Plough Monday


ONE of the less obvious casualties of lockdown will be ‘Plough Monday’ in a couple of days’ time.

It was traditionally held on the first Monday after Twelfth Night to mark the end of the Christmas break for agricultural workers.

In the past, paid agricultural work was scarce in the winter, so ploughmen raised money by dragging a plough decorated with colourful rags and ribbons around the larger houses in their villages, shouting ‘Penny for the ploughboys!’ Those who declined to contribute risked having their gardens ploughed up. So that they could not be identified by possible future employers the participants blacked their faces with soot.

They were often accompanied by musicians, an old woman called ‘the Bessy’ or a boy dressed as such, and by someone acting ‘the Fool’, dressed in animal skins and a tail and carrying a pig’s bladder on the end of a stick.

Some groups paraded a Straw Bear and the event inspired much drinking and merriment.

A festive Plough Pudding was eaten on the day. Originating in Norfolk, this was a suet pastry-topped boiled pudding filled with pork sausage meat, chopped bacon and onions with sage and sugar added. It could be eaten alone, or served with boiled potatoes, vegetables and gravy.

It was common for church ceremonies involving blessing the plough to take place either on Plough Monday or the Sunday immediately before.

Plough Monday has been noted since the 15th century, and has continued or been revived in many places, mostly in the East Midlands and East Anglia. These days it is usually a parade through the village accompanied by Molly Dancers, a variant of Morris Dancers. Faces are still blacked up but for how much longer is anyone’s guess.

Here is a parade from Ramsey in Cambridgeshire.

This is a performance by the Ouse Washes Molly Dancers of a dance called ‘The Strange’.


In the last Notes from the sticks on December 19, I said smugly that we had had no snow or frost in Lancashire. Someone up there must have been listening, because the temperature has barely scraped above freezing since. The cows are all indoors now but it is hard not to feel sorry for the sheep grazing on frozen grass. However snow is a joy for some, including our dog Bingo, who was seeing it for the first time in this short video.

In a previous column I wrote about frost formations. Since then I have learned of an unusual and beautiful type called hair ice. There is a BBC report on it here. Apparently it is to do with a fungus, and this video explains it (it seems to be without sound).

Finally a lovely clip from America.

I’ve never seen it but I live in hope.

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