Sword dancing is a particular form of Morris dancing that (as the name suggests) involves the use of swords. Dancers skilfully “weave” patterns by interlocking the swords as they dance and presenting the finished shape to the audience. There are two main types, both of which we saw at Sowerby Bridge - Longsword dancing (from Yorkshire and south Durham), danced with long, rigid metal or wooden swords, and Rapper (from the coal-mining areas of Northumberland and County Durham), danced with short flexible sprung steel swords. I especially enjoyed the young Red Door Rapper team whom Lesley and I watched in Christchurch (and saw again the next day at the Triangle Cricket Club). It was lovely to see their enthusiasm and skill.
See my video of the Ryburn Longsword team at the Church of the Sacred Heart and St Patrick to get an idea of the way the patterns are woven. And I also filmed them later in the day at Christchurch, performing inside the church after the rushes had been presented.
Mummers Plays are traditional folk plays performed by troupes of actors known as mummers or guisers. In them, the central incident is the killing and restoring to life of one of the characters.
The principal characters are a Hero, who has a fight with the Fool, and a quack Doctor. The latter always has a magic potion and the main purpose of the fight between the first two characters is to provide him with a patient to cure – sometimes the hero, sometimes the fool. Most commonly the hero will be St George and his opponent a Turkish Knight – or simply referred to as Slasher. Sometimes the players wear masks or blacken their faces, as do the Bradshaw Mummers we saw at Sowerby Bridge.
These latter are a local group that were formed in the 1970s to play at folk clubs and festivals. Like other groups, they write their own plays which they mix with more traditional ones, but from what I saw they don’t stray too far from the basic elements. They explain the reason for the face-blackening on their website as “echoing the tradition that actors believed themselves cursed by the Devil if they were recognised.”
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Morris dancing is a traditional form of English folk dance. Dancers wear bells and (often) use various implements such as sticks, swords and handkerchiefs to emphasise movements. The name is thought to derive from “Moorish”. It has been performed in England for centuries, but was a largely rural pursuit and therefore faded in popularity after the Industrial Revolution. Around the turn of the 20th century it was “rediscovered” and revived due to the work of Cecil Sharp and other folklore enthusiasts. For much of that century it was considered by purists as an all-male affair (probably wrongly – there is evidence as far back as the 16th century that there were female Morris dancers), and many frowned upon the idea of female or mixed sides. But that attitude has thankfully dwindled and there are now male, female and mixed sides to be found, as we saw at Sowerby Bridge.
The dancers we saw perform at the Sowerby Bridge Rushbearing Festival included:
Sowerby Bridge Morris – originally an all-male side but this year reformed as a mixed group.
Hebden Bridge Hill Millies – an all female team dancing in the Cotswolds tradition
400 Roses – my favourites! These are a unique group of performers who combine UK-style folk dancing with more exotic tribal belly dance moves. When designing their costumes they decided to use an abundance of red and white silk roses appropriate to their Yorkshire & Lancashire origins, hence their name. I loved their flamboyance and obvious enjoyment of what they were doing. Have a look at my video of them at the Chruch of the Sacred Heart & St Patrick, to see what I mean.
The custom of rushbearing dates back for centuries, to the time when church floors (and many others) were covered by rushes which would be gathered from local riverbanks. Over time they became dirty and rotten, and had to be thrown out, usually a year later when new rushes had grown and were available to replace them. These new rushes would be brought to the church on carts, blessed, and spread on the floor, ready for another year of worship.
The bringing of the rushes gradually came to be accompanied by a festival in many towns. At first religious, marked by the ringing of the church bells, later this took on more general elements of celebration. Wine, ale and cakes were provided for the rushbearers, and consumed no doubt with enthusiasm. Mummers performed and people dressed in disguises and paraded through the towns. Unsurprisingly, the festivals often attracted unsavoury characters, such as pedlars, cutpurses and pickpockets, and led to a day of heavy drinking and cavorting. Wikipedia describes the growth of the festivals:
” In the 18th century the ceremony usually formed part of the annual feast or wake, held on the Sunday closest to the feast day of the saint to which the church was dedicated. The rushes were brought to the church in a procession, accompanied by music and Morris dancing. In some areas the rushes were carried in individual bundles and in others on a rushcart. Where a rushcart was used it became the main focus and was decorated with garlands and flowers.”
Gradually though the use of rushes as a floor covering died out, and with it the need to bring rushes to the churches, and the excuse for a festival. However since then some places have revived the custom, of which Sowerby Bridge is one. The town held its first modern Rushbearing in 1977 to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee, and it has since become a major annual event in the town’s calendar. The focal point is the sixteen feet high, two-wheeled, decorated and thatched Rushcart, which is pulled by sixty local men dressed in Panama hats, white shirts, black trousers and clogs (see my short video of the team, pulling the cart down the main street in Sowerby Bridge).
A team of young ladies take turns to ride on top of the cart. They are accompanied by music and five or six teams of Morris dancers. Stops are made to present token rushes at the churches and to dance (and drink!) at pubs en route. At each stop there is a variety of entertainment – not only performances by some of the Morris dance sides but also sword dancers and mummers. I describe some of these traditional entertainments in my following tips.
Sowerby Bridge Rushbearing Festival
Sowerby Bridge's first modern Rushbearing festival began in 1977 to celebrate the Queen's 25 years reign on the throne. Since then it has been held annually during the first weekend in September and many from the local community are involved in the festival.
The focal point is the rushcart which travels through Sowerby Bridge and surrounding villages and is pulled by men traditionally dressed and accompanied by teams of local dancers. A lady rides on top of the cart which is considered an important feature in the celebrations. The rushcart stops at churches and pubs where token rushes are presented and the stops give local community groups, charities and entertainers opportunity to shine.
Rushbearing is a ceremonial taking of rushes to churches for floors to be replenished for the winter. It was mainly a Lancashire tradition but it was suggested this custom was applied across the border into Yorkshire. The custom was developed into a festival during the 17th Century in the North West of English where the rushcart was the main attraction. Local rushbearing with its cart was revived locally from 1865 and extended to local villages and towns in Calderdale.
Source: http://www.rushbearing.com (accessed 09.09.2012)
For more detailed information please click onto the link.
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Norland Scarecrow Festival
We visited the scarecrows in Norland, a village up in the Calderdale hills and near Sowerby Bridge. The festival takes place every year on the first weekend of September. The festival has took place since 2000 and there is a different theme each year where best scarecrows are prized. The theme for 2012 is Olympic and Jubilee celebrations.
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Pork Pie and Mushy Peas
Now, I must admit, that when I heard that our 2010 Halifax VT was going to be 'Pork Pie and Mushy peas' I was a bit puzzled. .......I wasn't aware that this was a local traditional food, where these two foods were combined.
I love Melton Mowbray pork pies (cold) - especially with a pickled onion and chutney , and I like a dollop of mushy peas with my fish and chips, or eaten from a cup with mint sauce, I enjoy a hot meat pie -with short crust pastry, and meat and gravy filling, with Mushy peas, but never Pork Pie and Mushy Peas together!
I wasn't sure if the pie was served cold, with hot mushy peas - but apparently the pie is re-heated! This seems alien to me, as I'm guessing the jelly that sits between the crust and the meat filling melts, and the thought of re-heating Pork seems a bit worrying!
I'm usually eager to try 'new foods' but I still haven't tried this yet- Next time I'm in Calderdale, I will have to (Even if it's just so that I can get another photo - I'm afraid the pic of Ed is the only one that I got of Pork pie and peas, so it's getting repeated a few times)
Apparently the Actress Kate Winslett had Pork Pie and peas at her Wedding! Pork pie 'wedding cakes' are a novelty alternative to the traditional fruit or sponge cake too, with tiers of pork pie instead!
The Home of the Old Bridge Inn Pork Pie Appreciation Society is in Ripponden, where the Rushbearing Route ends. I've since found out that this Society sell Pork Pie and peas here on the Sunday to raise money for the Rushbearing charities. They also hold a competition in March each year for butchers and bakers to produce 'The Best Pork Pie'
Alyf1961 and Welltravelledsequinn from Leeds usually enjoy this dish on Bonfire night.
I'm not sure if this is how they eat theirs -
Bonfire Night Pork Pie and Mushy Peas
Individual good quality Pork Pies
Mushy Peas - Marrow fat peas -either canned/frozen or dry peas soaked overnight then simmered until mushy! (some add bicarbonate of soda and or sugar)
Mint Sauce - ready made or fresh- mint leaves finely chopped with malt vinegar and sugar to taste
Pre-heat oven to 200 C/400f or Gas 6
Heat pies until warmed through
Heat Mushy peas until warmed through
Slice the onion into fine slices, and soak in vinegar
Place hot pie in heated bowl, pour mushy peas over the top of the pie, top with mint sauce and onions to taste- eat with a spoon....
I've still not got around to making my own traditional Hot Water crust Pork pies yet, but this recipe has been taunting me for quite a while -VT pork Pies for 2012?????
UPDATE -Enjoyed my first hot pork pie and mushy peas at 2011 Rushbearing - I enjoyed it, but prefer mine cold without the mushy peas!
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I've written enough about the rushbearing on the main Sowerby Bridge page. You'll already know that you'd want to see it if you were in the area at the right time!
The rushcart itself is a masterpiece of construction. Every year, new rushes are cut from the 'tops' nearby. They must not include any weeds or grass. Then they are bundles, and bound to the wooden frame. More than a thousand bundles are used before the frame is complete.
The frame is lifted onto the cart, and then the cart is decorated. At the top heather is used for dressing the area where the maiden's saddle sits (she has no stirrups, but there are ledges for her feet). The sides and back of the cart are trimmed with horse brasses (once commonly used to decorate carthorse harness) and tankards (their use is obvious!).
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