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Rushbearing in the Lake District

The Church of good St. Oswald,
Possessed in days of yore,
For the hardy race that worshipped there,
A rugged earthen floor.

As we may well imagine,
This floor so damp and cold,
Gave influenza to the young -
Rheumatics to the old.

And so to make things pleasant,
And save the doctor's fees,
They strewed the church with rushes dry,
And thus got warmth and ease.
written by E. Button - sometime schoolmaster of Grasmere.

Rushbearing refers to the strewing of rushes on to the church floors. It was once common throughout England, but is now celebrated in only a few places in the North of England - Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Lake District.

Rushbearing had a practical purpose. Most church floors were of beaten earth and burials took place inside the church. The renewal of the sweet-smelling rushes was as much a necessity as a ritual!

The recollections of Miss Hannah Nicholson, aged 85 in 1898:

"In my young days we met at the Village Cross on the Saturday nearest St. Anne's day at six o'clock in the evening. Old Tommy Houghton, the clogger, came: he was a very clever jigger, best dancer hereabout; he was a kind of clerk and a village constable... Everyone who chose came, young and old: and all who carried burdens received a good big cake of gingerbread, made by old Mikey, the baker...

Folk came from miles around to see the procession, and Wordsworth never missed; he and the Rydal party would sit in our little room to see the procession start... We all met - a hundred or more - and then an old man played his fiddle or pipe, and off we went around the village, up street and down street to the same old tune - "The hunt is up" - and so up the hill to the old chapel. There we put our burdens into the big corners of the square pews... and came back to the cross for our gingerbread.."

Extracts taken from "The Lake District" by William Rollinson



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