"Penny for the plough boys!"
The first Monday in January after Twelfth Night is Plough Monday. Starting out as a Medieval custom [there are written records from the 1400s], traditionally it was the day the ploughboys returned to work the land in preparation for sowing. Many communities would have shared a plough which was housed in the church and the blessing of it was carried out by the priest at a special Plough Service. This it was hoped would promote a good harvest for the coming year. Some of these services continue to be held today. To leave any plough out in the field was thought to bring bad luck in the form of wolves to your farm.
Having carried out the necessary religious observances, the plough was normally decorated and paraded around the local area by the plough boys for money. At this time any funds raised were given back to the church for the Plough Lights. These were the candles burnt to continue this cycle of good fortune throughout the whole agricultural season. As you might imagine with the coming of the Reformation these archaic practices, with their pagan overtones, were soon abolished.
Despite the banning of Plough Monday it saw a revival in later years albeit in a slightly different form. The Plough Boys or Jacks, Stots or Bullocks as they were also known, continued with the revels. Now though they disguised their faces with soot and collected money from their Plough Parade for their own pocket. Refusal to pay could land you with the threat of having your doorstep pulled up anonymously at nightfall. Money for menaces indeed😈 Thankfully these days the celebrations have taken a rather more benevolent turn and the celebrations often include Morris Dancing [particularly the Molly style] and music. One of the most well known is the Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival http://www.strawbear.org.uk/ Although originally marked all over the country Plough Monday traditions are now mainly confined to East Anglia.
Thank you for that information, I love hearing about traditions and I adore Morris Dancing!ReplyDelete
Thank you for your comment Bridget. I'm lucky enough to be able to take part in some of these traditions, but we don't [to my knowledge] have any Plough Monday opportunities here in West Sussex. ArilxDelete
I'd never heard of plough Monday and now I have read two blogs with just that! Really interesting too. I did know of the blackened faces and the collecting of monies, but had not realised it had stemmed from that :) Live and learn!ReplyDelete
The blackened faces were a big part of the mumming tradition or guising as in disguising aswell as the Border Morris style from the Welsh Marches too.Delete
Well I'm observing the tradition by returning to work today! xReplyDelete
Hope your first day back wasn't too bad! I went back on 27th December.Delete
I like your plough picture better than mine!!ReplyDelete
I liked yours too. I'm not even sure if mine is a plough...I just snapped it in passing on a walk a couple of months ago!Delete
That's really interesting Aril. So many of these traditions were of real necessity in days gone by. Good to see they're being preserved in places.ReplyDelete
I agree. The duality of religion being run alongside folk magic was the norm.Delete