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13 November 2014

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You are in: North Yorkshire > History > Local history > Swords and Ploughs

Claro Sword and Morris Men marking Plough Sunday in Knaresborough.

Claro Sword and Morris Men

Swords and Ploughs

Yorkshire's longsword dancing was traditionally associated with winter and Plough Sunday celebrations. Ian Porter "squire" of The Claro Sword and Morris Men explains more about the historic traditions that link Plough Sunday and sword dancing.

Plough Sunday, the first sunday after Epiphany, signaled the beginning of the agricultural year, and was marked by a church blessing of the plough. Plough Monday, the day after, was supposed to be the resumption of work after the Twelve Days of Christmas, but in many areas was marked by rowdy behaviour.

Claro Sword and Morris Men in Harrogate on Boxing Day.

Claro Sword and Morris Men in Harrogate

Gangs of young farm workers - variously called plough 'stots' or 'bullocks' or 'jags' - would dress in fancy costumes, dragging a plough around the village demanding gifts of money, food or drink. These gangs sometimes threatened to plough up people's gardens if they did not contribute in cash or in kind.

In Yorkshire the plough 'stots' were often accompanied by sword dancers who performed their linked chain dance as part of the festivities. The traditional sword dancers from Goathland are known as the 'plough stots'.

Sword dancing is the northern equivalent of Morris dancing. The dancers form a circle linked by swords and perform various evolutions, passing over and under the swords, culminating in a figure in which the swords are woven together into a star or 'lock', which is displayed to the audience.

Claro Sword and Morris Men celebrating Plough Sunday in Knaresborough

Traditional celebrations in Knaresborough.

This type of dancing is a tradition associated with the winter solstice. It may have some ancient ritual meaning, but opinions on this are divided.

Many sword dances form parts of a type of folk play, in which one of the characters is killed, then brought back to life again by a comic doctor. Some sword dances have an opening song during which the dancers are introduced to the audience one at a time.

The Clare Sword and Morris Men are from Harrogate. They revived the plough blessing at Knaresborough Parish Church over 20 years ago. The Rector blesses the plough at the beginning of the service, and at the end sword dances are performed inside and outside the church. The plough is then dragged to the Market Square, where more dancing takes place.

The Claro Sword dancers perform traditional dances from Kirkby Malzeard and North Skelton and also perform some dances of their own composition helping to keep this ancient tradition alive.

Ian Porter

last updated: 12/01/2009 at 12:05
created: 12/01/2009

You are in: North Yorkshire > History > Local history > Swords and Ploughs

Plough Sunday.

Plough Sunday is a traditional English celebration of the beginning of the agricultural year that has seen some revival over recent years.

Plough Sunday celebrations usually involve bringing a ploughshare into a church where there are blessings for those who work on the land.

It is traditionally held on the Sunday after Epiphany, the Sunday between 7 January and 13 January.

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