I had a lovely time yesterday playing with the Littleborough Band at the annual Rushcart Festival. Yes, that’s right, I had a lovely time PLAYING. I thoroughly enjoyed putting my musical head on for an hour or so and exercising my cornet blowing muscles for a change. The music was great fun to play and I enjoyed sitting second man down to an old friend of mine called Steve who I haven’t seen for quite some time. In fact the last time I saw him was a couple of years before I got ill so as well as playing alongside him, it was nice to catch up with him in between pieces too.
But what about the Rushcart bit, I hear you ask.
Well, seeing as though you did ask me, let me tell you what the Rushcart festival is all about.
Traditionally, church floors were covered with rushes to help keep the dust down and to provide some sort of warmth in the winter and they were replaced every twelve months. Most churches would make the annual clear out and re-rushing into some sort of a festival and all the local people would get involved in some way or another. In northern England, particularly Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire, this coincided with the annual Wakes Week which was when the local mill would close down for a week to enable essential repairs and cleaning etc, and the workforce could enjoy a week of leisure time. As they had no work to do for the mill owner, they were available to help out at the church.
The process of recovering the floors was broken down into stages, beginning with the gathering of rushes from the river banks and ponds. The cut rushes were then loaded onto a cart. It was a skilled job to properly load a cart so that the rushes didn’t fall all over the place and it became a very competitive business between neighbouring towns and villages to see who could build theirs the biggest and the highest, or the most elaborate and highly decorated.
The loaded cart was then paraded to the church and lots of activities sprang up around the parade which turned the rushbearing into a festival over the years. As with most traditions, it died out with the advent of modern flooring for one thing and for the changes in mechanisation in the mills meaning that Wakes Weeks also died out. But luckily, there are pockets of people who work hard to keep the tradition alive and one of those groups keep the rushcart festival going in Littleborough on the outskirts of Rochdale.
It is a two-day festival held over the weekend and the band were invited to play on the bandstand in Hare Hill Park to welcome the rushcart as it arrived from the town centre, having been pulled by the local rugby team. There were lots of other things going on yesterday: a Viking re-enactment group, lots of food stalls, local produce, several rings of Morris men dancing as well stalls for children, face-painting and so on. The weather was kind too as the sun shone all day. Ideal festival weather.
Here are some photos of the rushcart and the Vikings in action.