Goathland Plough Stots, North YorkshireA folk tradition associated for obvious reasons with Plough Monday (the first Monday after Twelfth Night), the Goathland Plough Stots custom was revived in 1922 by retired schoolmaster F.W. Dowson, with the help of the great folklore historian Cecil Sharp .
The original custom was centred on a plough pulled around the village by likely lads interested in a free drink and a bit of a laugh: they were preceded by genteel character the Lord and Lady; and accompanied by Toms, who joked and fooled around, but also engaged in the serious business of soliciting and collecting donations. An old couple Isaac and Betty or Bessy followed the group. Houses which gave had their front step swept by Bessy, inevitably a man dressed as a woman; those which refused might have a furrow ploughed in their garden to advertise their meanness to the rest of the village.
Eventually a sword dance team became part of the occasion, and it is this aspect which now dominates the revived version, which uses nice noisy metal rappers, but sadly has the least folky uniforms you will ever see – faded blue and pink tunics reminiscent of auxiliaries in a private hospital. But the dances are good: six in all, five needing six participants, the last an eight-man job.
Stot, by the way, means bullock, used in earlier times to pull the plough. The plough is still blessed in church before the dancing takes over.
As ever explaining the origins is fraught with difficulty: pagan relic of sacrifice (Isaac’s head symbolically in the centre of the knot of swords in some dances); good day out; fertility rite; Scandinavian import (the old kingdom of Northumbria heavily influenced by invading Vikings )? It doesn’t matter in the end as long as there is some solid link with our past.
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