LittleBorough Rush Bearing - Rush-Bearing - Rushbearing - What is It All About?

Manchester Long Millgate RushbearingRush Bearing - Rush-Bearing - Rushbearing: it's a verb, a noun, and a hyphenated hybrid, but essentially, Rush-bearing officially dates back to the 10th Century AD and Pope Gregory: who stated that rushes should be taken to the church to be laid on the floor, for warmth.  This happened on the particular parish churches Saints day.  Like most Christian traditions, it is very probably a hijacked tradition from the indigenous religions of this region.  Nevertheless, it became an annual event in many towns and villages across the North West.  There are hints of Rush Bearing in other regions, but not so much a Rush Cart procession as we have round these parts.

Gentleman's Magazine 1843 part 2 p.572:- 

"At Rochdale in Lancashire, the rushes are laid transversely on the rush-cart, and are cut with sharp knives into the desired form. When the cart is finished, the load of rushes is decorated with carnations and other flowers in various devices, and surmounted by branches of oak, and a person rides on the top. The cart is sometimes drawn by horses, but more frequently by men, to the number of twenty or thirty couple, profusely adorned with ribands and finery. They are generally preceded by men with horse-bells about them, grotesquely jumping from side to side, and jingling the bells. After these is a band of music, and sometimes a set of morris-dancers (but without the ancient appendage of bells), followed by young women bearing garlands. Then comes the rush-banner of silk, tastefully adorned with roses, stars, and tinsels; this is generally from four to five yards broad, by six or eight yards long, having on either side, in the centre, a painting of Britannia, the King's arms, or some other device. The whole procession is flanked by men with long cartwhips, which they keep continually cracking to make a clear path. A spirit of rivalry exists amongst the neighbouring villages, as to which shall produce the best cart and banner, and sometimes a serious fracas takes place between the parties. 

I opened a Cafe facing the square on the day in July 1991 that the Rush Bearing festival was revived, apart from it being manically busy, it intrigued and fascinated me on many levels.  It was the idea of Rochdale Morris and Littleborough Action Group to revive the festival, and as little township, it has become an integral part of the events calendar.  Each one has a sightly different feel, and there's been many different types of performance, but the core is, and will always be "Morris".

There's a lot to be proud of with our Rush Bearing festival, not only the aesthetic beauty of this village and it's surrounding waterways, moorland, and industrial heritage, oh, and a village centre with more than it's fair share of good pubs, but the local community coming together and dressing the cart, and enjoying themselves in general together in the village: which is what I guess most festivals are really for.

Rochdale North West Morris Dancer At Littleborough RushbearingSadly, the born again Rush Carters, Rochdale Morris, disbanded in about 2012, so Littleborough are currently cultivating their own Rush Carters, and hopefully, they will be playing a major role in the upcoming Rush Bearing 2014.  Obviously, this site and it's contributors are heavily involved in making this happen, and are hoping not just to cobble together a side for this year, but to create a long lasting legacy of traditional music and dance in this region.  As it stands our group has good attendance with dancers ranging between seven and seventy years old, and growing every week.  We're a mixed side, in every sense, and are very optimistic about the future of English Folk music and dance in Littleborough.

It's a good time to talk more about the provenance of Rush Bearing, being as I've just been heralding it's future.  Apparently, there has been a huge percentage of North West Morris lost forever: because it was never recorded, notated, or passed down.  However, organisations like the EFDSS, and The Morris Ring, to name but a few, do fantastic work in documenting and making sure no more is lost.  Recent(ish) history was also lucky to have Cecil Sharpe, who knew that English traditions needed documenting and preserving.  I love this extract from The Morris Ring regarding how in Rochdale women pulled the Rush Cart...

Women pulling Rushcarts in Rochdale

One of the very few references to women pulling rushcarts: in the 1618, King James's 'Book of Sports' there is the statement: May games, 

Rushbearing At Uppermill In 1880

Whitsun ales, Morris dances and the setting up of Maypoles and other sports, ... so that the game may be had in due and convenient time without impediment or neglect of 

divine service, and that the women shall have leave to carry rushes to church for the decorating of it. However by the 1800's rushcarts had supplanted the women's role. Men generally built up the rushcarts, and men usually pulled the carts - with one or two exceptions. It is possible that the complete takeover by men of the collection of rushes put an end to the Mayday style frolics. In 1859, however, the Smallbridge Rushcart shocked even the Vicar. As the Rochdale Observer put it, in a piece of calm and uncritical reporting: the Smallbridge cart was "...partly manned by women and girls - 42 females helping to drag the cart". Letters to the newspaper following the event bordered on the hysterical, John Ashworth, who founded the Chapel for the Destitute, wrote: "Those persons labouring for the redemption of mankind must be sick at heart. Never could they have conceived that young girls would be seen drawing rushcarts."

We do have a great heritage in these here parts, and I'm so glad that Rush Bearing has been revived and hope that we secure it's future by encouraging our youth to take up Folk Music and Dance.  If you want to contact us about anything to do with Rush Bearing, please feel free to do so via our contact form.