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Ancient Durham traditions revived on Plough Sunday

05 January 2018

iving an English tradition first recorded in Durham in 1413, this year’s celebration of Plough Sunday on Sunday 7 January will be marked by a procession of Morris dancers and traditional musicians drawing a plough to Durham Cathedral.

Plough Sunday celebrations historically involved the drawing of a plough around the community to mark the start of the agricultural year. Feasts were held, and those dragging the plough performed songs, dances and plays along their route. Plough Sunday gained a riotous, carnival atmosphere as it marked the return to work for agricultural workers, but died out after the nineteenth century.

This custom has been revived in recent years in Durham City, and this year’s Plough Sunday procession will take place on Sunday 7 January, meeting at 1.30pm in the Market Place.

Durham has the oldest recorded mention of the celebration of Plough Sunday in England: in 1413 an official from Durham Priory presented four pence to the group drawing the plough. This year Durham Cathedral revives its involvement in this ancient tradition. The Very Reverend Andrew Tremlett, Dean of Durham, will invite a group of Morris dancers and their plough into the Cathedral, before offering prayers and presenting them with a leather bag containing four commemorative coins, referencing the Cathedral’s Plough Sunday gift 605 years ago.

Paul Martin, a Morris dancer and traditional musician from Durham and one of the 6 ‘plough stots’ who will haul the plough, revived the custom after realising its special link to Durham.

“We revived the celebration of Plough Sunday in Durham five years ago, and it has grown in size and audience each year,” said Paul, “This year Morris sides from Durham and Yorkshire are gathering to perform and raise the profile of these historic traditions. Plough Sunday is a brilliant way to engage people in a sense of community, place and the past, and we are thrilled that the event is so popular with local audiences.”

The Very Reverend Andrew Tremlett, Dean of Durham, said, “The Cathedral is honoured to be involved in this recreation of a historic and lively tradition. Durham is a city rooted in its history, and it is entertaining but also profound to draw back the veil of history to reveal the customs of a world from six centuries ago. Plough Sunday showcases the role of the community in the life of the Cathedral, and we fully support the revival of a tradition that encourages inquisitive members of the public into the Cathedral.”