I’ve always thought there was something a bit naff about the English Morris Dancing, all that hanky waving never really did it for me. Maybe its because I am English and I seem to think every other country’s culture is more interesting (and a bit cooler). Anyway, I have to say after going to the Saddleworth Longwood Thump Rushcart Festival in August this year, my mind did a complete about turn.
The event is a revival of an quaint old English tradition hosted by the Saddleworth Morris Men. Morris teams from all over the country come to show off their Morris skills and wave a few sticks, bells (and of course hankies!) in the folk world’s equivalent of a dance off.
The Saddleworth Morris Men were the stars as far as I was concerned. Their fabulous hats, absolutely encrusted with fresh flowers made them stand out from the crowd as they danced and whirled with their bells jangling and their clogs clacking and their faces smiling and laughing. You couldn’t fail but to have a smile on your face too! The cute and quirky Coconutters with their black faces, little red and white stripey skirts and flowery hoops were also highly entertaining.
The highlight of the festival, however, is the Rushcart parade through the streets and round the pubs of Uppermill and Saddleworth in Yorkshire. The thirteen feet high cart with a Morris man perched precariously on top, is hauled on poles in a lively procession accompanied by music and dancing. On the Sunday, the Rushcart is taken to St. Chad’s Church in Uppermill, where it is dismantled and the rushes are mixed with herbs and flowers and spread in the aisles.
The origins of the Rushcart are not entirely known, but the tradition almost certainly dates back to pre-Christian times, with the Church hijacking it at some point for their own purposes; the bringing in of rushes to spread on their old trodden earth or clay floors as a form of flooring for the Winter.
Find out more about the Saddleworth Longwood Thump Rushcart Festival. You can find out where else to see the Saddleworth Morris Men on their Official website. Look out for the Coconutters too on the Coconutters Official website.