The tradition of the rushcart parade has its origins rooted deep in English history, when places of worship could afford only earthen floors. These were carpeted with rushes, collected by local parishioners and the annual chore of cleaning out and renewing the rushes developed into a ceremony entailing the dressing of a horse-drawn cart with a pyramid of rushes, decorated with flowers and garlands and drawn by horses who also wore appropriate decor and bells. Eventually, when a more affluent church continued its association with the ceremony, silver-plate from the church was also paraded. Accompanying the parade, in traditional celebratory dress (which included the then modern innovation of trousers rather than breeches), were the Norice (now known as Morris) dancers and in the Gorton event, which took place on the Friday before the first Sunday in September, the Gorton Independent Band also participated. The occasion was by no means exclusively religious and celebratory beverages, with accompanying revelry, added to the enjoyment of the participants and spectators alike. The cart was built anew, each year and dismantled on the Saturday; it is presumed, by those survivors who were not, themselves, still feeling too disconnected.
The traditional starting point is held to be the Lord Nelson public house, on the corner of modern day Chapman Street and Hyde Road, Gorton, To be exact1 from Fox Fold at the rear of said holstelry, though there is a record of the parade in 1851 starting from the chapel House, which was a public House standing, until recent years, on the site of the present Primary School, at the corner of Wellington Street and Stelling (late Croft Street), Gorton.
At that time, the popularity of the Rushcart ceremony had waned considerably and the cart employed on that occasion is described as small. It was drawn by three horses; I wonder what size and how many horses were normal? The decor was, reportedly, but modest and the main purpose of the event seems to have been to collect money to spend subsequently, the report states, on inebriation.
One reason for the decline in popularity of the Rushcart parade appears to have been the debacle in 1829 when, for some reason, the route taken was through Newton Lane, in a part of Longsight then known as the "Irish Pale", where the population included a high proportion of that nationality. The band chose that part of the route to play a tune called "croppy Lie Down", which was considered as derogatory towards the Irish. Whether this was done by design or otherwise can now be a matter only for conjecture but a running fight ensued and there were many more sore heads than usual, that day, even before imbibing strong drink had reached hang-over level.
There is a subsequent record of the bells which were used to decorate the horses in the Rushcart Parade being sold, in October 1842,the implication being that interest and therefore, financial support, was by then much reduced. Doubtless, the influx of outsiders to Gorton, drawn by the swift industrial development, would also have dimished the significance of such traditions to the enlarged community, whose roots were elsewhere.
In 1974, local interest in Morris Dancing was renewed and a group was formed, including patrons of the aforementioned "Lord Nelson". The revival thrived and the group performed, not only in Gorton, but in many events around the country.
In 1979 the Gorton Morris Dancers had arranged a tour of Kiev, Stalingrad and Moscow in the U.S.S.R. when the invasion of Afghanistan and its political repercussions caused the tour to be cancelled. Casting around for an alternative, to bridge the gap in their calendar, the Gorton Morris Dancers decided that something of local interest would provide an attraction and in their subsquent research, they re-discovered the Rushcart Parade and its history, of great significance because it was also the history of the Morris Dancers in Gorton.
The tradition was re-established, albeit, with the event to take place on the Saturday, rather than the Friday, starting and finishing at the Lord Nelson.
A cart was rented from Frank Brown of Ashton under Lyne, which is itself over one hundred years old and still in use and with a great deal of hard work by the founders of the new parade, not merely on the cart preparation and organising, but on the re-popularising of the event to a modern populace with many alternative attractions and unaccustomed to traditional events such as the Rushcart Parade, other than the Whit Weeks Walks.
The Rushcart and the Morris Men have now once more become an annual feature of the living history of Gorton. The Gorton Morris Men are shortly to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their well earned success in reviving and maintaining the traditions of old Gorton and long may it continue so to do.
Those wishing to assist them are welcome to contact the "Squire" of the Morris Men, Ash Latham, on 0161 213 2606 , or the "Foreman", Chris Cole on 0161 431 3680.
My thanks to these two gentlemen and other worthy members of the Gorton Morris Dancers, for their kind assistance in compiling this article.
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