A rushcart wedding in Lancashire

PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 September 2014

The brides new headgear

The brides new headgear

Tim Simpson

When Vicky Kelly married Richard Sample their big day turned into a street party with a difference

Vicky had a drink from  the kettleVicky had a drink from the kettle

Is there another bride in Lancashire who can say she dashed from the church in her fine frock and heels to climb a 13 foot ladder and kiss a man holding a copper kettle?

No, probably not, but Vicky Sample can. Every wedding is special but when the 33-year-old hospital sister married her sweetheart Richard at St Chad’s in Uppermill what happened next turned her big day into a street party involving hundreds of onlookers.

And it all started in a supermarket.

Vicky, nee Kelly, realised that her wedding day coincided with the rushcart ceremony in nearby Dobcross. This is an ancient tradition when a cart piled with a tower of rushes is taken through the streets ending up at the local church. Once there, the rushes are strewn on the church floor.

It has always been a time of celebration but these days it’s seldom observed outside Lancashire or the Lake District. Since its revival in the Saddleworth villages in the 1970s it has become a spectacle that draws crowds. It’s thirsty work for the Saddleworth Morris Men who pull the cart and the accompanying brass bands.

Vicky was keen to take part in this day of revels and by chance she bumped into members of the Saddleworth Morris Men while doing her weekly shop. ‘I asked if it was possible to have some picture taken with the cart and it all snowballed from there,’ said the bride, who works at the Royal Oldham Hospital.

So, within 15 minutes of the church ceremony ending, Vicky and Richard, a police officer stationed at Bury, jumped into their vintage Morris Minor – pursued by award-winning photographer Tim Simpson – to meet up with the cart as it arrived in Dobcross.

‘Timing was tight and when we arrived in the square we were crestfallen to see it empty,’ she said. ‘It seemed like we had missed them. But then we saw the bands coming over the hill and when they arrived we danced in front of them.’ Vicky and Richard were allowed to lead the procession and were given a guard of honour by the Morris Men.

‘Then I was invited to climb a ladder next to the tower of rushes. Normally, when I’m at home I hate climbing ladders but I had no hesitation this time. Despite the fact I was in my wedding dress and heels I didn’t give it a second thought.

‘At the top was a Morris Man called the Jockey and he gave me a kiss on the cheek. He had a copper kettle with three litres of beer and I managed to drink a tiny drop without getting it on my dress, thank goodness.

‘Richard just stood there in shock seeing me climb the ladder. Then I looked around and saw hundreds of people watching me. It was incredible. Being kissed by the Jockey is said to increase the fertility of brides – but we don’t have plans in that direction just yet!’

From there they dashed back to the reception in the Civic Hall in Uppermill – much to the relief of some guests who hadn’t been aware of what was going on.

‘The Morris Men were fantastic,’ said Vicky. ‘It was a brilliant, extraordinary day that we’ll never forget it.

‘I still smile every time I think of it and whenever I see the rushcart ceremony I’ll remember that day.’

The Rushcart tradition

The rushcart ceremony goes back centuries when parishioners would parade around the streets bearing rushes.

The origins of the Saddleworth rushcart are unknown but are thought to go back to the early 1800s. It was revived in 1975 by the newly formed Saddleworth Morris Men following research by Fred Broadbent and Peter Ashworth who managed to talk to older members of the community who recalled earlier ceremonies. The story of the Rushcart can be found in Peter Ashworth’s book Rushcarts in Saddleworth.

The Rushcart is taken to St Chad’s Church above Uppermill where the top is dismantled and the rushes are mixed with fragrant herbs and flowers and then symbolically spread in the aisles.

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