January: Blessing the Plough

by Ross Parish 

“Despite attuning to the needs of the present day, old customs and rites are not forgotten and are practised. One farmer breeds and works Suffolk Punches, another farmer maintains a herd of Highland Cattle and on Plough Sunday the plough is still brought into Holy Trinity Church to be blessed.”

Nottinghamshire Women’s Institute

We have already discussed the history of Plough Monday Plays, however there is another custom associated with this time of year – Plough Sunday. However, despite claims that this is an ancient custom there is no evidence. For although blessing of crops is medieval being often incorporated in Rogation beating of the bounds, the blessing of the plough is Victorian in age. For such an apparently archaic custom its popularity has increased considerable across the country from well established ones as far apart as Chichester, Ripon and in smaller communities such as Haddenham Norfolk

This is especially so in the agricultural parishes of the County, has become more popular since the 1940. The most well known is that at Newark. This is by far the most impressive with a procession of the plough and milk churn to the Parish church from the Town Hall, by white coated Young Farmer’s club members, accompanied by the Mayor, town officials, and numerous county dignitaries dressed in their regalia. The service is often led by a guest bishop or clergyman, who delivering a suitably current sermon. The hymns similarly are suitably arable or farming in nature such as We plough the fields and scatter and God, whose farm is all creation. The milk churn has also been introduced recently to include the pastoral farmers in the blessing. According to Oxton Now and Then website, this was adopted at Oxton:

“We’ve revived the Plough Sunday service in Oxton itself and we borrow a horse plough from a friend and bring it into Church with a milk churn.”

When the plough was brought forward the following is said:

This plough symbolises all the machinery and all the tools of the gardener. Will you bless the plough to our use and in so doing ask God’s blessing on our cultivation of the soil?”

A combination of Plough Monday activities and Plough Sunday our not that far away at Morton near Southwell where Morris Dancing and Plough Plays are enacted at the local pub after the service. Blessings occur at Cropwell Bishop, Laxton, Screveton, Tithby, Bleasby, East Markham since 1946, Blyth since 1950, East Thorpe since the 1950s and in the 1960s and 70s in Cropwell Butler. Wallace (2000) in Village vignettes – tales told by the villagers of Thorpe and East Stoke.  notes that at one occasion the Bishop of Southwell did Newark in the morning and East Stoke in the afternoon. Interestingly, a Walter Baldock, the village blacksmith at East Stoke recalled that he was asked:                                                                                                                  

If I make a small iron plough, will you promise to take it to church every year to be blessed on plough Sunday”

            And so begun the ‘revival’. And so now many Nottinghamshire rural churches celebrate the importance of agriculture, and despite its perhaps spurious origins, it is a great celebration of the lifeblood of the country.

plough1

Photograph Credit: RB Parish

plough2

Photograph Credit: RB Parish

plough3

Photograph Credit: RB Parish

plough4

Photograph Credit: RB Parish

Ross is hopefully publishing his book of Nottinghamshire Calendar customs this year                        

Interested in Calendar customs check

http://traditionalcustomsandceremonies.wordpress.com

http://anottinghamshirecalendar.wordpress.com

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About nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam

Originally formed in 1965 to try to save or at least record before destruction the cave sites continually discovered during the major redevelopment of the City that took place in Nottingham in the 1960′s. Almost every day new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was notified; last thing they wanted was someone telling them to stop what they were doing; TIME is MONEY. The word HIDDEN in the Team’s title is because a lot of what was being invisibly lost in the redevelopment was our early history in the caves, they are under most, if now all, of Nottingham. In the 80’s and 90’s the Team conducted with the help of Dr Robert Morrell and Syd Henley, research and work on Nottingham’s history, folklore and local archaeology. The Team published quarterly magazines on their findings. The Team lapsed for a few years after the death of Paul Nix who was the team leader for thirty plus years. The Team has reformed and is now back working on Nottingham local history. On this blog you will find a series of history, folklore and archaeological related articles and information. Most of the material published will be specifically related to Nottingham/shire local history.
This entry was posted in Nottinghamshire Folklore, Nottinghamshire Traditional Customs and Ceremonies. Bookmark the permalink.

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