Wakefield Morris Dancers - Beercart Festival History

OK it's a festival with beer but when and how did it start?

The vestigal roots for what is now the Beercart Festival may be traced back to the 1980's. The rush bearing, rush cart tradition formed a major role in the NW tradition, along with Rose Queens and carnivals. Team founder Trefor Owen was keen to find a tradition in or around Wakefield and decided the Whitsun Procession from Horbury Bridge to Horbury was a vestigal remnant of a rush bearing. In my collection are notes, from the dawn of time, on a meeting looking at a Rush Bearing/Cart event. Camping, procession routes and other stuff were all detailed. There was even going to be a Rushcart dance, written by Trefor. This never came to anything as the route would have been from Horbury Bridge, source of rushes(?) to Horbury on the A642 Hudderfield Road and also up Quarry Hill , not one that would welcome a walking procession. As to the Rush Cart dance I can find some sketchy notation but my main memory is of the night Trefor outline a figure which set couples out in a diamond then required top and bottom couples to traverse the length of the diamond in four polkas, one couple polkaing backward! The side couples then swapped in 4 going sideways before the couples resumed set order by repeating the swaps. Views on the achievability of covering the length and width of the Methodist Hall in 4 polkas in one case without the benfit of eyes in the back of your head were forceful. The dance was not heard of again until many years later in the Covid lockdown of 2020 I stumbled across YouTube video of the Wakefield Rushcart, how it lived, where it was honed into a performance item is a mystery to me. However Steve Ollerton reckons it's a well known standard down south so any other details welcomed.

The Whit Procession for which 'Onward Christian Soldiers' was written as an accompaniment, was possibly a vestigial remanent of a rush bearing and led to both Horbury Bridge and Horbury claiming ownership of the hymn. That John Carr's splendid new church in Horbury may not have welcomed rushes and that the dissolute and disreputable Horbury Bridge may not have been deemed a spot for respectable folk to visit came as reasons for the demise of the procession. There is a sweet story that Sabine Baring Gould the curate at Horbury, and composer/author of the hymn went to Horbury Bridge on what was essentially missionary work where he met Grace 14 year old mill girl. Romance followed and in the next few years they fell in love. His vicar, John Sharp, arranged for Grace to live for two years with relatives in York to learn middle-class manners. This is the tale led to Pygmalion and My Fair Lady!

In 2013 the idea of a procession was revived but since most Rush Carts involved beer it was as a combined Beer/Morris Festival, hence the Beer Cart

Back to Main Page