Last year, I wrote an extensive post on Plough Monday, which is the first Monday after Epiphany:

The English tradition of Plough Monday

I thought I had covered the waterfront with regard to this ancient festival but found more history about the day that signalled a return to full time agricultural work on the Tuesday.

Ploughing matches

When Plough Monday was widely celebrated, some farmers would have had their ploughs blessed at church on Sunday. Other villages had a communal plough at the church which was blessed annually.

In some areas, ploughing matches took place, which gathered crowds of onlookers. The Cottage at the End of a Lane has an old colour photo of one such contest, likely to have been in Suffolk.

The author points out:

The men who walked 10 miles a day in all weathers back in the day would have smiled to see people nowadays doing it for fun or to keep the memory alive. Most of them welcomed the arrival of tractors.

I bet they did.

Traditional poems

The Cottage at the End of a Lane also has a traditional poem:

Plough deep while sluggards sleep:
and you shall have corn to sell and keep.

Turn out for Plough Monday
Up, fellows now
Buckle the horses 
And Follow the plough. 

Plough Monday started with chores before everyone moved on to festivities. This was to show willingness to work hard in the year ahead. As I mentioned in last year’s post, a kitchen maid was given a cockerel for Shrovetide before Lent. A contest between the maids in the kitchen and the men in the fields took place to see if the maids could keep their cockerels. If one of the men was able to get some of his farming implements by the fireside before the kitchen maid got her kettle on, then she forfeited her cockerel — ‘cocke’ in the poem which follows.

In the 1500s, a gentleman farmer by the name of Thomas Tusser penned these lines, featured on Legendary Dartmoor:

Good huswives, whom God hath enriched ynough,

forget not the feasts that belong to the plough:

The meaning is only to joy and to be glad,

for comfort with labour is fit to be had…

Plough Monday, nest after that twelftide is past,

bids out with the plough, the worst husband is last:

If plowman get hatchet, or whip to the skreene,

maids loseth their cocke, if no water be seen.

Thomas Tusser (1524-1580) was born in Essex, the county to the east of London. He was part of the choir at St Paul’s Cathedral before studying at Eton and going up to King’s College, then to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, for his university education.

He spent ten years serving as a musician for William Paget, 1st Baron Paget of Beaudesart, before marrying and farming in Cattawade, Suffolk, near the River Stour. His first wife was sickly, and he abandoned farming so they could move to Ipswich. After her death, he remarried and resumed farming, with interruptions for illness or escaping the plague of 1572-1573. When he died in London in 1580, he owned a small estate at at Chesterton, Cambridgeshire. According to contemporary accounts, he not only farmed arable land but also raised livestock. He did not make much money and lived frugally.

Tusser wrote many agricultural poems which laid out the best traditional methods of farming and raising livestock, most famously in A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie, first published in 1557. In 1573, he expanded his original work and published Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry.

Tusser most likely saw his fair share of Plough Mondays.

Devon customs

Legendary Dartmoor‘s post, ‘Plough Monday’, reveals a local custom that invokes ‘The Spirit of the Harvest’:

In order to add some extra clout to the devotions to the ‘Spirit of the Harvest’ it was also imperative to plough the ‘neck‘ or ‘corn dolly‘ which was taken from the previous harvest into the first furrow ploughed either on or just after Plough Monday. To do this would ensure a good harvest but to fail to observe this tradition was to invite ‘tare and rook’ to decimate the growing crop.

Another is more modern:

I don’t know if it was just a family thing but I can remember uncle always sprinkled a, “drap o’ firejuice,” on the plough shares before the first furrow was cut. It must have been a pretty serious belief because it was unheard of for any relation of old ‘John Barleycorn’ to go anywhere but down his throat.

This is encouraging:

It appears that the tradition of Plough Monday died out on the moor around the late 1900’s but the church blessing has been revived by some Young Farmer’s clubs.

Regional celebrations

In 2018, Plough Monday was January 8.

Durham

Durham held their festivities on Sunday, January 7 (photo at the link):

Come and join us in our drawing of the Plough from Durham Market Place to the Palace Green to be received by the Dean of Durham Cathedral.

There we’ll welcome in the traditional start of the agricultural year with Morris and Sword Dancing, Music and Ceremony!

Celebrations for Plough Sunday, a traditional English festival, are being revived in Durham this weekend. Drawing a plough into the Cathedral, they will be invited inside by the Dean, who will give them a commemorative four pence in a re-enactment of Plough Sunday celebrations that took place in 1413.

The afternoon will continue with a music session and bar at the John Duck, Claypath.

All welcome!

That sounds very traditional.

Balsham

In Cambridgeshire, the village of Balsham revived Plough Monday festivities in 1972.

The Balsham Ploughmen site has their whole modern-day story. Incredibly, Plough Monday has been celebrated there every year since to raise money for charity.

In 1972, the original organisers studied the village plough, built between 1680-1720, and constructed a new one based on the design of the old one using 100-year-old wood.

The organisers and a team of volunteers go to houses and pubs to collect money and sell raffle tickets:

Money is collected at each stop and along the streets, from one end of the village to the other and there is a raffle at the finishing pub. However, the chief means of fundraising, which justifies such activity in what is usually one of the coldest nights of the winter, is the traditional “horseplay”. There is a great deal of banter among the Ploughmen, Cambridge Morris Men and the followers.

The cries of “pity the poor ole ploughboy” together with the rattle of collecting tins and the jingle of the Morris Men’s bells signals that Plough Monday is with us again.

Then:

The day following Plough Monday has evolved into “Harrowing Tuesday” when Ploughmen, members of the team and their families traditionally meet for lunch of bangers and mash and discuss the events of the previous evening – the name does tend to reflect the fragile state of the team rather than an agricultural reference.

The Balsham Ploughmen have been highly successful:

Plough Monday 2017 has broken all fundraising records!

We were once again out and about on 9th January 2017 with the Cambridge Morris Men fundraising for Balsham 2nd Brownies, Buttercups Community Pre-School and a village defibrillator …

This year’s total was a massive £3,219.50!

I hope they had another great success this year.

It is marvellous that people in England still care about Plough Monday, an ancient tradition that deserves to keep going for generations to come.

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