A National Tradition

An 1870 account of the rush strewing in Saddleworth gives an indication of what could have taken place in Wingrave, if villagers had not been so vigilant. "The last time rushes were spread in the church was in 1821; they were often spread to a depth of twelve to fifteen inches. After the rushes ceased to be used on the church floor, they were used as bedding for cattle. Some few years ago the landlord of the "Church Inn" used to give a sovereign a load for them, but of late years no cart has been taken up to the church."

In other parts of the country, there is also land specifically given for the purpose of strewing hay, it is reasonable to assume that many hundreds of years ago it was a common place practice in rural communities. The nearest Church to Wingrave where strewing still takes place is at Shenington in Oxon, also dedicated to St Peter, where grass is laid down in the church for 3 weeks commencing Whit Sunday. Interestingly Land was left for this purpose at the time of enclosure also.

Grass in the church at Shenington Oxfordshire.

One of the most ancient traditions is at St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol, where since 1494 at Pentecost (June 3) the floor of the Church is strewn with rushes and a service is held to which all the civic dignitaries of the City are invited.

Programme for service of St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol.

The rush bearing ceremonies of Lancashire and Cumbria are interesting. Rushes were cut, dried, and then carried in carts to the churchyard. The rushes were then strewn along the aisles of the church and in the bottoms of the pews, in preparation for winter. A description of a rush strewing ceremony in about 1780 shows what may have happened in Wingrave "the rushes were "teemed" down near the chapel gates. The old ones of last year having been cleared out of the chapel, the new ones were carried in, and carefully strewn in the bottom of the pews, aisles, etc. On this day, also, the band, accompanied by the pikemen carrying staves surmounted with brass eagles, perambulated the village, stopping nowhere, neither soliciting nor receiving any contributions"

In July 1892, the Bucks herald reported that on the Feast Sunday "Wingrave Brass Band paraded the streets and gave in good style several pieces".

A 19th Century description of a ceremony at Forest Chapel, near Macclesfield gives a flavour of these types of ceremonies and an insight into their purpose, "the little church is usually crowded on the rush-bearing Sunday. Until a comparatively recent period the floor of Wincle Church was neither paved nor flagged, but spread with rushes. These were renewed annually, on a certain Sunday in July, when it was customary to decorate a cart with flowers and bear them to church. This was celebrated with great rejoicing, and was termed the "rush-bearing;" and in after years, when rushes were no longer used, the drinking and name were still kept up, but they are now wisely discontinued."

There is also usually an association with Morris Men and in 1986, the Vicar of Wingrave decided to enlarge the grass strewing ceremony in the church by inviting a local Morris dancing troupe to dance to the church alongside the Vicar, churchwardens and members of the congregation, rushes were then laid in the nave.

The Morris Men enter Wingrave Church (1986)
Picture courtesy of Leighton Buzzard Observer

A song used in Bishops Castle, Shropshire during rush bearing gives a flavour of the integration of the celebrations of the Village Feast day, rush strewing and the church festival.

Good Day to you, you merry men all
Come listen to our rhyme
For we would have you not forget
This is Midsummer time
So bring your rushes, bring your garlands
Roses, John's Wort, Vervain too
Now is the time for our rejoicing
Come along Christians, come along do.

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