Custom survived: Mollicar Sing

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One minute it was UK null points…and a disappointing result for the Eurovision and the next a whole different musical experience..the Mollicar Sing.

Songs of praise

The origins of the Sing are difficult to find. Group singing in the open is not unique to this small part of Huddersfield, especially at Whitsun, but this would appear to be the oldest and the only one woodland based. Why? The accepted view was that the local choir in 1903 were looking for somewhere peaceful and isolated to practice choose these woods. Were they too noisy? Or did they want to scare the local wildlife? As three locations are chosen over a distance of two miles in the remote wilds behind the urban edifice of Huddersfield, one feels it may be older. The singing in these three prescribed locations is highly suggestive of a rogation activity perhaps. The West Yorkshire Federation of Women’s Institutes recorded in 1996:

“The annual event on Whit Sunday was first held in 1900. It was started by the Zion Chapel, Almondbury, later amalgamated with the Wesleyan church. The work always started at 7.30 am mainly through the Mollicar…with singing of hymns at allotted places through the walks. The woods were there best, with new green folliage and birds in full song. The sing finished about 9am, and in earlier years Mr. and Mrs. Gostridge of Farnley Hey boundary provided the breakfast – ham and eggs for the grown ups and bantam eggs for the children.”

If you go down to the woods today your sure of a big surprise

Given copious notes of the location I thought I wouldn’t get lost…usually one would have associated such instructions for a rave, but this was a more acceptable musical experience, but I did. But in a way that was quite rewarding for I soon found the group’s location by the sound of their voices singing ‘praise ye the Lord’ echoing through the sun soaked woods. Tracing my tracks back I soon discovered the origin of those dulcet sounds in a small field before the woods. They looked a little surprised. I introduced myself. The conductor said Early…no sorry I was late. I’d misheard him he was a Mr. Michael Early…starting at 7.30 a.m on a Sunday morning, a very befitting name for such an antisocial custom you might think..but despite the early morning everyone was very welcoming and full of that Yorkshire vim and vigour other counties can never match it seems! I was given a hymn sheet which included a selection of well known Wesleyan works, some more familiar than others.

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When Whitweek and Late Spring bank holiday coincide may be good for the working folklorist but not for the custom…a lot are on holiday, last year there were around 40 and we’ve even had 100s, I was told, the Sunday I went 15…still they made up for it well, a few joined mid route. They weren’t letting numbers dampen the experience. They sung with all their hearts singing in a gallery fashion at points a mechanism much beloved of the counties carols.

It was interesting to hear that the choir had differing associations, the older ones had only being going a few years it seemed compared to some of the younger ones, two had been all their life it appeared over 60 years attending when babies and every year since which is a remarkable feat.

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Singing from the same hymn sheet

After singing in the outside we moved to the woods walking through broad waves of bright bluebells and the smell of ransoms. In fact in one wood and out into another, the Mollicar, and here in a specific place the group stopped and returned to their repertoire. As the morning I went was a mixture of sunshine and showers it was fortunate we were inside the shelter of the woods when it decided to rain…the sound of the tapping on the leaves creating a sort of polite percussion. When the rain stopped the other sounds of nature become evident. These sounds of the enveloping canopy complimented the chorus..the tweets of nesting birds, the calls of the occasional cuckoo and the wooing of a wood pigeon. Who wouldn’t want to swap the claustrophobic confines of chapel to experience it. Sadly despite one rather bemused dog walker there was little in the way of an audience.

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Song of life

The final singing point affording the group a view which was in the heart of all Huddefieldians..that of Castle HIll. It was shrouded in a glowing mist that morning that gave it an ethereal atmosphere. Here the choir finished off with ‘guide me O thou great Jehovah’ and ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd’ two I felt confident enough to join in with. Finally a short prayer was given and the Doxology was song the event was over…and the group dispersed to various cars and houses doted around. Sadly as Mr Early noted the breakfasts were a much missed thing of the past.

Whatever your religious view…there’s something life affirming and enriching about experiencing all that nature has and singing thanks for it. There would be no null points from me, full marks. I recommend that as next year is the 200th anniversary of the local Almondbury Methodists it would be great to see the numbers swell…

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