PLOUGH MONDAY

Plough Monday was the first agricultural working day after the Christmas festivities that ended on Twelfth Day (old Christmas Day). Farm labourers were laid off over the Christmas holidays and rehired on Plough Monday.

To help supplement their meagre incomes over this lean period the young men of the village would travel around the local countryside, stopping to dance at villages and farms and to beg largesse from the local populace.

In East Anglia, the local dances were known as Molly dances. The performers would black their faces with coal dust or charcoal so as not to be recognized.

After rising early to undertake the first day's ploughing, the rest of the day was given over to more festivities, when young men, variously called plough bullocks, plough stots, plough jacks, plough jags or plough witches, bedecked in horse ribbons, rosettes, brasses and bells, would be harnessed to a plough and process around the village environs accompanied by musicians and morris and sword-dancers, collecting money, first for the 'plough light' (a candle lit as a votive offering to a local patron saint of ploughing and agriculture), later for revelry. Where no contributions were forthcoming, the offending niggard would find his doorstep, garden or dung-heap unceremoniously ploughed up!

The plough would be blessed in church the day before (Plough Sunday) and prayers offered for a good harvest. Plough Sunday was also the day for electing new churchwardens and the retiring wardens had to balance their books and all outstanding debts had to be paid. If there were a shortfall, they would rely on the Plough Monday collections to help straighten the accounts; if there was cash in hand, it was usually spent on beer.

Little of this tradition survived into the 20th century but there are still churches in Suffolk where the old plough has pride of place. Eye church owes its great tower to the plough collections.

East Suffolk Morris Men will re-enacts the tradition each year. On Plough Sunday they will take the plough into the church and perform traditional Cotswold dances in costume and accompanied by their hobby-horse, in and around the church. On Monday evening, wearing tatter costumes and black faces, they will retrieve the plough and take it through the village, performing Welsh Border dances around the village pubs.