Maypoles into Ladders

Henry VIII started the Reformation in England, but not a lot changed because he was really only trying to get a divorce to ensure the continuation of the Tudors. Under his son Edward VI a lot of vandalism happened, then Mary returned Catholicism, but under Elizabeth, much more was destroyed. But, as David Cressy writes in Bonfires & Bells:

“The Elizabethan year continued to hold sway in the 17th and 18th centuries. The sun still shone and the earth still turned. The year retained its agrarian rhythm, and was still paced by the secular cycle of law days markets and fairs. Easter and Christmas continued as major religious seasons  and ceremonial occasions. In many places May day was as vital as ever, despite the conversion of some maypoles into parish ladders. But the observance of saints’ days became generally attenuated, with parishioners ignoring all but the most popular feasts.   Seasonal wakes and vigils survived on the margin, still performed on their appointed days, but with diminishing involvement of parish notables. Inhabitants refused to contribute to the cost of activities they did not approve. Some community observances were abandoned; others went indoors, becoming  less rowdy and more select. Open parish feasts were becoming private anniversary dinners, at the same time as public theatres gave way to indoor masques. The classes and cultures of 17th century  England were drawing apart, and the calendar provided periodic occasions to express their divisions.

By way of compensation a new set of national anniversaries emerged as distinctive reference points in the English Protestant year. While not forsaking the sacred calendar of an earlier era the English paid increasing attention to the symbolic anniversaries of their own recent history. Gunpowder treason day and its companions rallied people to a king or a cause in ways comparable to the old religious festivals. Sometimes they were just as controversial.”

This mention of maypoles being converted into ladders reminds me of one of the odder words in Welsh. Their word Ysgol means both school and ladder. This makes sort of sense if you think the first schools were English, at a time that Welsh language and culture were suppressed. Churches were the usual place for storing such things as parish fire engines and ladders, but they were scattered pretty thinly in some parts of Wales, so I am guessing the schools may have been where the ladders were stored, hence the two things were combined into a single meaning. Something similar seems to have happened with the Saxon term crug/church which relates to a place of worship which was often on top of another crug/hill and in the same word-shape.


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