Rushcarts were built in the north of England long before historical records of folk customs began. They were built to cart rushes to cover the floors of churches, giving a sweet smell and bringing warmth to parishioner’s feet during the cold winter months.
The area of ‘Saddleworthshire’ east of Manchester in particular was an area where nearly every hamlet or village built a rushcart and competed with their neighbours for the best and most energetic display.
The events frequently centred on Uppermill where the cart would be hauled up the steep hill to supply St Chads Church Saddleworth. The four wheel cart was replaced by a two wheel cart in the 1760’s and up to two tonnes of rushes would be pulled around the area by men and boys; and on some occasions by horses.
The rushcarts were all carefully built to the same design with the rushes held in position by four iron rods at the corners, bent and tied at the top. The load was topped with a small tree and an elected ‘jockey’ to ride up top. As rushcarting occurred during a holiday period (Saddleworth Wakes), the processions were accompanied by music, singing, dancing and other entertainments. The Uppermill rushcarts traditionally visited Greenfield, Diggle, Dobcross and Delph before finishing at Saddleworth Church.
The custom died out after the Great War but with the help of some ‘Old Timers’ and research by Peter Ashworth the Saddleworth Morris Men built a rushcart on traditional lines in 1975 and have kept the tradition continuing ever since.
IWMM were first invited to join in with the Saddleworth rushcarting in 1996 when Saddleworth MM attended our Ring Meeting in Wantage. Well, it took us 9 years to plan for the event, but in 2005 we finally made it with a team of 14 men.
We had a great time helping to haul the cart around traditional spots in Saddleworth and were blessed with some excellent weather showing the heather clad hills at their finest. We shared accommodation with Kennett MM and had an exceedingly convivial time eating, drinking and singing in the ‘Wagon’ together on both Friday and Saturday nights. We shall all have a lasting memory of the spook who appeared from a dark alley at half past midnight offering us sandwiches as we lurched back to bed. Did that really happen?
The IWMM Team was : Jon Ambidge, Pete Ambidge, Pete Smith, Steve Agnew, Ben Higgs, Jim Birch, Sem Seaborne, Ian Gillingham, Geoff Smith, Graham Hubbard, Martin Foster, and Ben Robinson. Clive Blunt and Ally Hutchinson danced with Kennett.
Other teams attending were :Aldbury, Britannia Coconutters, Dartington, Green Oak, Kennet, North British Rapper, Rose & Castle, Rumford, Thaxted and Woodside.
Icknield Way Morris Men