Rushbearing is an old English festival in which rushes are collected, carried to the Parish Church and spread upon the floor.
The tradition dates back to the time when buildings had earthen floors and the rushes were used as a form of renewable floor covering for cleanliness and insulation.
The festival was widespread in Britain from the Middle Ages and well established by the time of Shakespeare but had fallen into decline by the beginning of the 19th century, as church floors were flagged with stone. The custom was revived later in the 19th century and again in the early 20th, and is kept alive today as an annual event in a number of towns and villages in the north of England.
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 rush bearing ceremony was documented as at use in the village as early as 1817, and that the cart of rushes was preceded by male and female Morris Dancers, who performed at houses on the way, 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.
Rush bearing 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 the Lymm Rush bearing 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. In early times the rush bearing celebrations involved a full week of activities.
The Lymm rush cart was drawn by grey horses and the Statham cart by blacks.
By the 1890’s the rush bearing at Lymm was very much in decline. There were many complaints about rowdy behaviour and drunkenness, and the local authorities put many restrictions upon the activities in the village itself, particularly at The Cross. Any festivities began to be held on private land away from the village centre.
During this time, the Whitsuntide celebrations became more active, which included church ‘Band of Hope’ processions, which aimed to promote sobriety though was soon as profitable for the local pubs as the event which preceded it.
A much more recent revival of Rushbearing is an altogether more sedate affair. It sees councillors, members of WI and other local groups process, bearing rushes under the leadership of the Town Crier. They are accompanied by Thelwall Morris who add an air of tradition to the event with music and dancing. The group make their way to St Mary's Church for a special service and the presenting of the rushes before returning to the village hall for teas and biscuits. Even this has been under threat as Health and Safety now dictates that a road closure order is needed for the procession.
The exact date of this oleograph, the original of which is held in storage at the Castle Museum in York, is uncertain. It has often been described as painted (artist unknown) in the 1840 but must have been painted later than that as it depicts building that were only built later, possibly in the 1860s.
Putting that to one side it is a magnificent composition showing morris dancers, the gnetry and constables in procession leading the decorated rushcart while villagers look on.
1907 and what must have been one of the last Rushbearing events.
In 1858 it was clearly a grand affair going on over several days.
Many thanks to Geoff Bibby of Thelwall Morris who provided much of the content for this page