Plough Monday

Men did not return to work until after Plough Monday, the traditional start of the agricultural year falling the first Monday after Twelfth Night. References to Plough Monday date back to the late fifteenth century.

In some areas, particularly in northern England and East Anglia, a plough was dragged from house to house in a procession, with the ploughmen collecting money. They were often accompanied by musicians, an old woman or a boy dressed as an old woman called the Bessy, and a man in the role of the fool, who wore animal skins, a hairy cap and had an animal tail hanging from his back, in the manner of our friend the wildman. 

In the Isles of Scilly, locals would cross-dress and then visit their neighbours to joke about local occurrences. There would be ‘goose dancing’ and considerable drinking and revelry. [1]

It was a day for mumming plays. In Derbyshire: 

“On Plough Monday the ‘Plough bullocks’ are occasionally seen; they consist of a number of young men from various farmhouses, who are dressed up in ribbons…. These young men yoke themselves to a plough, which they draw about, preceded by a band of music, from house to house, collecting money. They are accompanied by the Fool and Bessy; the fool being dressed in the skin of a calf, with the tail hanging down behind, and Bessy generally a young man in female attire. The fool carries an inflated bladder tied to the end of a long stick, by way of whip, which he does not fail to apply pretty soundly to the heads and shoulders of his team. When anything is given a cry of ‘Largess!’ is raised, and a dance performed round the     plough. If a refusal to their application for money is made they not unfrequently plough up the pathway, door-stone, or any other portion of the premises they happen to be near.[2]

‘Plough Pudding’, a boiled suet pudding containing meat and onions was eaten in Norfolk on Plough Monday.

Plough Monday customs declined in the nineteenth century but have now been revived in many places, and celebrated with a plough procession, morris and molly dancing.

© Anna Franklin, Yule, History, Lore and Celebration, Lear Books 2010


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plough_Monday

[2] Clement A. Miles, Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan, T. Fisher Unwin, 1912

Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

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