Up until the middle of the 19th century it was common on Plough Monday, for the plough men to lead a procession through the streets and lanes, going from village to hamlet and farm to farm, collecting money and whatever else folk might give them.
The plough men roped themselves to the plough and dragged it about dressed in their clean smock-frocks worm over their jackets with ribbons on shoulders and hats.
The plough was decked with ribbons and other decorations, known as the Fools Plough.
Lead by a man dressed as an old woman known as Bessy who would rattle a money box. Small clusters of corn would be worn in her hat, but were quickly lost in lumberous dancing. Bessy was accompanied by a fool dressed in fantastic attire.
The women (Mollies) would ensure that their men (Johns) were well turned out and would shout after them: 'Larks John, thou does look smart surely'.
Threshers, reapers and carters would join in with their respective implements, even the smith and miller might attend, perhaps accompanied by Morris men.
The money collected was spent in a public house at the end of the day.
Plough Monday - early 19th century
The plough procession, came winding along,
The quiet long rutted lanes.
Pulling the plough, from village to hamlet,
With plough hands at the reins.
Old woman 'Bessy', is leading the pack,
Hoping a cheerful glass.
And John the fool in, fantastic attire,
Seeking a little brass.
Twenty 'sons of the soil', in clean smock-frocks,
To the plough they are tied.
The 'old woman' prances a fetter dance,
'God speed the plough' she cried.
Threshers with their flails, reapers with sickles,
Carters cracking their whips.
Then smith and miller, join in the Morris,
With Bessy a dance trips.
A long bullocks tail, under jaunty gown,
Held in hand while dancing.
Small clusters of corn, in her finest hat,
Lost in graceless prancing.
Flowing ribbons pinned, on shoulders and hat,
Molly waves to her John.
'Larks John, thou does look smart surely' says she,
Drink your load down, go on!
Finally arrive, at the far farm house,
Molly's money box now filled.
After eating cheese, and hot spiced farm ale,
T'pub go the merry guild.
Copyright Andrew Rea Candelmas 2019