Customs revived: Saddleworth rush cart

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The Saddleworth rush cart is a revived event which follows the formula Old custom+Morris men = revived and more the joyous as a result. Despite the rather pointless nature of what it’s about, afterall do churches need rushes (like does Southwell minster need £12 from the Gate to Southwell). In this case of the moving of Saddleworth into Lancashire from Yorkshire was the catalyst in the 1970s for its revival and celebration.

The origin of the custom

Before modern times, the floors of churches were earth based and so rushes were used to keep them clean, to help make churches smell nice and prevent damage to the knees, these needed to be replaced each year, often at great festivals or the patronal saint’s day. Interestingly, despite being associated with saints and ceremony, neither the Reformation nor the Puritans, nor even the boarding of floors, had any effect on the vigour for the custom and it continued to be popular. The pomp of the rushbearing reached its pinnacle in the 19th century when green rushes were pyramidically piled with great effort on a two or four wheeled special cart often secured by flower-woven rush ropes, and topped with oaken boughs with patriotic slogans and often silverware seen as luck for the village. The rush bearing was a great event for the town and such was in some places competitive but in all cases associated with drinking as such the ceremony came to logger heads with the Victorian reformers.

rush revival

In the 1800s, each of the village, Cross, Boothurst, Friezeland, Harrop Dale, Burnedge, Uppermill and Greenfield in the Saddleworth valley had their own carts but now only Saddleworth. As noted Saddleworth was revived in 1974, as a response it is said to the secondment of the region to Lancashire. It is now undertaken in the third weekend of August, often the bank holiday weekend.

Enough Morris men?

if you’ve always had a hankering to see Morris dancers and haven’t yet…this is one you must see. Swaths of Morris are involved, only the Thaxted Meet comes near. At first you think that’s it and then more keep coming..and coming…and coming! This is then carried by the Saddleworth Morris and teams from all over the country being dragged by Morris holding staves attached to a long pole known as the ‘stang’ pulled around the villages, there are over 40 morris men, in front and behind to stop it going backwards! A wet Saturday was the day chosen, and after being slightly pixyled, by a hold up on the M1. Finally, turning up at Uppermill, which is the central location for the region of Saddleworth and thus the ‘home’ of the cart, I was greeted by the rather surreal vision of every pub, bar, shop, indeed every open space and all along the street, Morris. The sound of the cars being augmented by the chiming of bells and somewhere I could hear the sound of sticks hitting each other. Soon travelling along the street I came across the rushcart resting at the Commercial Inn. Here was also the Saddleworth Morris, resplendent in their The rushcart was a wonderful and slightly frightening structure, a towering apex of the rushes surmounted by some tree branches, lined with heath, and affixed to one side was the banner this time celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee and Titanic. The time approached and soon all the Morris men who were supping elsewhere were congregating at the rush cart. Soon the Rushcart was on its way, atop the towering edifice the oldest Morris dancer, this year from Saddleworth. The speed at which this cart journeyed was at times quite considerable and one could image in the days when people would be unfamiliar with juggernauts it could be quite frightening especially as it sways and jostles in response to the action of the Morris men. I followed the cart through three villages and saw it return triumphantly if a little wet to its home at the Commercial Inn. A ladder was thrown to the side of it and the jockey slowly climbed down and the banner was collected up. It’s job done that day. Like the Gate to Southwell it is a joyous celebration of all that is uniquely English about the Morris tradition, and is a bizarre and wondrous custom.

copyright Pixyled publications

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