Maypole dancing is a very old country custom that is still performed in Campden. At the Whit Week Floral Parade in 1897 the cart carrying the Campden maypole dancers followed the Town Band and May Queen’s cart to the grounds of old Campden House, where the celebrations were held. The Maypole itself was perhaps twenty feet tall, set into the ground & surmounted by a huge garland of flowers. The girls wore white dresses with coloured sashes to match the ribbons in their hair. The twenty-four dancers were directed by Mr New, who had also directed the Living Whist Pageant.
The Guild’s Involvement
On their first spring in Campden (1903) the Guild of Handicraft organised a May Day festival for Campden children that included a Jack-in-the-Green and maypole dancing. There are no records of any previous May Day celebrations in Campden: normally celebrations had been held in Whit week. The Guild’s idea had been to reintroduce pre-industrial, pre-puritan traditions into the life of the countryside, the maypole symbolising themselves, and more importantly, youth and joy of life.
The press reported that both music and dances were from the seventeenth century. The girls wore white dresses and sun bonnets, while the boys wore their Sunday best shirts, ties and knickerbockers. The same spring, in the revived Whit Monday Parade, the maypole also appeared as part of a walking tableau representing Spring, arranged by the wife of Guildsman Jim Pyment, with a man pushing the maypole on a cart, the ribbons held by children walking alongside.
From 1904-1906 May Day was celebrated with the maypole dancers, children from the church schools, costumed to represent shepherds and shepherdesses. In 1907, however, there appears to have been no pageantry and in 1908 the town councillors decided not to hold the annual fete, so Guildsman and Town Band conductor, Jim Pyment organised a childrens’ fete with maypole dancing to open the event, outside the town centre at Westington corner. At this time the Guild closed and celebrations returned to Whit Monday, but in fact disappeared from 1910 until after World War I.
When the Whit Monday fete was revived in 1921 to help raise money for the war memorial, seven maypole dances were performed by girls from the Church of England School taught by a Weston Subedge teacher. The Catholic School children performed country and hoop dances. The same format continued in 1922, though former Catholic School pupils from this period claimed to have danced the maypole too.
It seems that after 1925 maypole dancing in Campden disappeared until 1937 when the Head Master of the Church of England School and the Vicar became interested in reviving local customs. A teacher, Miss Chamberlain, trained a troupe of girls to dance the maypole for the Whit Festival, celebrating the coronation of King George VI.
Now, every year early on May Day morning and at Scuttlebrook Wake, children from the Church of England primary school perform the age-old maypole dances, maintaining a tradition of over one hundred years.