South, pacific

Bournville Maypole: The Stage is Set

A place of civilisation needs symbols, it needs to have masculine and feminine sides, it needs to be fertile to reproduce. In ancient times the mother earth was worshiped for her bounty, but the patriarchy would fight to have the phallic symbol usurp that as a symbol of fertility. In modern times the penis-like skyscraper thrusts into the air, affirming the planners’, the owners’ robust physically—whether they have it or not. London has the large, the shiny, the spiky: the shard. Birmingham under Mike Whitby planned a similarly feline penis, threateningly about to overcome the matronly Venus of Willendorf -ian form of the Selfridges building.

Luckily it failed, and our symbol remained the understated but cylindrical Rotunda. But what of the Brummies of the past? How did they bring life to the settlement? With a traditional May Pole? We’re not sure, as the one above is a latter, Victorian, revival in the enclosed suburb of Bournville. Where was our symbol?

Our Maypole symbolised Birmingham’s confidence in its sexual prowess, tucked on the edge of the city with King’s Heath the veranda over its toyshop. Low-rise, unsung, decidedly un-phallic by its sheer none existence as a pole: our Maypole must have once been so spectacular as to be destroyed but to still live on the race-memmory of South Birmingham. An area named for fertility trumps any ostentatious symbolism.

William Darague – A History of Birmingham Placenames, seems to disagree however. It says we never had one:

“The May Pole is thought not to have been a pole for dancing round, but to have been a tall pole which stood here to direct travellers. It may have been so called because it was later also used as a maypole, or this may have been a nickname.”

But upon further investigation the area does show signs of folk activity:

Druids Land (Druids Lane) - sign in the Maypole

And following redvelopment work that produced “attractions includ[ing] an Aldi, a Sainsbury’s, a Best Western hotel and various fast food outlets including a KFC” [Wikipedia] there is now, indeed a maypole.

The Maypole at the Maypole

And Birmingham’s phallus can wave jauntily at Worcestershire once again.

Photos: The Maypole at the Maypole, Druids Land CC: Elliott BrownBournville Maypole CC: Pete Ashton

Author: Jon Bounds

14th Most Influential Person in the West Midlands 2008, subsequently not placed. His new book about visiting every seaside pier in England and Wales — Pier Review — has been described as “On the Road meets On the Buses”, it's out now. Jon wrote and directed the first ever piece of drama to be performed on Twitter and founded the famous blog Birmingham: It's Not Shit.