Mossley 4 of 17

Historical References

The following is extracted from "The Story of Mossley by Alfred Holt" 1926.

"The annual festival of the Rush-bearing was until late years celebrated in Mossley, but the custom has died out today. This festival, partaking of a village wake, is of high antiquity. Pope Gregory IV gave orders that they build themselves huts of the boughs of trees and celebrate the solemnities with religious feastings. A kind of obtuse pyramid of rushes, erected on a cart, is highly ornamented in front, and surmounted by a splendid garland. To the vehicle so laden a number of young men, from thirty to forty, wearing white jackets and ornamented with silver articles, ribands and flowers were harnessed in pairs. A band of music was always in attendance, which struck upon the cart moving on, and thousands of spectators, attracted from a distance of several miles around, hailed with repeated cheers the showy pageant. The procession passed through the town and, on arriving in front of each of the inns a kind of morris dance was performed by the men in harnesses who jingled copper bells, and beat, or rather stamped time with their wooden shoes, the clown, who was dressed in fancy attire, all the while collecting money to refresh the actors in the grotesque exhibition. From the town the procession passed to the neighbouring mansions, where the dance was in later times repeated, and where the performers were presented by the ladies with garlands and money. Till about the early part of the nineteenth century (1800) the rush-bearing usually terminated at the church, and the rushes were spread on the clay floor under the benches used as seats by the congregation, to serve as a winter carpet, while the garlands were hung up in the chancel and over the pews of the families by whom they had been presented. Here they remained till their beauty had faded; but in later times the church was generally the last place thought of in this festival, which degenerated into mere rustic saturnalia." (Baines)

The following is extracted from the diary of Mr. James Kenworthy.

Years ago each little hamlet had its own special cart for the occasion, and great rivalry was often displayed between the rival supporters. The time for the rush-cart was the Wakes Monday and Tuesday. The gathering of the rushes was the work of the enthusiasts, in which all could join, but the building of the rushes into a mass in the cart called for special skill, and several men were well known as "Artists" in this line. When finished it was a solid mass of rushes built in the form of an inverted V; the front of the rushes was covered with a clean cloth with a border; upon this cloth were displayed various articles such as medals, hunting horns, pewters, etc., as a decoration, whilst upon the back was displayed some motto as "It's pluck that does it." During the weeks previous the dancers would undergo tuition from the expert, who acted as the master of the ceremonies in the many intricate movements of the dance. The music was supplied by fifes and drums. The dress was special for the day, and consisted of a white shirt, with velvet knee-breeches, white stockings and well-polished clogs with brass nail embellishments; the headgear was either a straw hat or a "jockey cap". Small jingling bells were fastened with a bunch of coloured ribbons to the side of the breeches at the knees; in the hand was carried a small stick, or a bunch of cord twisted and decorated. The cart was drawn through the streets by means of two ropes and stangs or "waigs" about six to eight feet apart, with two men to each stang; seated upon the top of the erection was some local celebrity. In command of all was "The Whip-cracker." The public-houses generally brewed a special ale for the occasion; people who had left their native village returned for old associations to be renewed; those who lived in the village saw to it that the larder was filled with a good supply of meat and drink. "Wakes beef" was expected to be of the very finest quality, and open house was the rule; if you did not partake of the "cake and ale" of the goodwife you gave great offence. It is on record in the Saddleworth district that a "big fight" took place between the rival hamlets of Uppermill and Delph and Dobcross on one of their annual "rush-bearings."

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