Maypole & Ritual Tree (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – TL 18831 62757
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.
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.
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’.
- C.F. Tebbutt, “Huntingdonshire Folk And Their Folklore”, in Transactions of the Cambridgeshire & Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society, Volume VI, Part V, 1942
- C.F. Tebbutt, “Huntingdonshire Folk And Their Folklore”, in Transactions of the Cambridgeshire & Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society, Volume VII, Part III, 1950
- Gerald Wilkinson, Epitaph For The Elm, Arrow Books, London, 1979
© Paul T. Hornby 2016 The Northern Antiquarian