Strand Cross, Westminster, London, Middlesex

Cross (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 3077 8093

Also Known as

  1. Stone Cross of the Strand

Archaeology & History

First mentioned in Latin manuscripts from 1274 CE, the best description of this long lost monument, curiously, appears to be in Gover’s Place Names tome.  In a slightly edited format he told us the following:

“There was a stone cross “without the bar of the New Temple” traditionally supposed to have been erected by William Rufus “in devotion to the Holy Cross and for the health of the souls of himself and his mother, Queen Maud… It was in the Strand, possibly on the site of the present church of St. Mary.  It is referred to as crucem lap’ in 1274; la Crois de Piere in 1293; …Stonecrouch in 1337; crucem fractum in 1342…”

In subsequent notes Gover et al (1942) tell of a man they found in historical records to be Thomas le Barber, “described alternatively  as being Thomas le Barber atte Stonecourche” in the Calendar of Rolls records of 1337, and again in the 1339 accounts.

Of the cross itself, information is minimal and scattered.  It was destroyed several centuries ago but is mentioned in a number of old books on the history of the city.  The historian Thomas Allen (1829), for example, told that

“opposite to Chester Inn stood an ancient cross.  On this cross in the year 1294, the judges sat to administer justice, without the City.”

It was also a site where legal pleas for the county of Middlesex were to be held, at “the Stone Cross of lad Straund” as it was then known.  Due to the early administrative function delivered from this cross, it strongly implies the place to have been a moot site prior to the erection of the cross, probably dating from the period in which tribal elders met here.

A Mr Newton tells in his London in the Olden Time that the top of the cross was damaged and knocked off by the crazy christians around the time of the Reformation and that for many years stood headless.  When Vallance (1920) came to describe it, he told merely that,

“the Strand Cross, near Covent Garden.  This cross was hexagonal on plan, and comprised four stages.  It was standing in 1547, but was ultimately removed, its site being occupied by the Maypole, which was spoken of in 1700 as new.”

The Strand Cross would have been on the ancient ley (not one of those ‘energy lines’ invented by New Age fantasists) described first of all by Alfred Watkins (1925)—running from St. Martins-in-the-Field to St. Dunstan’s in Fleet Street—but he seems to have been unaware that the monolith ever existed.  The alignment was subsequently described in more detail in Devereux & Thomson’s (1979) work on the same subject, but its existence seems to have evaded them too!  Chris Street (2010) did include it in his much more detailed walk down the same ley.   A maypole was also known to exist close to the site of the cross; with one account showing that the two monuments existed at the same time in 1543.

As the site seemed to have been an early moot spot, the Strand Cross may have been an omphalos in early popular culture (before the christians of course), or at the very least, a site of popular animistic tradition.

References:

  1. Allen, Thomas, The History and Antiquities of London – volume 4, Cowie & Strange: London 1829.
  2. Anon., Rotuli Hundredorum – 2 volumes, G. Eyre and A. Strahan: London 1812.
  3. Aungier, George James, Croniques de London, Camden Society: London 1854.
  4. Devereux, Paul & Thomson, Ian, The Ley Hunter’s Companion, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.
  5. Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, Allen & Stenton, F.M., The Place-Names of Middlesex, Cambridge University Press 1942.
  6. Newton, William, London in the Olden Time, Bell & Daldy: London 1855.
  7. Stevenson, W.H. (ed.), Calendar of the Close Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office, HMSO: London 1900.
  8. Street, Christopher E., London’s Ley Lines, Earthstars: London 2010.
  9. Vallance, Aymer, Old Crosses and Lychgates, Batsford: London 1920.
  10. Watkins, Alfred, The Old Straight Track, Methuen: London 1925.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Strand Cross

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Strand Cross 51.512179, -0.116853 Strand Cross

Cow Cross, Finsbury, London, Middlesex

Cross (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 3180 8181

Archaeology & History

Site of Cow Cross on 1896 map

Site of Cow Cross on 1896 map

Not far from the long lost Fag Well could once be seen this old stone monument.  Although not illustrated on the first Ordnance Survey maps of the inner city, it is highlighted on the 1896 edition (as shown here), just where Cow Cross Street meets Charterhouse Street—right by the boundary line—and is marked as ‘Site of Cow Cross’.

The cross gained its named from the cattle market that was held here from very early times, on the boundary of the lands of the Knights Hospitallers in the 12th century.  Cattle itself–both horses and cows—were actually slaughtered at the market by the cross: a practice that has thankfully stopped (in public at least).  Despite the place-name being referenced in many early accounts, actual descriptions of the cross are few and far between due to it being destroyed at quite an early date.  When John Stow came to write his history of London in 1603, he told that it was no longer standing.  Whether the cross replaced an earlier standing stone, we simply do not know…

References:

  1. Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, Allen & Stenton, F.M., The Place-Names of Middlesex, Cambridge University Press 1942.
  2. Temple, Phillip (ed.), Survey of London – volume 46, LCC: London 2008.
  3. Vallance, Aymer, Old Crosses and Lychgates, Batsford: London 1920.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Cow Cross

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Cow Cross 51.519838, -0.101834 Cow Cross

Water End Maypole, North Mymms, Hatfield, Hertfordshire

Maypole (removed):  OS Grid Reference – TL 2296 0410

Getting Here

On the east side of Warrengate Road, approached from Welham Green via Dixons Hill Road, or from Brookmans Park via Bradmore Lane.

Archaeology & History

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A 1920 photograph of the Public House. The Maypole was believed to have been in the garden grounds to the rear.

The exact position of the pole is not marked on the 1896 25″ OS map, as it is probable that it had been removed by the middle of the nineteenth century (like the majority of the permanent Hertfordshire maypoles), but local belief in the 1950s and 60s was that it had been in the garden of the Old Maypole (originally known as ‘The Maypole’) public house, which adjoined the smithy in Warrengate Road, Water End.  The public house is stated to have been built around 1520, with later additions, but is now a private house.

The population of Water End and nearby Welham Green was predominantly employed in agriculture, domestic service and straw plaiting, but the area’s proximity to London probably speeded the demise of the ancient traditions like maypole dancing .

Maypole North Mymms

The 1896 OS 25″ map, showing the garden ground to the rear of the public house

Doris Jones-Baker writes: “The old Hertfordshire maypoles, on May Day decorated with ribbons and a bunch of spring flowers at the top, were described as being ‘as high as the mast of a vessel of a hundred tons, painted often in a diagonal or spiral pattern from bottom to top in yellow and black, or often in vertical stripes of red, white and blue’”

Interestingly, the rear of the public house garden adjoins the Swallow Holes, a geological feature where the intermittent flowing waters of the Mimmshall Brook disappear into the chalk in as many as 15 sink holes. Hertfordshire has an ancient tradition of ‘woe-waters’ related to the local geology, where the flowing or not of a stream or spring was seen to herald ‘sorrow to come’. From personal memory the Mimmshall Brook is normally a dry stream bed which can in winter suddenly turn into a raging torrent, flooding the land behind The Old Maypole. Any tradition of it having been a woe-water has though been lost. But it is just possible that long ago the coming of May Day was also seen to herald the end of flooding of the Mimmshall Brook and may explain the siting of the pole.

The last year that people danced is not recorded, but the local maypole tradition continued; this writer remembers ribbon dancing as a very small child to a fiddle accompaniment around a maypole erected at the nearby, but long demolished Waterend C.E. Primary School, which closed in 1960.

Folklore

As well as Maypole dancing, Hertfordshire had a rich tradition of May day ritual and song, which despite the county’s proximity to London, survived long enough for some of it to be recorded for posterity. While there does not seem to be any ritual recorded for North Mymms, the following was recorded at nearby Hatfield. “On may morning, dressed in white and holding bunches of Hawthorn or, in late seasons, blackthorn blossoms the children sang door to door a local version of the May song, which began:

‘A bunch of May I bring unto you
And at your door I stand,
Come pull out your purse,
You’ll be none the worse
And give the poor Mayers some money….’”

References:

  1. North Mymms Local History Society, North Mymms Pictures From The Past, Welham Green, 2002
  2. Jones-Baker, Doris, The Folklore of Hertfordshire, B.T.Batsford, London, 1977
  3.  Kingsford, Peter, North Mymms People in Victorian Times, Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire, Privately Published, 1986

© Paul T. Hornby 2016 The Northern Antiquarian 

North Mymms maypole

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North Mymms maypole 51.722200, -0.221181 North Mymms maypole

Gomersal Maypole, West Yorkshire

Maypole (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 2068 2672

Archaeology & History

As in countless villages and towns across the British Isles, Gomersal also once had its maypole near or at the village centre.  We don’t know when the first maypole was erected in the village and many local sites were openly destroyed by rampant christian puritans and similar idiots.  It stood not far from the Moor Lane Well and was described by the regional historian H.A. Cadman (1930), who told:

“The Maypole was at the top of Moor Lane and one can imagine the welkin echoing to the very old song:

‘Come lasses and lads take leave of your dads
And away to the maypole hie.
For every fair has a sweetheart there
And the fiddlers standing by.
For Willy shall dance with Jane
And Johnny has got his Joan.
To trip it, trip it, trip it, trip it,
Trip it up and down.’

Yet as with maypoles up and down the land, testosterone-fuelled Springtime fall-outs happened.  Mr Cadman told:

“Very often May Day gatherings ended up with fights.  Great jealousy always existed between the inhabitants of Great Gomersal, Little Gomersal and Spen.  There is a tradition which has been handed down that the last Maypole in this district stood on Liversedge Green.  This Maypole was demolished in a fight by the Gomersalians and there is a similar tradition about the Maypole on Cleckheaton Green, so as Mr Frank Peel says, “It is evident that ancient inhabitants of Gomersal were more pugnacious than their neighbours.”  I have no evidence when the Gomersal Maypole ceased to exist, but there is abundant evidence to prove that there was one in Gomersal, the proof being that the vane is now in Batley Museum.  It is in the form of a fish.”

If anyone has any further information on this important relic, or its history, please let us know.

References:

  1. Cadman, H. Ashwell, Gomersal, Past and Present, Hunters Armley: Leeds 1930.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Gomersal maypole

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Gomersal maypole 53.736462, -1.687978 Gomersal maypole

Strand Maypole, Westminster, London, Middlesex

Maypole (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 3073 8092

Archaeology & History

This huge traditional monument was once a sight to behold!  It stood close to where an ancient stone ‘cross’ once lived.  But—alas!, with the intrusion of the incoming christians bringing a profane ‘religion’ that belongs to countries far from here, its destruction was imposed.  They destroyed so many of our ancient monuments with their hatred and ignorance… But thankfully we have some good accounts of this long-forgotten relic of London’s real history.

In A.R. Wright’s (1938) account of it, he called this “the most famous maypole in England” and it stood taller than even the great maypole that’s still raised at Barwick-in-Elmet, in Yorkshire.

There seems to have been three maypoles on this same site – the first of which was standing before the destruction of Strand’s ancient cross, where local jurisdictions and early village meetings took place.  We don’t know the date when the first maypole was erected, but it was shown on a local plan of the area “which Anthony van den Wyngaerde issued in 1543…in front of the old church of St. Mary le Strand, which was demolished in 1549.”   According to Mr Hone (1826), it could be found a door or two westward beyond “where Catherine Street descends into the Strand.”

In Edward Walford’s (1878) massive tome, he gave us perhaps the best and most extensive account of the site, telling:

“The Maypole, to which we have already referred as formerly standing on the site of the church of St. Mary-le-Strand, was called by the Puritans one of the “last remnants of vile heathenism, round which people in holiday times used to dance, quite ignorant of its original intent and meaning.” Each May morning, as our readers are doubtless aware, it was customary to deck these poles with wreaths of flowers, round which the people danced pretty nearly the whole day.  A severe blow was given to these merry-makings by the Puritans, and in 1644 a Parliamentary ordinance swept them all away, including this very famous one, which, according to old Stow, stood 100 feet high.

On the Restoration, however, a new and loftier one was set up amid much ceremony and rejoicing. From a tract printed at the time, entitled The Citie’s Loyaltie Displayed,’ we learn that this Maypole was 134 feet high, and was erected upon the cost of the parishioners there adjacent, and the gracious consent of his sacred Majesty, with the illustrious Prince the Duke of York:

“This tree was a most choice and remarkable piece; ’twas made below bridge and brought in two parts up to Scotland Yard, near the king’s palace, and from thence it was conveyed, April 14, 1661, to the Strand, to be erected. It was brought with a streamer flourishing before it, drums beating all the way, and other sorts of musick.  It was supposed to be so long that landsmen could not possibly raise it.  Prince James, Duke of York, Lord High Admiral of England, commanded twelve seamen off aboard ship to come and officiate the business; whereupon they came, and brought their cables, pullies, and other tackling, and six great anchors. After these were brought three crowns, borne by three men bareheaded, and a streamer displaying all the way before them, drums beating and other musick playing, numerous multitudes of people thronging the streets, with great shouts and acclamations, all day long. The Maypole then being joined together and looped about with bands of iron, the crown and cane, with the king’s arms richly gilded, was placed on the head of it; a large hoop, like a balcony, was about the middle of it.  Then, amid sounds of trumpets and drums, and loud cheerings, and the shouts of the people, the Maypole, ‘far more glorious, bigger, and higher than ever any one that stood before it,’ was raised upright, which highly did please the Merrie Monarch and the illustrious Prince, Duke of York; and the little children did much rejoice, and ancient people did clap their hands, saying golden days began to appear.”

A party of morris-dancers now came forward, “finely decked with purple scarfs, in their half-shirts, with a tabor and a pipe, the ancient music, and danced round about the Maypole.”

The setting up of this Maypole is said to have been the deed of a blacksmith, John Clarges, who lived hard by, and whose daughter Anne had been so fortunate in her matrimonial career as to secure for her husband no less a celebrated person than General Monk, Duke of Albemarle, in the reign of Charles II., when courtiers and princes did not always look to the highest rank for their wives.

…Newcastle Street, at the north-east corner of the church of St. Mary-le-Strand, was formerly called Maypole Alley, but early in the last century was changed to its present name, after John Holles, Duke of Newcastle, the then owner of the property, and the name has been transferred to another place not far off. At the junction of Drury Lane and Wych Street, on the north side, close to the Olympic Theatre, is a narrow court, which is now known as Maypole Alley, near which stood the forge of John Clarges, the blacksmith, alluded to above as having set up the Maypole at the time of the Restoration.

As all earthly glories are doomed in time to fade, so this gaily-bedecked Maypole, after standing for upwards of fifty years, had become so decayed in the ground, that it was deemed necessary to replace it by a new one.  Accordingly, it was removed in 1713, and a new one erected in its place a little further to the west, nearly opposite to Somerset House, where now stands a drinking fountain.  It was set up on the 4th of July in that year, with great joy and festivity, but it was destined to be short-lived. When this latter Maypole was taken down in its turn, Sir Isaac Newton, who lived near Leicester Fields, bought it from the parishioners, and sent it as a present to his friend, the Rev. Mr. Pound, at Wanstead in Essex, who obtained leave from his squire, Lord Castlemaine, to erect it in Wanstead Park, for the support of what then was the largest telescope in Europe, being 125 feet in length.  It was constructed by Huygens, and presented by him to the Royal Society, of which he was a member. It had not long stood in the park, when one morning some amusing verses were found affixed to the Maypole, alluding to its change of position and employment. They are given by Pennant as follows:

“Once I adorned the Strand,
But now have found
My way to Pound
On Baron Newton’s land;
Where my aspiring head aloft is reared,
T’ observe the motions of th’ ethereal Lord.
Here sometimes raised a machine by my side,
Through which is seen the sparkling milky tide;
Here oft I’m scented with a balmy dew,
A pleasant blessing which the Strand ne’er knew.
There stood I only to receive abuse,
But here converted to a nobler use;
So that with me all passengers will say,
‘I’m better far than when the Pole of May.'”

Along with the Strand Cross, this old maypole would have been on the ancient ley (not one of those ‘energy lines’ invented by New Age fantasists) that was first described first by Alfred Watkins (1925)—running from St. Martins-in-the-Field to St. Dunstan’s in Fleet Street. The alignment and maypole was subsequently described in greater detail in Devereux & Thomson’s (1979) work on the same subject, and again by Chris Street. (2010)

The nature of the maypole (and the nearby cross, it has to be said), may have been representative of an omphalos in early popular culture (before the christians of course)—which would put the original ritual function of the place far far earlier than is generally considered.  This is something that Laurence Gomme (1912) propounded in one of his London works and cannot be discounted.

References:

  1. Allen, Thomas, The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark – volume 4, Cowie & Strange: London 1829.
  2. Devereux, Paul & Thomson, Ian, The Ley Hunter’s Companion, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.
  3. Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Sheed & Ward: London 1958.
  4. Gomme, Laurence, The Making of London, Clarendon: Oxford 1912.
  5. Hone, William, The Every-Day Book – volume 1, William Tegg: London 1826.
  6. Street, Christopher E., London’s Ley Lines, Earthstars: London 2010.
  7. Walford, Edward, Old and New London – volume 3, Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
  8. Watkins, Alfred, The Old Straight Track, Methuen: London 1925.
  9. Wright, A.R., British Calendar Customs: England – volume 2, Folklore Society: London 1938.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

Strand Maypole

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Strand Maypole 51.511998, -0.117451 Strand Maypole

Maypole, Hemswell, Lincolnshire

Maypole: OS Grid Reference – SK 92954 90947

Historic photo from Church Street
Historic photo from Church Street

Also Known as:

  1. English Heritage ID: 196736

Getting Here

In Hemswell Village at the junction of Church Street and Maypole Street.

History & Archeaology

According to a 2010 report in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, the Hemswell villagers,

“claim to be the hosts to one of the oldest maypole celebrations in the world, dating back to at least 1660”.

The then clerk to the parish council, Dianne Millward is quoted as saying:

“Hemswell is widely regarded in historical circles as having one of the oldest if not the oldest celebrations for May Day. We have pictures of the pole being prepared for the big day in the very early 1900s.”

Hemswell maypole on 1906 map

This writer has not yet been able to independently verify these claims.

May Day is still celebrated in the village with dancing around the maypole and an accompanying fete. Recent online photographs show that it is now only children, in ‘historic’ fancy dress who ribbon-dance around the Pole.

© Paul T. Hornby 2016 The Northern Antiquarian

Hemswell maypole

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Hemswell maypole 53.407173, -0.603181 Hemswell maypole

The Maypole, Alconbury, Huntingdonshire

Maypole (removed):  OS Reference Number TL 18554 75972

Getting Here

Maypole Square, outlined in red on the 1901 OS map
Maypole Square, outlined in red on the 1901 OS map

Maypole Square forms the junction of High Street, Church Way and Chapel Street in the centre of the village.

Archaeology & History

The Alconbury Maypole had passed out of living memory by 1942, but was historically attested by the ‘Maypole Square’ in the centre of the village.

Folklore

C.F. Tebbutt wrote in 1950:

“At Alconbury, it is remembered that about 1890 an old soldier, who lived in the corner house (east end) of the row of cottages facing Maypole Square, used to dig holes in the road opposite the row and set up May bushes there on May day”.

References:

  1. C.F.Tebbutt, “Huntingdonshire Folk and their Folklore”, in Transactions of the Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society, Volume VI, part V, 1942.
  2. C.F.Tebbutt, “Huntingdonshire Folk and their Folklore II”, in Transactions of the Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society, Volume VII, part III, 1950.

© Paul T. Hornby 2016 The Northern Antiquarian

Alconbury Mapypole

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Alconbury Mapypole 52.368982, -0.260151 Alconbury Maypole

The Maypole Tree, Little Paxton, Huntingdonshire

Maypole & Ritual Tree (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference TL 18831 62757

Getting Here

Imposing trunk of The Maypole Tree, right background
Imposing trunk of The Maypole Tree, right background

The road layout of the village has changed since the destruction of the Tree, but its approximate position was on the north side of the present High Street, at the junction with the east side of St James’ Road.

Archaeology & History

The Little Paxton Maypole Tree was a very late survival of a tradition where Mayday revellers danced around an actual tree rather than a symbolic tree in the form of a maypole.  It was described as “a tall straight elm tree” that stood in front of what was then the village Post Office, and from what may be the only surviving photograph, it appears that only the very substantial trunk survived of what was clearly a very old tree.

The 1887 6" OS Map, showing the Maypole Tree outlined in red
The 1887 6″ OS Map, showing the Maypole Tree outlined in red

A Miss Ethel Ladds, who had been born in Little Paxton, recalled in the early 1940s:

I remember the old tree very well, it was always called ‘the Maypole’, but I don’t know any more about it, except that they used to dance round it“.

The St Neots Advertiser recorded that the Maypole Tree was blown down in a great gale on 24th March 1895.

Folklore

While this writer has been unable to find direct folklore relating to the Little Paxton Maypole Tree, it may be worth remarking that botanically the Elm tree is a cousin of the Stinging Nettle, the Hop and Cannabis.  Another Elm Tree used for May revels was the Tubney Elm, near Fyfield in Berkshire and recorded by Matthew Arnold, in his ‘Scholar Gipsy’.

References:

  1. C.F. Tebbutt, “Huntingdonshire Folk And Their Folklore”, in Transactions of the Cambridgeshire & Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society, Volume VI, Part V, 1942
  2. C.F. Tebbutt, “Huntingdonshire Folk And Their Folklore”, in Transactions of the Cambridgeshire & Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society, Volume VII, Part III, 1950
  3. Gerald Wilkinson, Epitaph For The Elm, Arrow Books, London, 1979

© Paul T. Hornby 2016 The Northern Antiquarian 

Little Paxton Maypole

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Little Paxton Maypole 52.250192, -0.260697 Little Paxton Maypole

Redmire Maypole, North Yorkshire

Maypole (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 0458 9121

Redmire’s ancient Oak

Archaeology & History

As with many of Britain’s old maypoles, the one at Redmire has long since disappeared and no local in the 20th century appears to have had any memory of it.  However, it was mentioned in Victorian times and described in McGregor’s (1989) fine history work on the village:

“At one time, somewhere on the Green, stood a maypole which was destroyed by lightning.  I never heard the memory of it recalled during my early life, but it is mentioned in their books by both Barker and Bogg.  The remnants of it appear to have been there in 1850 or 1852, as Barker, writing at that time says, ‘A maypole, rare in Yorkshire, stands on the Green.  It was shivered to pieces by the electric fluid, during a thunderstorm, in the summer of 1849.  This poor maypoles catastrophe would have been regarded by the old Puritans as a direct and visible manifestation of the wrath of heaven at such a heathenish practice.’  Redmire, as we know, took pleasure in dancing in the 19th century, and continued to do so, especially after the building of the Town Hall…”

When Edmund Bogg came here at the end of th 19th century, he saw “the base of the ancient maypole…near to, a twisted and ancient oak” whose ancient branches were being held upright by large wooden posts.  This sacred oak itself was said to “still cast its shade over a small spring of water.”  Unfortunately I ‘ve found no more about this lost pagan relic…

References:

  1. Barker, W.G.M.J., The Three Days of Wensleydale, Charles Dolman: London 1854.
  2. Bogg, Edmund, Wensleydale and the Lower Vale of Yore, E. Bogg: Leeds n.d. (c.1900)
  3. McGregor, Isabelle, Redmire – A Patchwork of its History, privately printed: Redmire 1989.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Redmire maypole

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Redmire maypole 54.316459, -1.931099 Redmire maypole