Ancient Plough Monday custom remembered in Ramsey and Hail Weston

AROUND 500 children and spectators thronged the streets of Ramsey for the traditional Plough Monday celebrations - though a question mark continues to hang over the future of the event.

Pupils from Ramsey Junior School, Ashbeach Primary School in Ramsey St Mary’s and St Peter’s School in Wisbech decked out in traditional ‘plough witch’ regalia which includes brightly coloured hats, scarfs and gloves and black face paint, for the Plough Monday procession from Ramsey Junior School to Abbey Green.

Around 200 youngsters also took part in Molly Dancing - a traditional East Anglian dance, once performed by the district’s plough boys - on Abbey Green.

Plough Monday came about as a means for agricultural workers to earn money during the bleak mid-winter, when they had little work. Participants would disguise themselves as plough witches and lead a straw bear through the town, singing and dancing.

The ancient custom was resurrected four years ago following research by Gordon Phillips from Norfolk Our World Festivals Ltd.

It was practised for hundreds of years across the country, but died out in the 1930s. In Ramsey, Ramsey Heights and Ramsey St Mary’s, it continued until the 1950s.

Older residents, who took part in the original procession, have passed on the songs they used to sing to the latest set of participants. But after National Lottery funding ended last year, the future of the custom is in doubt.

Most Read

Mr Philips said: “We do not know from one year to another whether we can find the money. The schools paid for it this year out of their own budgets, but as things get tighter, that will be difficult.

“We hope that it can be kept going. It is now on the national calendar of customs and the BBC filmed this year for a new series on English winter traditions.

“We had a straw bear at the front of the procession, and lots of musicians and dancers. As they processed they sang the song that we have been taught by two of the ladies that has been sung in the town for the last 160 years.”

Shirley Stapleton, headteacher of Ashbeach Primary School said: “It is lovely to be part of local heritage customs and lovely for the children to experience. A huge amount of work has been put in. We would love it to continue, but the bottom line will be finance.

“I know we are already thinking about how we can make it happen next year. This school has already tried to keep the children in the rural and local traditions that otherwise would die out.

“Plough Monday is very much tied in with the cycle of the seasons, so that they hope to get a better harvest going back to medieval times.”

Headteacher at Ramsey Junior School Jacky McKay added: “The pupils love it and they get to learn about their local traditions. I would like to see it continue.”

like to see it continue.”

That evening at Eaton Socon and the day before at Hail Weston, parishioners gathered for a plough blessing service.

The service at St Nicolas’ Church in Hail Weston was conducted by The Reverend John Alford, former vicar of the Allingtons group of parishes, was attended by 30 people.

Traditionally the plough was blessed in order to ensure a good harvest for that year’s crops.