Saturday, 24 August 2013

Rushing about.

Today Saddleworth had another of its events that almost equal the fiestas they have in Spain. 

Saddleworth is made up of a collection of villages, in some cases rapidly merging into small towns but still clinging on to their identity. This weekend each village is treated to a session of Morris dancing as the Rushcart is dragged from place to place by the Morris dancers. This may explain why Morris dancing, despite the bells and flowery hats is a male preserve. Here is a link to a website with a video of a previous year when the Rushcart set off from Uppermill, the biggest village of the group. 

No-one seems to know when the tradition actually started. It is supposedly pre-Christian, probably a pagan rite to celebrate a successful harvest and, as usual, was subsumed into Christian mores. The custom of carrying rushes to church grew into a festival in many parts of the country but in the South Pennines, a more elaborate method grew. The rushes were originally taken to church on a sledge but this method gave way to placing the rushes in a cart built up in the shape of a haystack. 

The rushes would be spread on the trodden earth or clay floor of the church, often mixed with fragrant herbs and wild flowers, to insulate the congregation from the cold during the hard winter months. This sounds plausible. 

 The Rushcart grew into a festival which was held on the annual "Wakes" or mill holiday which often coincided with the feast of the saint to whom the local Parish Church is dedicated. Every village or hamlet would build a Rushcart and each would try to out-do the neighbouring villages by building a bigger or more elaborate structure, with the front covered by a sheet decorated with tinsel and artificial flowers and hung with polished copper, brass and silver household items.

The procession was drawn, by hauling on poles or "stangs" fixed to the cart by strong ropes and was accompanied by music. The Uppermill Rushcart became known as the Longwood Thump. 

Rushcarts eventually died out in the early twentieth century. However, in 1975 the Saddleworth Morris men revived the Rushcart tradition and it has become an annual event. 

Tomorrow there will be an afternoon's entertainment with displays of English male traditional dance, musicianship, gurning (face-pulling), clog-stepping, a competition to find the worst singer and weather permitting, a Saddleworth wrestling competition (open to Morris men only). 

Of course, we went along to have a look at what was going on. And here are some photos of today’s goings-on in Delph, our village and one of the prettiest of them all, naturally. 

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