Rushbearing dates back to the middle ages and is a festival where rushes were collected to be strewn out over the floors of churches, back when the floors were just earthen. The tradition died off when church floors started to be flagged by the 19th century, though in some villages and towns it was revived as a folk custom. In Saddleworth the church floor was still being covered in rushes up until 1826.
The Rushcart festival was revived in Saddleworth by the Saddleworth Morris Men in 1975, fifty years after the last Rushcart was built there. Usually 13ft high and weighing 2 tons, the Rushcart is ridden by a ‘Jockey’ (complete with a copper kettle of beer) as it is pulled throughout the villages by roughly 150 Morris Men from around the country who have come to Saddleworth to join the celebration.
Even though I am from a Saddleworth family I only managed to attend my first Rushcart festival on 25 August 2012 and it was amazing. Morris Men from as far afield as Warwickshire, London and Denmark joined the local Saddleworth dancers who wore black bowlers and red and blue sashes. I caught up with the Rushcart in Delph on the first day of the event. To give you an idea of their itinerary I have included the 2012 timetable below.
Saturday 25th August 2012
9:45am: Uppermill Square
10:45am: Greenfield King Bill
12 noon: Uppermill Museum
2:15pm: Delph Garside Street
4:15pm: Dobcross Square
5:30pm: Dobcross Navigation
Sunday 26th August 2012
10am: Rushcart leaves Uppermill Square
11am: Service at St Chad’s
12 noon to 5:30pm: Fun and games around the Church Inn and Cross Keys including a wrestling competition.
Note: Picture shows a Rushcart in Uppermill, Saddleworth dating from 1880.