Saddleworth Rush Cart, LancashireRush bearing, once of practical value and seen throughout all of Britain, is a tradition still held dear in many parts of the North of England, though the way of celebrating the custom varies from place to place – the contrast between the Ambleside procession and the Saddleworth Rush Cart could hardly be greater.
In times past churches had earth floors, and to deaden the sound of feet upon them, make the air smell rather sweeter than it otherwise would, and provide some insulation, these floors were traditionally spread with rushes and dried grasses. The summer, when the rushes were plentiful and dry, was the time for carrying out the task.
When the floors were boarded this practice lost its practical value, but in the North the rush-bearing often coincided with local Wakes Week, when mills and factories had their annual holiday, and thus carried on as part of the summer celebrations. This is the case in Saddleworth, where over a weekend at the end of August a highly distinctive festival takes place, a revival of a custom that ended before WWI, but was re-started in 1975.
Rushes gathered from the moors around the area are bundled together, and stacked on a large cart – there can be anything up to perhaps 1500 of these bundles, the load rising 15 feet into the air. Atop the pile rides a jockey, one of the local Morrismen. In place of horses he has perhaps 100 other Morris dancers pulling the cart, which makes its progress around the several villages in the area – Delph, Dobcross, Greenfield and Uppermill – on the Saturday, and then is taken to St Chad’s in Uppermill on the Sunday.
The festival includes much Morris dancing by local and visiting sides, competitions including wrestling and gurning, and a reasonable amount of drinking to lubricate proceedings.
More British Folk Customs?
3 Responses to Saddleworth Rush Cart
From Richard on 15th August 2013
Saddleworth is in the West Riding of Yorkshire not Lancashire. A common mistake!
From gordon powrie on 26th August 2012
The 'cart of 1971 was a one-off by the local Round Rable, I think in connection with one of the Festivals of the aatrs that they have evry 3 years or so in Saddleworth. The 'cart as it runs today is different, and was the one revived in 1975
From Roger Penniceard on 16th July 2009
Saddleworth Rush Cart procession was taking place earlier than 1975. I have photos from 1970-71.