Lymm Rushbearing

Introduction

George Ormerod, in the 1882 edition of his "History of the County Palatine and City of Chester", writes that the festival of Lymm Wakes featuring the Rushbearing ceremony was at use in the village in 1817, and that the cart of rushes was preceded by male and female Morris Dancers, who performed at each house and were attended by a man in female attire who rang a bell and held out a large wooden ladle to collect donations of money. The dancer in "female attire", known as "Maid Marian" or the "Old Fool" was the leader of the troupe and in charge of the dancers.

Rushbearing in Statham and Lymm took place around the time of the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, which occurred on the 15th August. The formula for Lymm Rushbearing Monday was the first Monday after the second Sunday in August, although the newspaper reports always refer to the Saturday before this as the day when the rushes were processed to the church.

A painting showing a Rushbearing procession at Lymm Cross from about the year 1840 belonged to Squire Trafford of Oughtrington Hall but was in the possession of Robert Oldfield of Lymm in the early 1900's. 


1840 painting of Lymm Rushbearing

The painting was sold by auction as part of the estate of the late Robert Oldfield at Oak Villa Farm Burford Lane, Oughtrington, Lymm, on Thursday December 12th 1918 by John Arnolds, Auctioneers, of Altrincham and although many locals were keen to acquire it, the picture was sold out of the village, and no-one knew the purchaser. 

The picture is described in the auctioneers listings as a 'large Oleograph "Rushbearing at Lymm" in a gilt frame'. (Note: An oleograph is a print in imitation of an oil painting). 

According to the diary notes of folklorist Derek Froome, Donald Adamson, successor to Robert Oldfield had many enquiries about the painting but could not help. In January 1954 Derek Froome met the old clerk of John Arnolds, the auctioneers who remembered the auction, and he subsequently met with Mr. Arnold (son) who endeavoured to find a record of the auction which he also remembered, but all the records were pulped c.1938.

The painting is now in the possession of the Castle Folk-Life Museum in York, but there is no record of when or from whom it was acquired. The museum kindly supplied the photograph.

C. E. Ardern in his 1900 edition of "An Illustrated Guide to Lymm and District" says that "Up to about 1881 a rushcart paraded the streets each Rushbearing drawn by grey horses" and that "Two troups of Morris Dancers paraded the village each Rushbearing Saturday until a few years ago."


1907 Rushbearing Ceremony (from a postcard)

A letter, which contained a description and a drawing of Lymm Rushbearing, sent by Sir Bartle Frere to his very young sister in 1844, was donated to the Cecil Sharp House library by a descendant of Sir Bartle's in the 1940's. The letter was stolen from Cecil Sharp House some time in the 1960's.

Miss M. Dean-Smith, who worked at Cecil Sharp House until the April of 1950, said that at the time the letter was donated, manuscript material was not catalogued, so there is no specific or detailed record of what the letter contained. She suggested that the actual content of the letter could possibly be further clarified by locating papers bequeathed to the Folk Lore Society at this time, or through Dr. E. C. Cawte or Norman Peacock who had access to the papers.

The missing letter has not been located. The editors note on page 101 of the 1951 Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society says of the letter:

"It describes and illustrates in a most lively manner, the Rushcart ceremony as he saw it. The pen and ink drawing shows the cart, the horses mounted by boys, the dancers, preceded by a flag bearer, and leaves to the imagination the Town Band omitted for lack of space."

Rushbearing Reports, 1853-1899

The first mention of the Rushbearing at Lymm in the Warrington Guardian is on Saturday 20th August in 1853, the first year of the newspaper's publication.
The previous Saturday, the 13th, was Rushbearing Saturday. The "very ancient custom" took place, the cart was drawn by "a gallant team of four Greys, the very best horses in the parish" and "The Morris was performed" at The Cross.

The Lymm Rushbearing Festival of 1864 began on Saturday 13th August. The Guardian makes no mention of a cart, procession or dancing, but reports that the Monday and Tuesday were devoted to sports and horse & pony races.

In 1865 there is much detailed reporting of the foot and horse races and their outcome, but there is also mention of the procession and the Rushcart:

The Rushcart procession began at around 10.30am on Saturday August 12th at the Bridgewater Arms, and with its "usual retinue of Morris dancers" went round the streets of Statham and back to the Bridgewater Arms for dinner. The procession then reformed and continued to Broomedge, to The Jolly Thresher, then on down Burford Lane, and back by the way of Rush Green, stopping at "the houses of principal residents" on route.
The procession was led by Lymm Volunteer Band and attended by Mr. Morgan, the High Constable of Lymm.
Mr. Bruce of the Bridgewater Arms and Mr. Joseph Leah of the Spread Eagle are praised for preparing the Rushcart "in first-rate style.

Report of Rushbearing Saturday August 12th 1871 in the Warrington Guardian reads: 

"In former years it was customary to decorate a cart, interlace it with rushes, and having attached four grey horses, perambulate the village. There also accompanied its usual festive attendants, the morris dancers gaily bedizened in many-coloured ribbons and streamers. The leader was attired in a most grotesque costume, and the ringing of a bell attached to his back, combined with the music and dancing of his company, invariably excited the eager attention of the villagers. The rushcart this year, however, did not parade the village, but was visible to sight-seers at Mr. Webbs Eagle Inn."

The rush cart and morris dancers did not make an appearance on August 10th the Rushbearing Saturday of 1872.

In 1873 the Lymm Wakes Week began on Saturday August 9th. The Morris dancers paraded the village in the morning to signal the week, and between one and two o'clock a small rushcart, preceded by Lymm Brass Band, started from "the houses of Mr. W. Mantle" and paraded the village and outlying districts.
This was the first rushcart to be paraded for several years, and was built in the "new parish" of Oughtrington.

The Warrington Guardian of August 17th urges the inhabitants of Lymm to again take a lively interest in the traditional Rushbearing Ceremony if they want the now restored custom to be maintained.

The Rushbearing week of 1877 beginning on Saturday 11th August is not reported, but there is a lengthy account on page 8 in the Warrington Guardian of the 18th of that month, concerning a prosecution case of stallholders illegally pitching stalls on the public highway in Lymm on the 11th.
One of the stallholders concerned in the matter attempted to plead that this was a special case as it was Rushbearing Saturday.

The Rushbearing week in 1878 began on Saturday 10th August, and early on that morning two troups of morris dancers performed at most houses in the village, despite torrential rain. Rushes are no longer carried to the church, so drawing the empty rushcart in procession is now merely commemorative.

On the Sunday there was the traditional open air service by the "Primitives" and on the Monday afternoon there was the customary procession of Druids accompanied by a brass band. Competitions and races were held on the Monday and Tuesday, and day trips were made to Liverpool by the Oddfellows, to Frodsham by the Primitives on the Monday, and to New Brighton by the Congregationalists on the Tuesday.

"Lymm Rushbearing and Athletic Sports" began on Saturday 9th August in 1879. The procession assembled in front of the Spread Eagle shortly before midday and at least one photograph was taken, before moving off led by the Morris Dancers and Lymm Volunteer Band. Mr. G. Hall of Oak Lee was "instrumental in reviving the custom which has been discontinued for several years." The cart with neatly arranged rushes was pulled by a "gaily caperisoned" horse. the procession visited Mr. Hall's house - Oak Lee - where at least one more photograph was taken.

The 1881 Warrington Guardian Newspaper has no mention of the Rushbearing, although there are articles reporting that the Lymm Fustian Cutters Society had negotiated successfully with the Manchester Ship Canal Company to provide Navvy work for a small group of unemployed fustian cutters, and initially to allow for their inexperience at the work.

In 1882, the cart, supplied by Mr. William Owen of the Jolly Thresher Inn, began at the Jolly Thresher at 7 am on Saturday August 12th and was paraded around Statham, Oughtrington and the surrounding district, returning to the Jolly Thresher at around 7 pm. There was no organised procession although hundreds of people joined in en route. The cart was accompanied by Lymm Brass Band, but there is no report of any morris dancers. No rushes were carried.

There was much complaint from the shopkeepers of Lymm concerning the disturbances of the 1882 Wakes Week affecting their businesses. Many residents in the village centre not being able to retire to bed until 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. As a result of this the Lymm Local Board took the step of banning the wakes activities and stall-holders from the public highway, and in 1883 a separate field was hired for the activities.

A letter appears in the Warrington Guardian of Wednesday 15th August 1883 complaining at the Lymm Local Board's "attempts to suppress Wakes Week" claiming that the action showed a lack of support on the part of the local gentry for the provision of recreation for the working class, and on Saturday 18th August a further letter appears in response in defence of the Board's decision.

The report of the Lymm Rushbearing of Saturday August 8th 1885 has no mention of the procession or a Rushcart. The fair ground rides were erected in a field belonging to John Leigh and not at the Cross, although some stall holders arriving late did occupy the area around the Cross, although this was now in contravention of the local bye-laws.

On Saturday August 13th 1887 two bands of gaily dressed morris dancers, the leaders both dressed as women, turned out and in place of a "rushcart drawn by several donkeys" a wagon filled with neatly cut rushes and decorated with flowers was "drawn about by a number of boys". The fair ground stalls were set up in a field "near the gas works".

On the same day an "attack on Lymm" was staged by the Salvation Army against "the evils which were assumed to be great at this time." The Salvation Army Brass Band was prominent and the excesses of the day were condemned.

In 1888, Whit Monday and Whit Saturday 21st and 26th May are mentioned as bringing hundreds of visitors to Lymm (5000 people on the Saturday by train alone!). There is no mention of a May Queen or a procession. There is no reference to Rushbearing in the August editions.

In The Warrington Guardian of Saturday June 29th 1889 it is reported that "The Recent Temperance Demonstration" of the Lymm and Oughtrington Band of Hope was a success, 4 being left to carry over to next year after all expenses had been paid.

The Bank Holiday Monday 5th August in 1889 was very quiet. All businesses were closed and many had left the village to visit relatives or to enjoy cheap trips to the seaside. The cheap train excursions to the seaside are one of the main reasons for the continued decline of the Rushbearing Festivities.

On the morning of Saturday 10th August the troupes of Morris Dancers danced throughout the village, but there was no rushcart, and there was "not even a solitary show to cause excitement." There was a choice of a ride on a swing or a ride on a horse, and there were a few sweetmeat and Aunt Sally stalls.
Formerly the rushes were taken to the church for a service and then "the majority of the men got drunk."

In past years a cart, although without rushes, has processed the village pulled by well-groomed horses, but now even this has been discontinued.

The report in the Warrington Guardian of Saturday 17th August 1889 sounds almost apologetic rather than boastful - 

"Throughout the week, during the Rushbearing festivities, there has not been a single case of misconduct or drunkenness reported to the police."

Perhaps this is another factor in the decline of the ceremonies!

On Whit-Monday May 26th 1890 hundreds of people visited Lymm, and special trains were laid on to take Lymm residents to "Manchester, Belle Vue, Liverpool etc." The Ancient Order of Druids paraded the village on the Monday "as is customary", and on the Whit-Wednesday, Lymm and Oughtrington United Bands of Hope held the walk of witness through the village for the second year running, and the "Band of Hope Queen", Miss Carrie Pickton, was crowned. 

There were Maypole dancers but no morris dancers are mentioned in the procession. Photographs were taken by Mr. T. Birtles of Warrington.

In 1891 the Lymm and Oughtrington United Bands of Hope processed on the Whit-Thursday May 21st. Miss Maggie Gibbon was crowned May Queen and a grandstand had been erected for the ceremony. Much dancing took place including Tambourine dances and the Royal Maypole Dance, but again no morris dancing is mentioned.

Thursday June 9th 1892 was the fourth year of the Band of Hope demonstration and from this date on the procession took place annually on Whit-Thursday.

The Rushbearing is mentioned as being well in decline as the "traditional day" is now simply observed by the provision of an organised fun fair for the youngsters. 

As the August Rushbearing declined during the 1880's, the Whit week celebrations grew. The 1893 Whit Thursday Band of Hope Festival was postponed until 1894. Many visitors to Lymm were still expected as the cancellation had not been widely publicised, and between four and five thousand came to Lymm on the Thursday alone.

Monday 14th August was the start of Rushbearing week in 1893, and the following report from the Warrington Guardian is worthy of quotation in full:

"On Monday the village had quite a deserted aspect. Most of the principal shops and places of business were closed, and the greater portion of the villagers went to Scarborough with the excursion. There is little doubt that, like other such customs, Rushbearing is becoming a thing of the past at Lymm. At one time the ceremony was conducted on a large scale, and a deal of interest taken in it, not only by the villagers, but by all residents in the district. Gradually, however, the ceremony became each year less impressive, until at the present time it has been put back to the preceding Saturday, so that it might not interfere with the annual trip that takes place on Rushbearing Monday. Even as it is there is very little left of the old custom, and the actual ceremony of Rushbearing is now conspicuous by its absence. 
The modern version is as follows: between twenty and thirty villagers rise in the small hours of Saturday morning, and having donned fancy costumes, they divide into three parties and proceed into the village, each from a different direction. A kind of morris dance, very pretty in its effect, is executed by each party, and assistance is expected at each house the dancers stop at. At nine o'clock the proceedings come to a close, and the morris dancers divide the cash and depart to enjoy themselves for the remainder of the day. 
Such was the ceremony which took place on Saturday, (12th August 1893) and a stranger would certainly have found it difficult to see the connection between it and the old custom. Collin's fancy fair occupied one of the large fields outside the village, and was well patronized by young and old alike."

On Whit Thursday 28th May 1894 the United Bands of Hope of Lymm and Oughtrington held the walk of witness, and the "Crowning of the Queen took place in a field lent by Dr. Fox" at 3pm.

The Rushbearing week was from Monday 13th August onwards, and most of the tradesmen left Lymm for the week. A fair was held in "Mr. John Lee's field", and in spite of poor weather was popular with visitors "mostly of the juvenile class."

In 1895 the Bands of Hope festival was on Whit Thursday 6th June, the Queen was Florence Brearley, and as well as the Royal Maypole Dancers, there were Morris Dancers and Skipping Rope Dancers.

1896 saw the seventh Band of Hope Festival on Whit Thursday May 28th. The procession was from Lymm Cross at 1.30pm, and the crowning of the queen was "as usual" in Mrs. Fox's field "near Lymm Bridge". Morris Dancers again took part in the procession and in the displays on the field.
The Morris Dancers were:
P. Maher, W. Sutton, W. Jackson, J. Ogden, J. Wilson, W. Holt, F. Daniels, H. Ogden, J. Booth, S. Yates, and W. Philips.

On Rushbearing Monday - August 10th 1896, the annual excursion was to Blackpool, and as reported in the 1893 Warrington Guardian, what was left of the Rushbearing custom was moved to the Saturday 8th August:

"Lymm Rushbearing dies a very hard death. For many years the celebrations connected with the festival have dwindled away until at least but for the morris dancers and the few shows and roundabouts that visit the place one would hardly know that the Rushbearing time is at hand. The former ceremony of decorating the rush cart and marching in procession to the Parish Church to hold service and strew the aisles with new rushes has been abandoned. Three troupes of morris dancers paraded the village on Saturday, but the dancers seemed to lack "go" compared with the wild caperings of former years."

In 1897 Whit Thursday was on 10th June. The chairman and Treasurer of the Bands of Hope Committee, Mr. Dodds, has bowed out this year, but the procession went on as usual. The Queen was Miss Diamond, and the celebrations were again in Mrs. Fox's field.
The Rushbearing Monday trip was again to Blackpool. There were no reports of dancing in the Warrington Guardian.

Whit Thursday was on June 2nd in 1898. Maggie White of Higher Lane was the May Queen, and The Royal Maypole Dancers and Circassian Dancers are mentioned in the Warrington Guardian.

In 1899 Whit Thursday was on the 25th May. The procession was as large as before, although there was only one Band of Hope Church - Lymm Congregational - the others having 'withdrawn'. Miss E. Leah was the May Queen and Royal Maypole and Circassian Dancers are again present.

Rushbearing Saturday August 12th 1899 - "two troups of morris dancers turned out in their gay dress, one from Oughtrington and the other from Lymm, consisting of boys, who, however, danced in lively style, after the manner of their seniors."

The usual shows, shooting galleries and roundabouts were the attractions for the youngsters. The Sunday school outing on Rushbearing Monday 14th August was to Blackpool.

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Text © 2002 Geoff Bibby
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