Plough Monday

Plough Monday is the traditional start of the English agricultural year. While local practices may vary, Plough Monday is generally the first Monday after Twelfth Day (Epiphany), 6 January. References to Plough Monday date back to the late 15th century. The day before Plough Monday is sometimes referred to as Plough Sunday.

The day traditionally saw the resumption of work after the Christmas period. In some areas, particularly in northern England and East England, a plough was hauled from house to house in a procession, 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". 'Plough Pudding' is a boiled suet pudding, containing meat and onions. It is from Norfolk and is eaten on Plough Monday.

William Hone made use of Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain: Including the Whole of Mr. Bourne's Antiquitates Vulgares (1777) by the antiquary John Brand. Brand's work (with additions by Henry Ellis) mentions a northern English Plough Monday custom also observed in the beginning of Lent. Evidently the Plough dance depicted by Phiz in his illustrations for Harrison Ainsworth's 1858 novel Mervyn Clitheroe, and Ainsworth's description, is based on this or a similar account:

The FOOL PLOUGH goes about: a pageant consisting of a number of sword dancers dragging a plough, with music; one, sometimes two, in very strange attire; the Bessy, in the grotesque habit of an old woman, and the Fool, almost covered with skins, a hairy cap on, and the tail of some animal hanging from his back. The office of one of these characters, in which he is very assiduous, is to go about rattling a box amongst the spectators of the dance, in which he receives their little donations.

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.

The Plough Monday customs declined in the 19th century but have been revived in the 20th. They are now mainly associated with Molly dancing and a good example can be seen each year at Maldon in Essex.

Famous quotes containing the words monday and/or plough:

    I said in my novel that the clergyman is a kind of human Sunday. Jones and I settled that my sister May was a kind of human Good Friday and Mrs. Bovill an Easter Monday or some other Bank Holiday.
    Samuel Butler (1835–1902)

    And so we plough along, as the fly said to the ox.
    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)