The Rushbearers


The Rushcart tradition, derives from Rogationtide. A medieval practice in which parishioners would process around the parish once a year, bearing rushes. They would arrive at the parish church and place the rushes on the floor of the church, to replace worn-out rushes. In modern times the ceremony is practised only in parts of northern England.

Saddleworth is a valley in the Pennine hills between Manchester and Leeds.

Rushcarts are an old tradition in the region, but died out in the early 20th Century. In 1975, the Saddleworth men again built a cart, and one has been built each August since.

This is a photographic record of the 2013 Saddlworth Rushcart.

The rushes are collected over a period of two to three weeks in all weathers with the men often up to their waists in stagnant water.

"How can you expect to have a good cart to sit on if you didn’t do your bit for others' carts in the past."

Where once members would all have worked in the local mills they are now from a diverse range of backgrounds.

The rushes must be trimmed to give a neat edge and the bundles tightened.

The bundled rushes, ready to go onto the cart.

Only a handful of people have the knowledge to build an authentic Rushcart.

Saturday Morning and the "Molly" (dame) from Moulton Morris Men looks on at the finished cart.

On the first day of the Rushcart procession the cart is trimmed with heather and the completed banner is hung.

The 2013 banner was made by Arron Daniels and commemorates the life of PC Nicola Hughes, a local Police Constable whom, along with her colleague Fiona Bone, was tragically killed in the line of duty.

There is a palpable tension as the men of Saddleworth Morris form up into two lines ready to meet the crowds.

The Rushcart is brought out from behind the Commercial Inn.

For the first time the Jockey takes his position on the Rushcart between two Rowan branches and is passed a kettle in which he carries ale for the journey ahead.

The Rushcart is pulled through the use of wooden poles called 'stangs' which are threaded through ropes. There are over 100 men pulling the cart.

An honour not without perils as many low trees are encountered en route.

Saddleworth is hilly terrain and even with 100 men, pulling a 2 ton cart is a hard task.

The long day over the men return to to Uppermill and the cart to its home at the Commercial Inn.

The Rushcart has reached its destination.

The service in the Church commences.

All the banners from the previous Rushcarts decorate the inside of the church.

With the service completed a day of dancing (plus gurning and wrestling competitions) ensues.