So you haven’t heard of Rushbearing? Well, I don’t blame you as only a few places in the North West of England like Ambleside, Saddleworth and Sowerby Bridge still participate in this old ecclesiastical event. What about some history? It started in Medieval times when churches had earth floors. Covering them up with rushes, reeds and sweet smelling flowers helped to provide insulation as well as give a delicate perfume and stop dirt being trampled everywhere. Every year the rushes would be changed. The day varied but was often associated with the Saints day after which the church was named. Out would go the old and rush bearers would bring in the new, either in bundles or on a rushcart. To enhance the experience of laying them on the floor, the locals would be plied with ale and cake and Morris Dancers and musicians would entertain them as they worked. The church bells would ring out to announce the work in progress and no doubt it was great fun! This tradition lasted for centuries but died out when flagstones were laid. The church of St Chad in Saddleworth, high on the Pennines, previously in Yorkshire but now in Lancashire, was very late in losing its rushes in 1826 but now holds a Rushcart Festival at the end of August each year.
Sowerby Bridge, a close neighbour of Halifax, just 3 miles further up the Calder Valley, staged a Rushbearing Festival in 1977 (black and white photo at the top) to celebrate our Queen’s Silver Jubilee and it was such a success, it has continued every year since, taking place on the first weekend of September. Here you see the Rushbearing procession crossing our beautiful countryside
Rushbearing is now the largest and most prestigious event to take place in Sowerby Bridge and surrounding villages and takes place this year on Saturday September 7th and Sunday September 8th. The highlight is a procession of people accompanied by a 16ft high 2 wheeled rushcart which has been lovingly thatched and decorated over the previous 10 days or so. A team of young ladies take turns to ride on it as it is pulled by 60 strong local men dressed in white shirts and black trousers with a Panama hat on their head and wooden clogs on their feet. Accompanied by a multitude of supporters dressed in Edwardian costumes, musicians and teams of Morris Dancers, this is a sight to behold! For details of the full route to be taken and approximate timings, please see www.rushbearing.com but it starts at St John’s Church Warley at 10.15 , then into Warley Town (really a village!) processing past 3 churches in Sowerby Bridge before ending Saturday at The Moorings next to the canal. Sunday starts at St Peter’s Church Sowerby, then visits the aptly named Rushcart Inn and St Mary’s Church down in Sowerby Bridge before heading West to Triangle, finishing at St Bartholomew’s Church in Ripponden.
Come and join in the fun!