This weekend, like every first weekend in September, is the annual Rushbearing festival in my adopted home town of Sowerby Bridge. It’s a modern revival of a tradition which originally saw freshly harvested rushes being delivered to churches in the area to cover the floors. Although it died out in the 19th century, it was revived in 1977 to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and 35 years later in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year it is still going.
The modern event takes place over two days – the Saturday and Sunday of the first weekend in September. It involves local men pulling a one (imperial) ton cart around the town to deliver a token rush to each of the town’s churches. The cart also calls at most of the town’s pubs, of which there are a lot – 14 just in the town centre itself. Essentially, this makes the rushbearing a large and very glorified pub crawl, and indeed many of the participants carry a tankard. In fact, there are even several tankards attached to the cart itself.
The same cart is used every year, and this one was built in 1984. A ‘cart maiden’, usually an 18-year-old girl, sits atop the cart and waves at people. Behind the cart is usually a marching brass band and several traditional British dancing groups – usually Morris Dancers, but in various different forms.
Last year we missed the Rushbearing as it was the same weekend as Bingley Music Live, but with the somewhat lacklustre line-up, increased ticket prices, and the need to save money for our forthcoming nuptials, we decided not to go this year, giving us chance to experience a rather different festival closer to home. Although I’m sure the nice weather helped, it was well-attended with many people turning out to line the streets, and patronise the various drinking establishments that the cart called at en route.
Modern-day rushbearing isn’t unique to Sowerby Bridge and it does take place at other northern towns and villages, although these are all in Greater Manchester, Lancashire or Cumbria; Sowerby Bridge is the only Yorkshire town to retain this custom. For a town that is home to yuppie commuters like ourselves, it’s nice to see it keeping in touch with some traditions.