by Frank E Earp
Wellow is a pretty, red brick village, made even more picturesque by the tall ‘English Maypole’ on the village green. The village was once a part of the estate of Rufford Abbey and is partly surrounded by a medieval earthwork and has the remains of a second circular earthwork nearby which is described as ‘probably Norman’. The maypole stands on a triangular green close to the parish church of St Swithern. How long a pole has stood on this spot we can only hazard a guess, but like other maypoles, the expression ‘since time immemorial’ has been used.
We know from Dean Hole’s ‘Memories Then and Now’ that there was a maypole on the green in 1835. In his book, Hole records the fact that both Washington Irving and the artist John Leech expressed their delight at seeing the maypole at Wellow. In 1856 the pole is mentioned in an account of a ‘public dinner’ held on the green to celebrate the signing of the treaty with Russia after the Crimean War.
Sometime early in 1860, the pole was sawn down by an inebriated person or persons unknown. On the 9th May 1860, a replacement pole was erected on the green. This had been brought to the village from Pittance Park in Sherwood Forest in the traditional manner, – carried on the shoulders of the villagers.
In the Folklore Journal, Vol.2 1884 there appears the following account of the Wellow maypole; ‘Passing through the village of Wellow, Notts, a few days ago I saw a maypole in the centre of the village. It was about sixty feet high and had three cross-pieces near the top, at intervals apart. I found that it was a real maypole and had been standing about a quarter of a century; It had replaced an old one which had become rotten and tottering; Many people remember when dancing round the maypole, climbing it when greased and other games were in full vigour’.
On 22nd June 1887, Sir John Savile of Rufford gave a new pole to Wellow, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. The pole had been allowed to ‘season’ in the yard of the Red Lion public house before being erected under the supervision of a Mr Cartlidge, who had also supervised the erection of the previous pole. Sir John’s pole lasted 23 years before it needed to be replaced in 1910. The 1910 pole stood for only 11 before it was burnt down in a freak accident. Fireworks, which had been stacked around the base of the pole ready for a firework party, were somehow prematurely ignited and the pole literally burnt to the ground.
There is no evidence to show that like a number of maypoles, Wellow’s, was ever taken down during the periods covered by the two World Wars. The maypole erected in 1921 was considered to be in an unsafe condition and was taken down in 1949. A replacement was erected early in 1950 and stood until 1966. In October 1974, the weather vane and iron work on the 1966 pole were removed for restoration work and it was found that the top third of the pole was rotted and decayed. The rotten portion of the pole was subsequently removed and May Day celebrations for 1975 were held using the reduced pole.
The current maypole at Wellow was erected on the 7th Feb 1976 and was paid for by a grant from Nottinghamshire County Council. It is 55’ high, – around 60’ including weather vane and is made from steel.
May Day celebrations still take place at Wellow annually on or around the late Spring Bank Holiday. It is an event well worth visiting as the Wellow pole is one of only a handful of English Maypoles still standing. Money raised at the event goes towards the next year’s celebrations and preservation of both the maypole and the customs of May.