The Maypole, like thousands of other country pubs, owes its origin to the Beer Act of 1830. This allowed any householder who was a ratepayer to apply for a two-guinea licence to brew and sell beer on the premises, and within eight years of the Act almost 46,000 beer houses were added to the stock of 51,000 licensed premises inspiring, amongst other things, the temperance movement.
The earliest record of the building which was to become the Maypole is the 1839 Tithe Map of Yapton. Tithes were a form of taxation by the church, and had long been a source of acrimony between the church and landowners. In 1836 an act had been passed to regularise the amount and method of taxation, which had sometimes been commuted to a cash payment (when grain prices were low) but was still sometimes levied in kind. (A tithe means a tenth, and some ancient tithe bams survive in which the parson formerly stored his tenth of the agricultural produce of a parish). A consequence of the 1836 Tithe Commutation Act was that a large-scale map which detailed land-use was drawn of each parish, describing each house and plot of land as a basis for revising taxation, and an apportionment was made.
In 1839, the future Maypole was described as house, garden and orchard. The owner was William Start, who had the house itself, an orchard to the north of it where part of the caravan park now lies, a lield to the south, now occupied by Long Acres and The Paddocks bungalows, and a small meadow beyond them, the total area being less than 2½ acres. At the time of the 1841 census William was aged 55 and described his occupation as dairyman. He lived with his wife Ann, also aged 55, his sons George (aged 30) and William (15) and his 6 year old daughter Mary.
During the next few years William had a change of career, since Kelly’s Directory of Sussex for 1845 lists him as a beer retailer. Perhaps he had become too old for agricultural work or simply saw a business opportunity. Although it now forms more or less a cul-de-sac, Maypole Lane was at that time a continuation of Lake Lane and joined with Ford Lane to make a moderately important cross-country route where thirsty travellers could be expected, and William Start's house had the advantage of lying close to a minor road junction, since there was formerly a road called White Pit Lane which extended from Barnham direction and joined Maypole Lane just in front of Long Acres bungalow. A short length survives there as a footpath.
The big event of 1846 in Yapton was the arrival of the railway. The first passenger-carrying railway in Sussex had been opened between Brighton and Shoreham in May 1840, materials having been shipped in through Shoreham harbour. Initially single, the line was doubled and extended to Worthing in 1845, finally reaching Portsmouth in 1847. Perhaps navvies building the line were amongst William Start's first customers and he may have had ambitions to cater for occasional railway passengers since there was at that time a footpath from close by the pub to Railway Cottages on North End Road. Less good for business was the diversion of Lake Lane to run eastwards parallel to the new railway from what is now the pedestrians-only crossing at the end of Maypole Lane.
Five years later William was still in business, the household, according to the 1851 census, consisting of himself, his wife and his son George who worked as a bricklayer and mason. By 1861 the only occupant was his widow Ann, by then aged 75. Yapton Station closed in 1864 with the opening of Barnham and the branch line to Bognor and this cannot have helped trade. In 1871 the May Pole Inn was so named for the first time. The proprietor was by then the younger son of the first William Start, also called William, who described himself as innkeeper and agricultural worker, his wife Eliza, a daughter called Emily and his 5 month old grandson Arthur also being resident. Ten years later, the household comprised Eliza Start, by then a widow, her grandson Arthur, and a 63 year-old lodger who worked as an agricultural labourer.
By 1891 the Maypole had changed hands and was run by Peter Bridger (aged 56), his wife and two grown-up children. In 1899 there was a new landlord, Hugh Hards, and yet another change had occurred by 1907 when James Bulbeck was the innkeeper.
The oldest part of the Maypole building is the present saloon bar. In origin, the house seems to have been a fairly simple and modest design, with a central doorway leading to the stairs, a parlour on one side and a kitchen on the other on the ground floor and two rooms, perhaps sub-divided, above. A map of Sussex in 1778 shows no building on the site, but it may have been built not very much later since it looks from the Tithe Map to have been well established by 1839. It acquired some outbuildings in the course of the 19th century but these have since been demolished. One feature which has survived for over 150 years is the flint wall outside the saloon bar, which appears on all the maps from 1839 to the present day.
The name Maypole remains unexplained. If Yapton ever had a maypole, it would most likely have been somewhere near the core of the village, not in a sparsely inhabited comer of the parish. Perhaps 'May Pole' was adopted by William Start the second because he felt that his ale-house needed a name for reasons of status and he just happened to like it. Trade may not have been good in the 1870s (he described himself as an agricultural labourer as well as an innkeeper on the census return) and he perhaps hoped to attract a better sort of customer (or at least a few more drinkers) by giving the place a 'classy' name. It was certainly an improvement on "Start's beer house".