were named as:
John Learoyd, George Herron, Peter Learoyd, Jonathan Atkinson, Henry Thompson, George Bond, Thos. Thompson, James Tyrrell, Wm. Sowter, George Lovett, George Ballance, Joseph Simpson, Ed. Goodall, Ed. Silverwood, Jas. Cork, Arthur Whitehead, Charles Dobson, George Dormidy, Benjamin Hewitt, James Hewitt, Wm. Barber, John Vance, Thos. Gill, John Gill, John Peacock, Albert Rex, John Robinson.

Superintendent Pollard explained to the Court that the case had been arranged for the defendants to apologise for the damage they had done and pay all the costs, which amounted to about 6.

Over the following 30 years much fun was made of this event in the press with every opportunity being taken to mention it or more often crack a joke at Garforth's expense, a selection are listed below:

1887 - "There is a joke told in the village of Barwick that whatever neighbouring village "steals" the May-pole it becomes its lawful property, and we did hear one gentleman say that this was "the law of May-pole," but we can hardly think this to be the case, for Barwick people still stick to their May-pole, although it has been once "stolen " by Garforth. But still, there may be some truth about it as we understand that it was only by the intervention of Colonel Gascoigne that it was restored to its owners. "

1890 - "Garforth stealthily came during the night, broke the pole in two, and took part of it home, for a time Barwick was disconsolate, until retribution fell upon the wicked Garfordians. Garforth now always send a large quota to pay homage to their neighbours' fairly dressed pole, which in years gone by they wished to appropriate to themselves. "

1904 - "Twenty or thirty years ago, a tribe of hilarious and envious sinners from Garforth invaded Barwick one dark evening and purloined the pole, and it was only after much tact and diplomacy that Barwick recovered its pole and its honour. "

Sources:
The Leeds Mercury editions of 7th June 1876 & 14th June 1876
The Skyrack Courier editions of 4th June 1887, 31st May 1890 & 14th May 1904

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